First, let me hand out some props.
I have certainly done my fair share of ragging on our local media for their poor coverage of the Predators. I have even developed something of a reputation for it.
Today i woke up to see the front cover of the Tennessean with Jim Balsillie's face on it, and an in-depth-ish article on the new owner. The paper has also done an excellent job lately in covering the pluses and minuses of the team's sale, while giving both the optimistic and 'realist' views of the team's chances of staying in town. As much as i've hated on John Glennon and team, i need to call out that since they were scooped on the sale of the team, they have really stepped up with good coverage. The City paper also had a great, reasonably balanced story on the economic impact the Predators have on Nashville (even though the picture of a crowd at Rippy's on the front cover was clearly taken before a Kentucky basketball game, not a Preds game).
Now, i finally get around to posting my thoughts and opinions on where the Predators might be headed (literally and figuratively)...
I am excited. I think this is a good thing. The next few weeks will certainly tell us a lot more, but as it stands now, i'm thinking positive. A week ago i would have laid only 10-15% odds that the Predators would be in Nashville beyond next season. Now i'd put those odds at closer to 45%. So, notice, i am not a blind optimist, but things aren't looking all that bad.
Craig Leipold is rich. But not that rich. He was a good owner, but not that great.
He bought the team for $80 million, had losses in all but one of the team's 10 years that totaled up to $70 million in losses. Sold for $220. Profit: $70 million. He's a business man and doesn't have infinitely deep pockets. The sale made sense. Who was willing to pay him the most? Jim Balsillie. I don't fault Leipold for the sale and don't feel cheated or lied to. He did what he had to do. We knew he had been looking to sell at least portions of the team for some time.
Under New Management
I am glad to have Jim Balsillie. I think he's going to be the Mark Cuban of hockey. I expect to see him at every game. Heck, i wouldn't be surprised to see him on the ice or on the bench during free skate. He is a passionate fan. There is nothing better in an owner. Well, that and being stinking rich - which he is.
What i hope for most out of Jim Balsillie is better marketing. We have fabulous individual fan support for a great product. Better than most in the league, or most leagues for that matter. What we lack is the 'bigger picture' business and community support. Unlike most, i don't blame the community for this. I blame the team and more specifically, the marketing department. They never did a good job reaching out to the business community. After several years of discussion regarding lack of business support, i saw "100 ways to use Predators tickets for your business" and a few adds on TV and radio that started running well after the All-Star game last year. A little late guys. The marketing, especially to businesses, needs to improve. Can you think of someone better to market to businesses than a billionaire (read: money to invest) who happens to be the head of the Blackberry empire?
Will the Predators be moving? Well, not for the 07-08 season at least. That much is sure. And now, as mentioned above, the media has begun covering the team more. The impact the team has on the city has been seen. Business owners are stepping up.
NHL Commisioner Gary Bettman just said in a press conference that he spoke with Balsillie (apparently one of few people that have since the sale was announced) and that Balsillie told him he had no specific intentions around moving the team. He just wants to own a team. I accept that as truth, but not a no-move promise. He could still want to move the team. But according to what Bettman says he was told (read: hearsay) he doesn't have plans in place.
Here's why i believe him: Where would he move?
Hamilton? Too close to Toronto and Buffalo, their owners would veto it.
Winnipeg? They just lost a team to Phoenix and at just 633k residents, it is not big enough to allow a move back there.
Kansas City? Las Vegas? Maybe, but why would Balsillie move from one 'non-traditional hockey market' city in the US to another?
Portland? This makes the most sense for a move. They are 3rd to Montreal and L.A. in biggest population per team. They only have one NBA team and 2.5 million people. But there hasn't been a big demand for moving a team there. And again, from Balsillie's point of view, why start over with a new city (if you can't move the team to your back yard)?
Remember one more important point: Bettman doesn't want the Predators to move. That would be:
- Admitting that he was wrong in moving hockey to Nashville and similar cities
- That would be one less city to expand to (and he loves those expansion fees)
- Specifically it limits the chance for western expansion and re-alignment
Even if the Predators don't meet the 14,000 ticket level, i think the team will be sticking around, for at least a few more years.
I also have to say that i was horribly disappointed in Section 303 leader Mark Hollingsworth. In this article, he was quoted as saying
"There are a lot of hard-core fans, including me, who might not even come to the games next year...I put way too much time and effort into this to watch a lame-duck situation...I speak for every serious fan that we want concrete assurances... that (Balsillie) is contractually committed to stay here somehow"No sir, you do not. Next year looks to be a fabulous year on the ice. Nothing will change that. We will be cup contenders again next year. Moving or not, i plan on being there to watch a great set of hockey games. Note: Mark did a little backpedal here and tried to be slightly more upbeat. I think most fans are still quite supportive.
Other fan issues: I feel like the Predators are just now reaching a critical mass when it comes to fans. Early on, it was a novelty. We had very high attendance numbers while everyone checked out this hockey thing (and it was stinking cheap back then). Now the city has a real growing fan base. People that follow the team, talk about it around the water cooler, etc. I am personal proof of that. I had gone to maybe 15-20 games in the first 7 years and watched many on TV. In the last 2 seasons i've been to no less than 50 and watch every one i can. The fan base is just coming of age. Kids that were 9-10-11 when the team came to town are now 20-somethings with cash to spend and weekends to fill. We are just now seeing fans that grew up with the team be old enough to pay for their own tickets.
Will the fans (besides the aforementioned busiensses) step up? I think so. If Balsillie acts like he is going to support the team at all - which i think he will - then i think an extra 200 seats per game is easily done. All discussions of the team moving will halt.
The Tennessean ran an article a few days ago raising the concern about the Predators re-signing players with all the uncertainty about the team. While i agree that uncertainty is never a plus in contract negotiations, it really isn't all that bad in this case. Scenario 1) The Predators stay put. The players like Nashville, we have a great team, they know what they get. 2) The Predators move to somewhere in Canada. The players now get to play in this great 'hockey country' we hear so much about, and for many of them, it is closer to home. Either way, they now work for a boss that is crazy passionate about hockey, which is just a plus over the previous ownership. The only downside is if Balsillie hasn't given Poile (the Predators GM) a budget for next year.
But if Balsillie is half the businessman and hockey fan we have heard, he has already given Poile an idea of where he needs to be. Even if he plans on moving the team, he will want a good team to move. It could be Quebec all over again (they moved and won the Cup in their first year in Denver), or even the inverse: the team wins the Cup, then moves.
So i think this is my longest blog post yet. I've had to work on it off and on for a while now, but i think i covered it all:
New owner: goodI'm out.
Team moving: possible but not certain, maybe even unlikely
Fans: mostly supportive
Team: solid as ever