as anyone, love cheering for local teams. Being from southern Wisconsin and attending universities here I feel like I keep a good eye on smaller-sized teams, whether it be D-III collegiate sports, minor league baseball, or some of the semi professional teams that are scattered around the state. The Green Bay Chill is another team I'm going to keep an eye (or eyes) on this fall, as there is a new expansion football team up in Packer Country. Check them out.
Speaking of Packer Country, it goes without saying that I keep an eye on many teams across the state. Besides the big boys across the land, I check in regularly on the Whitewater Warhawks (my hometown team and multiple DIII titles), occasionally jump on the wagon of UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay when the Horizon League Tournament rolls around, if not the NCAA tournament, and observe the smattering of other teams. I've made it up to the Resch Center in Green Bay to watch the Phoenix take on the Butler Bulldogs (great battle), and I, naturally, love when Marquette loses. Don't know what it is, but I've never been a fan of the Golden Eagles.
Now we'll move onto the hockey focus. I'm sure not too many people, don't get upset if I'm incorrect, are aware that St. Norbert College has won two NCAA titles in the last four seasons. Sure, their squad isn't necessarily smothered with members from within Wisconsin's borders, but it's always nice to see a Wisconsin DIII team grab multiple titles in any sport. There are several other DIII teams from Wisconsin that finished in the Top 25 polls in both men and women play, so it's known that Wisconsin is a good ground for college hockey.
Moving away from college hockey for a moment, there are other notable teams in the state. There are smaller Junior League teams from Janesville and Onalaska to go along with the more well known like the Green Bay Gamblers. The last three years the Gamblers have posted records of 39-17-4, 45-10-5, and 41-15-4 the past three seasons to show their ability to win, not even mentioning the last fifteen solid years the team has enjoyed. Lastly, there are the Milwaukee Admirals from the AHL who have not endured losing season since 2001-2002. They too keep putting up the wins. (Too bad the other winter sport team that plays in the Bradley Center can't stay consistent...or let alone be sure there is going to be a season soon coming about. That's for another day.)
Putting up victories is the number one priority in sports. There's no doubt in that. The other important number is easily the amount of seats that are warmed throughout the game, unless your team is so awesome (cough) that you can charge people for "standing room only" or "general admittance" seats.
Ultimately, that's what's going to keep a team in a city. Just recently, we know what happened to the Atlanta Thrashers franchise that couldn't survive in what, for whatever reason, seemed to be like a good market for hockey. And from other things I've read about other teams in the Atlanta area, it's hard to believe that many sports teams continue to thrive at all.
On a quick side note (I'm good at these), the College Football Hall of Fame is moving to Atlanta in 2012. I have no idea who decided to put in there. I actually visited it when I was in South Bend for a weekend visiting Notre Dame and football Jesus. It wasn't much, and it's moving because of the low attendance numbers. Ok, back to hockey.
Taking a quick peak into attendances around the state we see some differences. I'm not going to even try to find the attendance for the Janesville and Onalaska games, but I have been to a handful of games in Janesville. With the limited space available the people of Janesville definitely make a good effort to come out, fill the seats, and support their local team. I was pleasantly surprised the first time I walked through the front doors. It helps when you have cute blonde girls selling beer...
The Admirals have seen a change of attendance over the years. From what I found on milwuakeehockey.com, with the most recent update being from the 2008-09 season, the average attendance at the Bradley Center is about 4,000 less than what it was at its peak in the mid-1990s at about 99,00 people per game. It seems to have steadied out over the past few years, and this past season was, according to milwaukeeadmirals.com, the highest attendance since the 2001-02 season. Seems like things are going pretty well at the BC, and I actually may have to go back over there to watch players attempting to make the Nashville Predators NHL squad, most notably a Badger in Craig Smith, assuming Blake Geoffrion stays up in the NHL. I missed out on Blake Geoffrion bobblehead day....
We all know Milwaukee can be a great city for sports, but it seems to become the most apparent when the two other professional teams are doing well. I'm not too sure about the season total for when the Bucks are doing well, but I know that the Brewers have pulled in over 3 millions attendees this year before playing their full home schedule. 3 million people over 81 home games...that's a pretty good average attendance at Miller Park (37,000). The Bradley Center sits just under 18,000 people for hockey games, so I'm thinking Milwaukee might be able to bring in a high number of fans if an NHL team made it's way to "The Good Land".
Even though the sports business is vastly different now, Wisconsin was awarded the Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers as relocation teams, not to mention the Milwaukee Braves (even though the team owner decided to move them to Atlanta (Atlanta!) for greener pastures - "greener" meaning more money. (Again, with a side note about the Milwaukee Braves. I'm good friends with the grandchildren of a certain Brave who has been in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame for many years. It's my personal "claim to fame").
What would it be like having an NHL franchise Wisconsin? Right away, it'd have to be between Milwaukee and Madison. An NHL team needs to be put into a market that will give it the best chance to survive. So, right away, we can say that an NHL team would probably displace the Admirals and put up their logo all over the Bradley Center. If the location of an NHL franchise were placed in Madison, I would think that a new stadium would have to be built.
Let's compare an NHL team in Madison to what I think the best comparison we can make right now, the Badger hockey program. Obviously, the teams that play over at the Kohl Center win games and bring in good crowds, always towards the top in NCAA hockey, but it would definitely be different for an NHL franchise.
What would the differences be? Not to get into a huge list of items, but the few I can think of are huge. One would be the way to draw fans. The Kohl Center brings in students, family, friends, locals, alumni, etc. It might be difficult to drop a now-existing NHL franchise into Madison and expect a team to draw fans based solely on their performance (as there is always the ability to draw fans due to the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, etc. coming into town). I too think about an NHL team being "accepted" by Wisconsin folks. My pals in Winnipeg are more than ecstatic about the return of the Jets franchise in Manitoba, but I'm sure a few of them still think of the Jets squad as the Thrashers relocated.
Also, because the team would have to deal with more city laws, leases, and regulations than I care to know about, the team would have to figure out a way for fans to park in the city's parking structures, along with having the proper permits and whatever else comes along with housing an NHL team.
Why is that a big deal? We should all be aware of the troubles the Phoenix Coyotes face financially playing in Glendale, AZ. When people park their vehicles in the city's parking structure for games, the franchise PAYS the city money for every vehicle that sets its tires in the structure. Simply, the franchise was, in a sense, losing money every time a fan parked within a structure the city owned. I remember reading this a few years ago and being amazed. I'm sure there's more problems the Coyotes face every year, and more city ordinances teams would have to follow.
Looking back at my comment about dropping a now-existing NHL franchise into Wisconsin, we have to look at expansion versus relocation. As of now there are 30 teams in the NHL, and this most likely means that a team would have to pick up their gear from elsewhere and drop it here to call Wisconsin home. We could be awarded an NHL expansion franchise, but I don't seem that happening, as there would probably have to be another team created to make an even 32 teams. With all the discussion right now of NHL realignment and struggling teams, I'm sure expansion is off the table even though the NHL is doing fairly well as of late. SportBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily awarded "Sports League of the Year" to the NHL because of the league's good revenue numbers, television ratings, sales, and Internet traffic. It beat out other leagues you think would win due to fantasy sports and pay-per-view numbers.
An NHL team located right here in the Midwest makes good geographic sense. Looking around the NHL landscape, it is difficult sometimes to understand why teams are located where they are around the USA. If a team were to set its roots in Wisconsin, there'd be the Minnesota Wild, Blackhawks, Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, and even the Winnipeg Jets all nestled in a geographic group to construct what could become a division if realignment does occur.
Lastly, an event I'd be sure to go see if an NHL team came to Wisconsin would be the Winter Classic game that would have to be played at Lambeau Field. That would be enough of a sell to bring a team to Wisconsin, right? Our NFL team shouldn't have to play there until mid-January anyways...