Wednesday, July 1, 2009

NHL in Kansas City (Part 1)

For years this town has been craving an NBA or NHL franchise. From what I can draw on the internet and just talking to people, it is split down the middle, but leaning towards the NHL.

Now most people will say that KC had its chance with the Scouts in the 70's, but I say the Scouts are the poorest of examples. The 70's were an awful time for expansion, as professional sports had yet made the crossover into corporate sponsorship and marketing. The Scouts had a poor ownership structure, zero marketing outside of local media, and oh yeah, THEY WERE HORRIBLE. The team was also announced just months before the NHL season began and gave ticket boosters very little time to sell season tickets. Also fueling the wildfire was the Scouts beginning a 9 game road trip to start their inaugural season due to the American Royal Rodeo. The Scouts went 0-8-1 during the stretch. Not exactly a team that is going to gather interest. The Scouts never sold out a game in the brand new Kemper Arena.

The Scouts also suffered due to a shallow talent pool, as the World Hockey Association was gathering more high quality players (Ala Wayne Gretzky). The WHA merger with the NHL all but sunk the lowly Scouts. The nail in the coffin came when the Scouts were just 1 point back from the St. Louis Blues late in 1975, but the team won only ONE game in a 44 game stretch and finished in last. The team then moved on to Colorado for six seasons, until they finally moved on to their permanent home in New Jersey, where they have won three Stanley Cups* and seen several Hall of Fame players in their uniform*.

*The Devils won the Cup in 1995, 2001, and 2003. Defenseman Scott Stevens was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 2007, Martin Brodeur is a lock for the Hall as he is the career leader in shutouts in the NHL.

So the Scouts are not even a plausible example of why Kansas City is not deserving of an NHL franchise.

Hockey was dormant in Kansas City for decades until Canadian businessman Russ Parker purchased the rights of the idle Toledo Blades of the International Hockey League and decided to place the team in Kansas City. The team kept the name, Blades, and soon became the primary affiliate of the San Jose Sharks.

The Blades saw early success, as they won the IHL Championship in only their second year of existence. After that, they were consistently in the top of the IHL standings and attendance figures. The Blades made the IHL Finals once more in 1995, but lost to the Denver Grizzlies in 4 games. The last crowd of over 16,000 to see a hockey game in Kemper Arena was on hand to watch the Blades lose their last Championship game.

16,000 people. For a minor league hockey game. 16,000 people in a dumpy arena in the West Bottoms. For a hockey game. In Kansas City.

The team was sold in 1996. They never made the playoffs again and became somewhat of a joke in the town and were contracted when the IHL merged with the American Hockey League, and pro hockey has been absent in KC ever since.

That is until the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks got together for a preseason game in 2003. The game sold out in under a month and was recorded as the largest crowd to ever see a hockey game in Kansas City at a crowd just under 18,000 in an antiquated Kemper Arena.

That game drew the attention of the NHL. Kansas City had shouted: "WE WANT HOCKEY!" and the league had heard it. So did the city. Soon legislation was put on the table for a new downtown arena and entertainment district.

After that, the KC based group NHL21* put on a few exhibition games in Kemper Arena. The Blues and Nashville Predators drew a crowd of 13,000+, and a game between the Florida Panthers and the Predators was cancelled due to the 04-05 lockout. But that game had sold nearly 10,000 tickets before the game was cancelled in late August.

*NHL21, a "grassroots" organization, was developed by local businessmen Paul McGannon ond Tom Reiger. The organization has over 150 members and is dedicated to bringing the NHL to KC.

From 2003-2007, Kansas City had the highest TV ratings for a non-NHL market, getting a 4+ share from ESPN, ESPN2, Versus, ABC, Fox, and NBC. After that, Commissioner Gary Bettman and other NHL executives have made multiple trips to Kansas City. After The Anschutz Entertainment Group* joined with KC government to built the $250 million Sprint Center* in the heart of downtown KC, a skeleton front office was constructed for a potential NHL franchise, with NHL Hall of Famer Luc Robataille named as the Vice President of Hockey Operations and plans put in place for NHL exhibitions to be put on every year until a team is located in KC. A reported crowd of over 12,000 watched the Blues play the Los Angeles Kings in late September of 2008, although it was reported that over 14,000 tickets had been sold for the game. That was on a Tuesday with two of the worst teams from 2007-08 playing and a majority of the teams' star players being scratched from the lineup.

Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) put up $50 million for the construction of the arena and surrounding entertainment district, KC Live! The CEO of AEG, Phil Anschutz, is a majority owner of the Los Angeles Kings and a member of the NHL Board of Executives. The Sprint Center drew over 1 million people in its first year of existence for concerts and sporting events

Kansas City has the fanbase. If an NHL team were placed here, I have no doubt that season tickets would fly out of the window. All of the Sprint Center suites sold out when Mario Lemieux contemplated relocating the Pittsburgh Penguins to KC. The suites still remain sold, yet the building remains empty.

Now multiple NHL teams have cited that they would consider relocation due to financial difficulty. The New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Phoenix Coyotes have all mentioned Kansas City in relocation talk.

The most likely is the New York Islanders. Owner Charles Wang has stated that if an arena zoning is not completed before the 2009-10 season, that he will move the team. The Islanders have already scheduled a preseason game in KC in late September. Many in the hockey community are viewing this as a "tryout" for Kansas City, to test the waters in the market to see if it is ready to support NHL Hockey. The game has been scheduled for Sept. 22, a Tuesday. If Kansas City can draw over 15,000 fans for an exhibition game on a Tuesday, with two regionally irrelevant teams, who finished in the bottom half of the league last year, then why wouldn't Kansas City be an option?


  1. NHL21, a "grassroots" organization, was developed by local businessmen Paul McGannon

    Your dad?

  2. Hahaha. You got him there. Scott Stevens was inducted in 2007.