I had this all ready to post on another message board, tried to post it, and found out the thread had been locked. RATS!
So I'm posting it here. I'd been craving having something to blog about anyways.
This is a little modified to make more sense for the blog.
Nashville simply hasn't had enough time to become a viable market. But there's no reason it still couldn't.
It breaks down to a few facts.
The first of which is that Nashville was, for all intents and purposes, completely new to the game of hockey. This mid-tier market was going to have to come from complete scratch and compete with a few beloved sports in NFL football, college football, and NASCAR. This market was going to have to be built; very few people were going to start being fans just because a team was there.
For the first five seasons the team ranged from horrendous to bad. The organization built itself, hockeywise, in a fantastic manner, but they weren't about to turn people onto the game of hockey just because they were building the team the right way, the patient way.
In season six they finally snuck into the playoffs. But a mildly good season wasn't just suddenly going to make everyone in town start buying tickets. A decent playoff run maybe, but they lost in six games.
Then came the lockout. The lockout and an ownership change crushed hockey in St. Louis, a well established market. To a market that hadn't even had a chance to grow? Devastating. Erases anything the one playoff season did and more.
On the ice, though, the team comes back from the lockout in fine shape and has its best season. And the fanbase does respond with a good chunk of growth. But as the team flops out in the first round, there's really no bandwagon to be had, and the growth is limited.
And in season eight (on the ice), the team was even better. They competed for the President's Trophy. And this too came with some growth. But, yet again, the playoffs ended in the first round and growth and excitement were limited.
I just don't see where anyone can reasonably expect (or at least be completely surprised that it didn't happen) a brand new market to the game of hockey to respond to that limited success. Because of the lockout you've got basically two winning seasons to build off of, and they both came with not just first round defeats, but first round disappointments.
It's been said that contending for the Presidents trophy should have at least brought bandwagoners, but I just don't believe that. Seasons like that bring fair-weather fans out of the woodwork. They rarely create brand new fans. Post-season success creates new fans. Sports is all about the post-season. And Nashville hasn't won a single round of post-season play.
But they're primed for more growth right now. They've still got a team that can contend for a top seed in the playoffs, and thus a team that can be expected to win some rounds in the playoffs.
They've got the hockey growth in the area outside of the Predators ready to pay off soon.*
And now, they've got a bonus that can grow this market faster. They've got a threat to step up and get to the games or lose their team. People who would otherwise MAYBE call it "their" team are now going to start backing it, perhaps for the very wrong reasons, and end up falling in love and have it truly become THEIR team.
And corporate support is going to follow right along with these things at corporations support things that their potential patrons will support.
*-I've read before that a kid who was 10 when the Preds came is now moving out of the house. It's been said that if he's not a fan now he never will be. First off, that's not necessarily true at all. Secondly, it also doesn't mean much. I moved out of the house last year. Do you know how much money I have to spend on going to Blues games or buying any merchandise that would be of any note revenue-wise or anything like that? VERY LITTLE. Those types of fans won't really come in the picture until at least another 5-10 years when they've got a solid paying job and can afford to purchase tickets to games and what not. That's another reason why 10 years simply isn't enough time for some markets to be tested.
My argument has very little to do with Hamilton at all. I think there's questions about corporate support and a new arena, but I wouldn't rule it out as viable. Similarly, I don't blindly accept that they'd sell out every game forever no matter what the record of the team was. History says when Canadian teams struggle, sometimes so do their fanbases. Now, that's true, maybe more true in America, I'm just saying that the idea that they'll always sell out isn't something I put much stock in.
But overall, it's not really about Hamilton at all for me.
The point is that 10 years ago the NHL chose to attempt to build a market in Nashville. They've made great strides and still have plenty of room to grow and very much could. Pulling the plug now and calling the market a failure already would be a very big mistake in my opinion.