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Canada's Team? Not here

FloridasignWhat's happened to all the Leaf fans in South Florida? Are the Ontario-based snow birds staying home due to global warming and /or the high cost of renting a one-bedroom efficiency in Broward County these days?

Used to be a time when the Panthers could count on the Blue-and-White to help fill the CorporateSponsorship Arena in the swampland. Those days aren't over just yet, but they ain't happy either.

The Leafs -- Team Canada in some circles -- was another attendance bust at CSA Thursday. Despite the team giving away ticket vouchers in bars/restaurants and selling choice tickets for $7 online, seats were available en masse. Section 411 had two people in it midway through the first.

And empty seats for games with the Leafs in town must mean the franchise is in trouble. That seems to be the take of the Toronto media, anyway. ESPN.com ran a column by the Toronto Star's Damian Cox  DESTINATION NOWHERE? in which the future of hockey in South Florida is question. Truth is, when the Toronto media is here, the joint has pretty much been empty. Doesn't look good and doesn't dispel preconceived notions about this market.

I'm not saying the Panthers are the strongest organization in the game, but they're giving it a shot and seemed to have settled things down a bit. I wish they wouldn't paste an ad on every available empty space in the arena, but it seems to be making them a buck or two. One man's cheese is another's gravy I guess (a Poutine reference. Yes!)

But the Panthers ain't going anywhere folks (read that sentence as if Brent Musburger was saying it. Makes for a fun game).

The people selling all these ads run the arena, and they can't sell anything if there is no hockey team in town. You think The Miami Herald -- or BankAtlantic or Toyota or the Rainmaker -- is putting its name on the scoreboard if there isn't a hockey game for it to be on? The scoreboard heads to the rafters during concerts and the lights on the side boards are turned off.

No hockey means nothing to sell and these folks love to sell. In fact, coming into the arena tonight one of the team's executives tried to get me to lease a new Camry. The deal was enticing, but I declined. I did sign a one-year deal for an exterminator, though.

OK, back to the Leafs. Why don't they sellout down here anymore? Sure there were a lot of Leafs fans in the building, but no more noticeable than any other team that comes through here. In 2003-04 (the year before the lockout), the Leafs sold out one date and came close to selling out the other. Last year, there was an announced crowd of 11,215 for one and 16,802 (weekend game, Panthers still in playoff hunt) for the other. This year? The first date with the Leafs drew an announced 13,323 (so subtract 1,500 for a more accurate number). Thursday was probably less than that.

And don't forget, the Panthers and the Heat play in two separate buildings unlike many of the NHL/NBA cities in the league. And guess who was playing down in Miami on Thursday? The Heat, of course. I know the Raptors can't compete with the Leafs in Toronto, but this isn't Toronto. The Heat, with their title and their lineup and the fact that they haven't played a home game in weeks, matters here. True hockey fans pick the Panthers sure, but casual sports fans in this market are probably picking the Heat when the two play on the same night.

Leave (Leaf?) me your thoughts on why Toronto doesn't draw down here like it once did. Can't be the price of tickets (not if you've ever tried to get them at Maple Leaf Gardens or the ACC) or parking. Maybe the lure of Denis Potvin and Dave Strader on TV is just too much to give up. I can see that.

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George Richards >>> Damien Cox

A few more blog posts like this, George, and the Panthers are going to request that the Herald bump you to another sport in town. Sure seems to have worked out for David Neal, eh?

and another thing, if the Panthers went away, the conglomerate known as the Panthers sale staff would just become sales people for another team that would fill 41 nights on a yearly schedule. Can you say hello to Indoor Lacrosse, Arena Football, Minor league basketball or hockey, or whatever sucker they can get in there to fill dates. SSELive is going to face a reckoning pretty soon when it comes down to the fact that sponsors leave SSELive with alarming frequency. Maybe they catch on pretty quickly that the attendance numbers that they are fed are inflated and full of holes? Count how many different sponsors there are this year, and see which ones aren't around from last year. Yormark has built himself a nice little house of cards comparable to Enron (built on lies). It is a shame, cause while I still root for the Panthers, I have stopped going to games and take in Heat games as much as I can. And this is due to the fact that I haate the atmosphere there in the Adveritsing Centre

toronto dosn't deserve a basketball team... but you don't see me complaining about it.

This attitude that canadians have about certain places not deserving a hockey team is the reason why hockey is a dying sport in America. If the sport dies in America then there will be no more NHL.

george, the first thing you need to realize is cox is an absolute idiot.

but just to humor him....

this team has been absolutley abysmal for the last decade. one playoff appearance during that span and zero playoff wins since 1997. think about that for a second - what were you doing in 1997?

despite that, the panthers are still drawing....okay...numbers. sure, the attendance has been down the last couple of days but two games doesn't make a season. overall, florida is 19th in the league in attendance at just over 16,000 a game. carolina just won the stanley cup and is again a competitor this season yet draws less than the panthers. anaheim is atop the west and draws less. nashville is in the same boat as anaheim and is drawing significantly less. atlanta and new jersey, both atop the eastern conference standings, also are drawing less fans. if you want problem cities, those are it. if you can't even support your club when you are winning....

16,000 average may not be great, but considering the circumstances down here i think its impressive. what other fans have put up with the kind of inept management we have seen here? our owner is a complete jackass who changes managers like he changes his underwear. our former general manager traded one of the best goalies in the world for damaged goods, a marginal defensman and an ECHL caliber goalie. yet people still go?

if this organization ever put a decent product on the ice i have no doubt in my mind people would come out in droves. we all saw it with the marlins, and now we see it with the heat. how empty was that building before they traded for shaq and drafted wade?

anyway, point is, i don't see this team in trouble at all. i actually think they are fortunate to have what they have considering what they have put this fanbase through. the blues, islanders and blackhawks, franchises with much deeper traditions and richer pasts, have gone through similar (but much, MUCH less dramatic and much less prolonged) stuggles and they are drawing the crowds you saw this week on a consistent basis. hell, earlier this year chicago had a game where they had just over 8,000 in their building and st.louis had a game where they had just over 6,000 (although some of that was due to poor weather...)

this market is fine. they (cox and other canadian writers) just don't wan't it to be fine.

"This attitude that canadians have about certain places not deserving a hockey team is the reason why hockey is a dying sport in America. If the sport dies in America then there will be no more NHL."

The NHL will exist, with or without Florida, with or without Winnipeg. It's just a question of whether people care or not. The reason few people in the USA care about the NHL is cause there just aren't enough people that like the sport outside of the core American franchises.

"The NHL will exist, with or without Florida, with or without Winnipeg. It's just a question of whether people care or not. The reason few people in the USA care about the NHL is cause there just aren't enough people that like the sport outside of the core American franchises."

Your wrong...

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