Kansas City Hockey: Can They Do It?

The Kansas City Star points out that the Predators’ attendance this season is currently averaging below 14,000 per game. An exit clause (triggered last year by similarly low attendance) will release the team from its agreement unless the team averages above 14,000 in paid attendance for the 2007-08 season, at which time the clause can be exercised so that the team is free to leave the city as early as the 2008-09 season.
Kansas City ScoutsIt seems almost a given that Kansas City will get an NHL team at some point. KC’s new state-of-the-art Sprint Center arena, as well as the Anschutz Entertainment Group‘s (the arena’s builders, and owners of the Los Angeles Kings) courting of the league, practically guarantees it. The league could allow the move of a team like the Predators to KC … or the league could instead expand yet again and award teams to KC and another city, bringing the number of NHL clubs to 32.
While my heart goes out to the loyal Nashville fans, I’d rather see the Preds uproot and head out west than to see the league further dilute its talent pool by adding two more teams. I understand that the expansion fees associated with bringing two new teams into the NHL are a big, dangling carrot to team owners and the league. Additionally, the NHLPA would be salivating at the prospect of creating 46 additional jobs. Still, the league’s profile is just starting to recover from the lockout, and introducting two new expansion doormats hardly seems a smart way to promote the game.
But the real question is, regardless of the source of the team: Can Kansas City support an NHL franchise?
The Kansas City Scouts could be seen as a sister club to the Washington Capitals; they both entered the league in the 1974-75 season. But soon after their paths diverged rather significantly. After a few dismal years, both on the ice and in the seats, the Scouts franchise left KC to become the Colorado Rockies; in 1982, the club moved again to become the New Jersey Devils. In the Scouts’ final season, ownership made a strong push in the community to sell 8,000 season tickets; they managed barely a quarter of their goal.
But the Kansas City of the 1970s bears little resemblance to the Kansas City of today. The KC metro area now ranks as the 27th-largest in the country — larger than San Jose or Columbus, and just a few snowed-in romantic nights by the fireplace away from catching metro areas like Portland/Vancouver, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. Its burgeoning population follows a strong upsurge of both urban expansion and cultural growth.
Sprint Center - Inside RenderingAnd the Sprint Center itself is a doozy of an arena. Its 18,500 seats and 72 luxury boxes put it near the top of the league as far as amenities and the all-important suite sales. It’s a fair sight better for a hockey team than the old Kemper Arena, and the location in the heart of the Downtown district mirrors that of the Capitals’ Verizon Center. Merchants have sprung up all around the arena, and the Sprint Center’s October debut has already brought a surge of clientelle to the area on event nights.
The Sprint Center is no Meadowlands, stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but sit in traffic; on the contrary, it’s in a vibrant downtown neighborhood that’s just begging for a team to call it home. And if the deal offered to the Penguins is any indication, the arena ownership group is willing to offer very friendly terms to whomever they convince to move in as their centerpiece tenant.
Whether that team be the Predators, another team (Atlanta or Florida, anyone?) or even expansion (shudder), Kansas City seems willing and able to welcome hockey with open arms.

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24 Responses to Kansas City Hockey: Can They Do It?

  1. VT Caps Fan says:

    I wish they took pittsburg last year…

  2. Tony says:

    An interesting take, I’m not enthusiastic because KC has been used as a bargaining chip so many times but I like this post. I’m linking.

  3. TG says:

    Tony,
    So you mean like DC and baseball? Yeah, been there my friend.
    And despite all the changes to the city, doesn’t it seem like all people can point at are the negatives (the Scouts leaving, the attendance woes of the Royals — despite ownership that doesn’t give a damn AND doesn’t care who knows it).

  4. OrderedChaos says:

    Tony & TG, good points — DC was used as a gambit for baseball, but finally (and after much heartbreak) got a team. Hopefully KC’s time as a hockey bargaining chip will pay off as well, and soon.

  5. Andrew says:

    I would rather see an eastern conference team go west, allowing for a realignment to get the Caps back with its traditional rivals, rather than this SE Division BS.

  6. OrderedChaos says:

    Agreed Andrew. While some rivalry has developed in the SE, and next season’s schedule re-balancing will improve things as well, I’d still rather see the Caps playing the old Patrick Division rivals more.

  7. Gmann says:

    I lived in KC for years, back in the days of the old IHL Kansas City Blades (Mike Pivonka did some time there, wearing #12) before they ceased existence. Kemper Arena was sub par – hello, roof collapse – and there is a strong pull for hockey in that area. I hope KC gets the Preds, the city will love the team and the team will certainly love the city.

  8. Matt says:

    Rumor in CBUS is that Columbus is the country’s 15th largest city…while their math is fuzzy and I don’t personally buy in to it all – just saying that stats can be made to say what you want them too.

  9. OrderedChaos says:

    Interesting, Matt. I just threw in Columbus and San Jose for comparison purposes, no slight intended to either market.
    If you were curious, I used the official OMB (US Office of Management and Budget) population statistics and metropolitan area definitions for 2006, so I’m pretty confident in the numbers. But you’re right, statistics can certainly be manipulated to prove pretty much anything.

  10. pepper says:

    Its a complete joke and a tragedy that Bettman rejected a guy like Balsillie into the NHL owners fraternity because he didn’t want him to move the Predators to Hamilton.
    It makes no sense whatsoever to keep force-feeding American markets that won’t support or appreciate hockey while hungry and lucrative markets like Southern Ontario go without a team. Bettman’s dream of making the NHL a truly national, rather than a Canadian and US-regional game, is over.
    Heck, Toronto could support another team, if you could get past a Leafs objection. There are three teams in New York, so why not?
    In an ideal world, Atlanta, Florida, and Nashville (or Phoenix?) would all move to Canada and the Caps would go into a re-worked division with our old rivals.

  11. MulletMan says:

    Interesting viewpoint pepper. You may be right about Ontario, I am having a hard time getting tickets to some OHL games coming up.
    Sorry but I couldn’t resist…
    I think Winnipeg would really like a team. Why not move Phoenix there?

  12. Scott says:

    As a 17-year former resident of KC, I would be really hard pressed to see them embrace the Preds. The Penguins with Sid, Malkin, etc? Probably.
    If Nashville moves to KC, the “growth” would be similar to Carolina IMO.

  13. Eli Resnick says:

    If K.C.’s previous history is supposed to prove anything, we should also look at what happened the next time a team tried to move into Rockies territory.
    And I’ll agree that one can say anything with statistics. Just the other day someone tried to tell me Butch Cassidy was the second-best first-year coach in Washington Capitals history.
    I think everyone agrees it’s a difficult marketing job, pushing hockey in the South, but with success stories like the Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning, Ducks and Avalanche, it’s tough to blame people for trying. Looks to me like they’re still hoping to find a tipping point to where they’ll become relevant programming in the South. Maybe a couple winning teams K.C. and Houston would do it. Probably not, but I’m not a billionaire, so what do I know?
    As far as Canadian expansion goes, the economics hinge heavily on currency markets If the Canadian dollar stays equal to the American dollar for over a year after America gets free of its present administration, Winnipeg and Hamilton should get their teams.

  14. Grooven says:

    As nice as it would be, I don’t see the NHL doing it. Afterall, if the league turns away the highest bidder for a team — the Penguins — to keep them in Pittsburgh, I’m not sure they’re resigned to let the Predators leave and start the marketing all over again… not yet anyway.
    Then once they do get to that point, I’m not convinced KC will be the winner. As sad an excuse as it may be, it’s not perceived as glamourous. Seattle? Vegas? (riiiight. Betcha Gretzky’s wife would make him leave Phoenix for it) Back to Winnipeg, or Hamilton?
    Rightly so or not, they all have a hook that’s something glitzier than corn and farmers. No, I’m not saying that’s all KC has to offer, but it is perception and yes, the league will deny it but, it seems pretty evident to me that rural is not the market the NHL is looking for.
    Will KC win out? Possibly, but I see it too much as a threat used by the league than as an actual potential destination. I hope I’m wrong.

  15. pepper says:

    Get me a Meat Tray and a Burnt End sandwich!
    Seriously though, I did visit KC once and found there to be some good eatin’ and good music. Just doesn’t seem at all like a town that would support hockey long-term.

  16. OrderedChaos says:

    I too went to KC once (back in 2000) for a week-long business trip. It was a blast, catching great blues in little Westport clubs and, of course, sampling the terrific BBQ and steaks. Fun town… and growing quickly.

  17. KC Resident says:

    Having lived in KC for the last 12 years, I can tell you the city is growing.
    The arena is not on the Plaza, it’s about 5 miles north in Downtown, which is where the growth is finally taking place – after decades of neglect.
    As for getting a team, I believe the AEG offered free rent AND a sizeable portion of ALL revenues from the Arena. Also, one of AEG’s bigwigs is also on the board of the NHL, so he should have some pull.
    Next, would the city support the team? Not sure. However, the Royals average 11,000 – for a team that has lost 100+ games 4 of the last 6 years and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1985. The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since 1993, and they sell out every game. Plus there is a local group that has been pushing for an NHL franchise as long as I’ve been here. However, the MLS franchise only draws about 5,000 – and they won the MLS championship a few years ago.
    In the end, it will come down to winning. It won’t matter if the team is an expansion team or transplant – if the team doesn’t win early, there won’t be much support. Judging by the recent Arena League team, there will be a lot of ticket sales the first year, but if they don’t win, the sales will drop off the 2nd year.

  18. bettman blows says:

    The NHL at this point could not handle expansion but maybe relocation and changing some of the divisions up.
    Id like to see FLA or PHX moved before NSH i think the city could somehow still support it. Possible move NSH to EAST CONF. new South Div.
    TB,ATL,CAR,NSH & ?
    I would be nice to see a division w/ CLB,DET,STL,CHI and KC. Also i really wish SEA would get a franchise. The new Pacfic Div feat ANA,LA,SJ,SEA&VAN.

  19. peter gozinya says:

    Kansas City cannot handle a hockey team. They are too much of a fairweather city. They cant even support their baseball team. The Royals need to be shipped out of town so they can get some support. Kansas City already lost one hockey team so what makes them think they can keep another?

  20. JOSH says:

    I lived in kc for a few years from southwest mo and i think KC would be able to keep a team here. KC is a great sports city and have been hungry for a team for along time. Now i know the royals havent been great on fan support well you need to look at he ownership david glass owner of the royals has more money than 90% of the owners in the MLB and has one of the lowest caps hes cheap and dont really seem to care and how do you think we feel when you dont seem to want to build a winning team hell at least try, The chiefs god bless them but the Hunt family has done alot for KC and we embrace are chiefs win or lose, So just putting a NHL team here would be great and do just find here its the ownership is the most important part, Iam getting tired of driving to STL to see games so i hope we land one soon, lets expand kc get a team and Clevland,cincinnati,houston,seattle, indiaplois or would be cool if Canada got another one ..

  21. Cody says:

    I would love NHL in KC as someone that attended almost all blades games until the end. I miss hockey and haveing to travel to see a good hockey game. I don’t really mind making it out to hockeytown at joe lewis 🙂 But I will have season tickets for the seasons that NHL stays in KC

  22. Don says:

    Having lived in KC when the Blues were here (before becoming the Rivermen), then later in DC (Caps), Atlanta (Thrasher), St Louis (“real” Blues), near Nashville (Preds), and now back in KC (well, out in the ‘burbs), I can see a possibility for the Preds.
    Nashville has never been a good “mix” for any “pro” team (it is “college sports” country – I’ve seen them follow a UT QB and NFL team). While they do sell a few tickets (not the 14,000 they want), they do not sell the other stuff (sweaters, hats, etc.). I’ve sat in their venue and had to “teach” fans (wearing $300 worth of Preds stuff) basic hockey – pretty sad.
    I could easily see a KC team “selling out” any time they played the Blues or Wings (their fans would drive here easily).
    Just more of my thoughts, but the city could get behind something that could bring more conventions (ones that only needed the few hotel rooms we have downtown) too.

  23. RIch says:

    If (Let’s just say) that Kansas City gets a hockey team – would they call them the Scouts again? What would they call them. What would people like to call them?

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