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Is contraction a viable option for solving attendance woes?

Oct 26, 2010, 12:14 AM EDT

Los Angeles Kings v Phoenix Coyotes Getty Images

During the summer, we stirred the pot a little bit by discussing how now would be the time for expansion in the NHL. With a glut of talented and available free agents we thought it would be a good idea. Of course, with disappointing attendance numbers in Atlanta, Columbus, and Phoenix talk is being made of going the other way when it comes to solving problems in the NHL. Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times pens a thought-provoking piece discussing the labor issues going on in the NBA and talks about how they compare to the NHL. Elliott discusses contraction as a means to solve the NHL’s problems with attendance and money. Of course, such suggestions usually lead to more questions than they do answers.

But there’s enough of an argument here for Bettman to put contraction on the table. Owners of prosperous teams would love it: they wouldn’t have to subsidize small-market teams and could keep greater shares of TV and advertising dollars. It would also put Donald Fehr, the incoming executive director of the NHL Players Assn., in a tough spot. Should he fight to keep jobs or for overall stability? Or can both exist?

Let’s get this out of the way, the NHL isn’t looking to kill off markets and the NHLPA isn’t about to go looking to cut jobs for its members, especially with Donald Fehr calling the shots. I get where the idea comes from and I get why it might seem like a smart idea. Teams that stay in the league get better by default with the dispersal of talent from the teams that would be contracted and better hockey means more excitement and potentially more fans.

Giving up on one, two, or however many markets a league might want to for contraction means giving the finger to fans in those cities for life. Winning those fans back after taking away their team almost never works. Only special circumstances allow for success to be had, but the difference there is that any reclamation projects that happened in other sports (most notably in the NFL) occurred thanks to expansion, not contraction. Contraction almost certainly means creating an instant wasteland filled with spite and bitter feelings as far as a market goes. What might make sense for business in one way, completely works against it in other ways.

  1. ThatGuy - Oct 26, 2010 at 9:18 AM

    Or you could fix the attendence in places like Phoenix/Atlanta by, you know not having teams there. Put teams back in Canada, or other places that actually have ice. Winniepeg, Quebec City, Wisconsin, KC maybe all could hold teams and get better attendence. The Coyotes proved last year that it doesn’t matter if their team is good, because they were and they still couldnt draw fans. Move them back to Winniepeg.

  2. iceh0les - Oct 26, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    Contraction makes total sense…could easily lose 4 teams. Phoenix, Atlanta, and Miami have notoriously bad pro sports fans, so there’s three right there. Columbus makes the most sense as the 4th: small market, no current or future hockey support, who cares about “giving them the finger.”

    Agree w/ previous comment that moving them to Canada also makes some sense. Perhaps squash two, and move two. Moving all 4 might feel a little desperate, where as chopping heads feels more effective.

  3. starsforlife - Oct 26, 2010 at 7:24 PM

    I actually disagree with both posts. Im sorry but I feel that contraction right now especially back to teams in Canada will hurt the NHL more than help it. First of all most American sports fans see hockey as a Canadian sport and have hardly no attachment to it, except for when we went deep in the Olympic Gold race this past winter Olympics. Aside from the bandwagon American fans that will be even more encouraged to not watch the sport there are he die hards who love hockey more than any other American sport. If their teams are removed entirely or moved far away, it would be insulting and that would draw major resentment for the NHL which would lead to more loss in popularity. I think that expansion into more southern states, and definitely more marketing boosts from the NHL for those teams would help establish hockey as a viable contender in the world of sports where football is dominant. Im just saying that the contraction idea would eventually lead to a slow death of the NHL all together given the consequences that would follow the years after. Thats my two cents.

  4. Dan - Oct 28, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    I would say killing a few teams would be super counter productive. We would certainly see a huge backlash from fans but think of all the folks in those organizations…that’s just what we need in north America right now. Moving teams may make sense but moving a team like phx to a market that already proved they can’t support an NHL team is not too smart.

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