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Defending the Market

Jrs Been getting some emails from folks who watched last night's Stars-Panthers game on television wondering how small the crowd really was.

It was sparse, no doubt.

It is a shame the Panthers don't get more support, especially the way they have been playing lately. But I'm going to be the last guy to tell people how to spend their money. The Panthers are a good value, sure, but times are tough and most of you are already paying top dollar for cable television (which usually brings the Panthers to the comfort of your living room).

There were a number of factors hurting the Panthers last night, one of which being the opponent. Few people around here know anything about the Stars, and Dallas hasn't played here in a few years. Plus, and I think this is one of the bigger factors, the Miami Heat was playing the defending NBA champion Celtics not too far down the road at Miami Arena II.

The Panthers and then-owner Wayne Huizenga were the first to win the battle of the arenas, getting Broward County to build a palace (which has become a living, breathing billboard) on the edge of the Everglades. But then Pat Riley and the Heat got people to vote No on something that meant Yes, and the Heat got their arena on the edge of Biscayne Bay.

So, South Florida -- as fickle a sports market as there ever was or is -- has two professional teams in the winter competing for basically the same dollars in two different arenas. It usually doesn't work this way. See, in most markets that share NBA and NHL teams, the two share arenas as well. One is home, one is away. They don't compete head to head, unless you're in Los Angeles where the Clippers may play in the afternoon and the Lakers play later that night.

Cities that share: Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas, Philly, New York (Rangers/Knicks), Toronto, Atlanta, Colorado and Washington.

Cities that don't: New Jersey (Newark/Meadowlands), Miami, Detroit (downtown/suburbs), Minnesota (Minny/St. Paul), Phoenix (downtown/middle of nowhere).

OK, now look at the cities that don't share. Both Florida and Phoenix are struggling at the gate, and having NBA competition doesn't help those situations (although there are plenty of other reasons they are having trouble drawing).

The Devils are also hurting despite playing in a brand new arena, and I wouldn't be so sure the Nets won't join them in Newark sometime soon. Minnesota? Exempt from this conversation. The Wild could play in a mall parking lot and draw 25,000 with the Wolves playing across the street.

Detroit is hurting a bit too, but it isn't the Pistons who are doing it, it's the economy.

I would think the Panthers attendance figures are going to rise after the All-Star break, as long as the team keeps putting a good product on the ice. People have stayed away from this team for a while, mainly because of what has been rolled out there on a nightly basis.

We shall see.

Problem is, a lot of outsiders look at a crowd like Wednesday and say hockey doesn't belong here. Trust me on this, this can be a good hockey market. The National Car Rental Center used to be packed, back when there was a team worth watching on the ice below. I think the Panthers have a solid team, one that needs some more support. But they have to earn that. It takes time.

-- Am packing up and on my way to Montreal here in a little while. Make sure you all come back and visit for our special All-Star coverage starting tomorrow morning. See you at Tim Hortons!


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great post george - couldn't agree more. generally speaking - when the panthers and heat play on the same day at home, the panthers usually are the ones who take the hit. moreso last night as it was a "marquee" matchup with the defending champions coming to town.

there's usually plenty of empty seats at the AAA as well - but not last night because of the opponent.

we saw it last year. crowds of 18,000+ consistently down the stretch as the panthers inched towards a playoff spot. it'll be the same this year assuming they stay in contention.

George I agree, "this can be a good hockey market. The National Car Rental Center used to be packed, back when there was a team worth watching on the ice below."

One factor no one takes into consideration is that the lockout hurt the nontraditional markets. Many of those people that watched the Panthers in the then named, "National Car Rental Center" drifted away after the name players like Bure, Whitney, etc were traded away and the league cancelled the season. It is a lot easier to get fans back in a traditional hockey market after a year off, not so easy in South Florida when there are so many options for entertainment. Having a poor team hurts but the lockout hurt too. Out of sight out of mind, Panthers are still out of the people's mind and the only way to get into their mind is to win. A lot of the attendance woes has to do with the lockout, people just never came back in the same numbers.

And George you left out that it was the coldest night of the year so far, and we are not used to those temps.....

Are in the midst of a long homestand and Wednesday nights arealways the smallest crowds all the time, it is not the Heat, that is drawing fans......

Tell me really how many Hockey people are really also Basketball People?

The Panthers announce tickets distributed as the attendence figure......I know there were not a lot of people there last night, I could not use my tickets and could not give them away.....

Only thing the team needs to do is get rid of Yormark, and all will be good!

Had to comment on the "living, breathing billboard" bit. I hadn't been to the litterbox in a few years before the recent Atlanta game. My God, it's like being mugged by an advertising executive. Ownership is trying to monetize every square inch of the stadium and don't care about things like good taste, subtlety, or reason. (the diagonal bumper stickers for a law firm on every men's room mirror is an especially tacky touch)

When the Panthers do get the hockey world's attention again (and they will, probably this season), ownership is going to look like greedy scum for the state of the arena.

I want to go see a Bruce Rossmeyer Harley Davidson Millenium Laser Eye Center Floria Panthers game again soon, but I don't know if I could stand it.

Don't understand the hate for the advertisements. There may be a lot but it pays the bills. It seems a lot of fans want a nice roster and a limited amount of ads in the arena. That isn't going to happen. Being this close to the salary cap we need the ads because they generate revenue!!

Excellent column, George!

In the last few weeks, myself and others have openly suggested that part of the problem for the Panthers is the lack of even a modicum of recognition in the local media.

The media has the ability to make or break a team in just about any market. Especially here, where the fan base is so nominal. All the money spent on marketing could just as easily be spent on buying nice dinners for the "sports reporters" of the local tv stations so they'd at least show up to cover the story... And the message would get out there quicker and more effectively!

With the exception of George Richards, Mike DiPasquale, and Andy Slater, the coverage of the Panthers in South Florida is pretty weak. It's actually a shame to see a 5-word summary of a Panthers game at the end of a 5-minute garbage sportscast (featuring Dolphin news and a bunch of Heat and Celtics players mumbling about their "thoughts" on Obama's inauguration). Channel 7 ended its sports segment with: "Panthers lost to Dallas tonight"... Are you kidding me? That's it? What was the score? Is there a single highlight worth watching? When's the next game?

People can say that this sort of thing doesn't matter, but it does. If local sports coverage of women's late-night bowling was all the rage, you can bet that people would show up to see what it's all about. The same can be said for hockey. The masses who turn to these guys for information are the ones missing out on Panthers hockey.

Rest assured though; as soon as the Panthers start winning, channel 7 will be AT THE WHEEL of the bandwagon...

everyone is right,the panthers are only covered by 2 of the three local papers, the tv stations rarely if ever have someone at the games.

There is also way too much advertising but that has to do with the fact that the team runs the arena and they work more on making money for the arena then for the team, two reasons are that the money under the arena is not counted for when the league sends the share to the Panthers of 12 million. (Phoenix missed getting the money and the Nashville owners actually bought tickets to reach the minimum requirement to get the funds from the league).

We are suppose to be in a playoff race yet you get about 1 minute of out of town scores for the time spent by a sponsor.

As long as the team runs the arena the team will play second fiddle to the arena.

Yes there are too many ads, yes it pays the bills but there is a time where the advertisers are going to realize that they are not getting the bang for their dollar because of the over use of advertisements.

The only other arena where the number of ads comes close is in Tampa and that is where Yormark came from.

Lets see if the team can continue to play as they did for most of the month, yesterday they went back to the old panthers thinking they can just show up and win, everytime they do this they lose.

We have two tough games after the break and we need to come out strong, we are as good as Buffalo and Carolina, I believe that Pittsburgh will make the playoffs so it comes down to one spot for three teams.

No doubt the South Florida fan is fickle. However, the Cats haven't been in the playoffs in 7 years, which is pretty hard to do in hockey since over 50% of the teams make the playoffs.

The fans will start coming back after the team returns to the playoffs and ownership is committed to retain their playoff-caliber players. Some of us are still pissed at then, new owner Alan Cohen's trade of Pavel Bure for Igor Ulanov...but that was years ago so we shouldn't be crying over spilled milk.

Also, the number of FSN televised games have been reduced and not everyone can afford or wants to purchase Versus.

This year has been very positive. I think we actually have a chance!

I just had to laugh at Steve's comments above, that it might have been too cold a night for us South Floridians to brave a trip out to the BankAtlantic Center to watch a hockey game! Steve, unfortunately you're probably right. But we should go tell that to the folks in Chicago who sat outside in REAL cold on New Years Day to watch the Blackhawks/Red Wings game at Wrigley... or any northern team's fan base that deals with winter conditions every game and understands that is what a hockey culture is all about!

I'd have to agree with the sentiment that when the team gets it going for a prolonged period of time, fans will return. A couple wins here and there isn't going to do it. And, you can dress it up all you want, but the Panthers have LOST their last three home games. Yes, "we got a point" in two of them, but they were still losses. They felt like losses. The transient opposing fans made it feel like we lost. And, the scoreboard at the end of the game said we lost. So, that certainly doesn't help, especially when the last game before yet another multi-day break was a stinkeroo game against Dallas (yet another team that lost in Tampa and won here)

Anyway, I'm not buying the Heat suck fans from the Panthers. I could be wrong, but I know a lot of people that play hockey and watch their share of games. Almost all of them could care less about the NBA. I suspect if you took a straw poll of Heat fans, they would say the same thing about the Panthers. It's just my opinion (actually it isn't), but I think they're two different groups that follow the Heat and Panthers.

The playoffs are still a doable goal though and that is reason for hope this season.

It wasnt that long ago, when the arena opened, my sth guy had to fight to get me club seats. The arena was a sell out. Eight years of a poor product will kill any franchise. Its laughable except for us few thousand diehards, that surrounding fans will patronize . This is not only true hear, but anywhere. IE, the islanders havea very hockey friendly community in LI and cant get people to come..why? POOR PRODUCT!!
If we make the playoffs seats will sell. Period. More then any other product ploy, winning sells. And im still concerned without a goal scoring pickup here, we will fall short, once again.

Panther fans in Florida? HHAAHAHAHAHAHAHA most of the fans that go are fans of other teams.

How many TRUE panther fans are there? NOT MANY. If NYR/Montreal big market teams come in to play, there are more of their fans than ours. A lets go Buffalo chant was going on during the Buffalo game. I'm not saying its bad, I wouldn't waste my money on a franchise that has lost for almost a decade. Just look at the Marlin games! no support for a team that is always producing great prospects and getting to the WS. South Florida is a joke. Florida alone is a waste of time.

Floridian's don't even know how to vote! (2000 campaign)

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