Tuesday, May 31, 2011

NHL Moves Out; MLS Moves In?

The Atlanta Thrashers have become the Winnipeg Jets, leaving an obvious hole to fill.  The Atlanta metropolitan area, the Houston area and the Miami metropolitan area are the only areas of the ten most populated metro areas in the U.S. lacking teams in the 5 major team sports.  Houston is not part of the NHL, Miami is not part of MLS and Atlanta is not part of MLS and the NHL now.  New York, Chicago and LA have multiple teams in some of the 5 team sports (LA is due for an NFL expansion franchise in the coming years).

Atlanta Thrashers logo from NHL
What has been known for many years is finally starting to take place.  Hockey does not belong in the South.  Southern states don't have ponds freezing over for months at a time.  Vicarious achievement (one of the key factors to why fans watch sports) is hard to engage when ice rinks are the only option for young people.  Its like fitting a square peg into a round hole.

The NHL in their greediness and overreaching pushed some of these square pegs until it appeared as if franchises were stable.  The reality is no southern franchise in the NHL will ever be stable because it is not a natural fit.

Vicarious achievement can never be underestimated.  Youngsters must be able to gather for a spontaneous game whenever possible.  As people grow up playing the game, it becomes much more easy to relate to watching the game.

Why are people going to watch a game they are not familiar with?  Is it the beer, the fights and really cool indoor setting?  That stuff only goes so far.

In the South, hockey is for suburban, prima donna families.  Ice rinks, skates, lessons, equipment are all part of the process for a hockey makeover.

One by one, each of the southern NHL franchises will cease to exist, either being replaced with teams from areas more to the north (possibly to other older NHL cities, like Quebec City or Hartford) or folding completely.  Phoenix, Tampa, Miami, Florida, Nashville, and Raleigh, N.C. will struggle to keep identities in regions without natural playing surfaces.

What the NHL Atlanta transition to Winnipeg says is that the door is open for MLS to come in and make a new home.  Interestingly, MLS is noticeably absent from each of the NHL southern franchises.  As Soccer becomes more popular with the masses in the U.S., expect to see the zamboni replaced by lawnmowers.

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