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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!