Monday, May 11, 2009

Us Versus Them

As the continuing saga of the bankruptcy and potential relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes continues to unfold in the venue of the Judge Baum's bankruptcy court, an interesting aspect of this situation has started to emerge. There is now a website, Make It Seven, that has begun soliciting signatures in support of relocating the Coyotes to southern Ontario, and currently has over 100,000 signatures. A corresponding website, Keep It Six, has originated that is supporting the attempt to keep the Coyotes in Glendale/Phoenix. Understandably, proponents of both positions are passionate about their cause, and rightfully so. The interesting aspect of this to me is the level of vitriol that is being spewed, primarily by Canadian hockey fans and writers toward hockey in the States, especially in the "non-traditional" markets. Phoenix is the primary target of this venom, but all hockey in non-traditional markets is susceptible to the invective put forth by hockey fans north of the border. Some prominent hockey writers have jumped on this bandwagon as well. Consider this quote from Ed Willes in the Vancouver Province in his column on May 10,

"Simply put, it should be obvious by now the league doesn't work as currently constructed and the sooner it moves to markets which care about hockey, the better for all concerned."

Mike Brophy, a writer for The Hockey News , writes in a May 8 column,

"Beyond that, Canada deserves a seventh franchise and I think it is high time Canadians are given their due by the NHL. We sat back quietly when Quebec and Winnipeg packed up and left and we should not let the NHL sweep this opportunity under the carpet. It is also a slap in the face of all Canadian hockey fans for the NHL to turn down this golden opportunity to locate a franchise in what can only be deemed as the most desirable and fail-safe market in North America."

The ethnocentric view of these writers is mirrored by the many comments that I have read from hockey fans north of the border. A virulent stream of nationalism runs through many, not all, but a majority of hockey fans in Canada. The question is, does this serve the greater good of the game we all love? Realistically, none of us are privy to the deliberations of the Board of Governors as to the disposition of existing franchises and the potential for the location (or relocation) of new franchises. I can see the perspective of Canadian fans that feel they have been slighted or ignored by the league when it comes to additional franchises in their markets. However, does the shredding of league rules to relocate a struggling franchise benefit the league, its fans, and the growth of the game? I think fans of the game realize that the Greater Toronto area, or southern Ontario can easily support another team, but should another team be placed in these markets at the expense of uprooting an existing franchise and the destruction of its fan base?

The reality of the demographics of the North American market dictate that hockey should be in the south and in other "non-traditional" markets in the U.S. Will it take time to grow the game in those markets? Absolutely! Is it worth it to grow the game in those markets for the long term health of the league? I think it is.

There are numerous legal and financial issues to be resolved by the bankruptcy court regarding the fate of the Coyotes. There are issues about potential expansion of the league into new markets that must be addressed. There are issues about growth of the league, both in revenues and its fan base. All of these issues will take time to resolve, and they will be resolved through appropriate channels, and some interested parties will be satisfied with the disposition of these issues, and some will not. The fact is that the game we all love is desperately attempting to grow its fan base. We need the markets and the fans in Canada. And they need us. Its time to put aside the nationalism and nurture the great game we all love.

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