SBD/24/Franchises

DOES A STATE FOREIGN TO HOCKEY HAVE WHAT THE DEVILS NEED?

     Tuesday's Nashville TENNESSEAN examined whether or not
Nashville has what it takes for the NHL to survive there.  Harold
Huggins reports that while the city has many positives the league
is looking for, there are doubters.
     THE PROS:  Positives such as a new downtown arena and strong
corporate presence by Gaylord Entertainment are Nashville's
biggest strengths.  NHL VP/Public Relations Arthur Pincus told
the TENNESSEAN:  "The cities have to make the decision that they
want to have a major league team.  What you've got is a very big
part of that.  It's very important."  In addition, Huggins writes
that Pincus said that downtown districts with nightlife "are
especially good," because "that helps create excitement."
     THE CONS:  Huggins writes, "Hockey is a sport that's foreign
to Tennessee.  No youth leagues, no high school programs, no
college teams. ... the question remains: Will Nashville buy
hockey?"  Greg Lutz, COO of the ECHL Nashville Knights:  "I don't
see how a market like Nashville could support an NHL team.  I
think the city's a long way from a venture with the ticket prices
they have in the NHL."  Larry Schmittu, owner of the minor league
baseball AAA Sounds: "Most people have heard of Gretzky, but he's
not going to be here every night.  You're looking at trying to
attract thousands of fans here for 30, 40 or 50 games a year at
$25 or so per ticket."  A survey of local sporting goods stores
found no interest in NHL merchandise (TENNESSEAN, 5/23).
     APPROVAL FROM ABOVE?  In this morning's N.Y. POST, Phil
Mushnick writes that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "was reciting
a string of reasons as to why it makes little sense for the
Devils to stay in Jersey," during an interview on SportsChannel
Monday night.  During the interview, Bettman pointed out that
only the NHL has a market with three teams, and that hockey is
"No. 4, which means we have the seventh, eighth and ninth pro
teams in New York."  Bettman said that "it's difficult (for the
Devils) to get media attention, it's difficult for doing your TV
contracts, it's difficult for attracting fans to your building,
so I think that presents some problems."  Mushnick writes
Bettman's comments may have been "designed" for the Devils'
landlord -- the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (N.Y.
POST, 5/24).
     MIDDLE AGE BLUES?  The Bergen RECORD analyzed the role of
the 20-year-old NJSEA, and the problems they face  satisfying
Devils Owner John McMullen's demands.  NJSEA spokesperson John
Samerjan: "The four-franchise occupancy is a great draw, but it's
a very difficult business balancing act" (Fitzgerald & Hirsch,
Bergen RECORD, 5/21).
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