SBD/October 6, 2011/NHL Season Preview

NHL Franchise Notes: Panthers Have Opportunity To Seize South Florida Fans

Panthers hope to get off to a quick start to win over fans in South Florida

In West Palm Beach, Ethan Skolnick notes the Dolphins' 0-4 record "could make it easier" for the Panthers "when it comes to stealing some of the South Florida sports fan's attention." As could the Heat's "absence, at least until the NBA lockout is settled, which may not be for months." Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said, "There's a window." Panthers C Stephen Weiss: "We've talked about that, that it's a perfect opportunity to grab the spotlight here." The Panthers this season will "return to their roots, and red home sweaters." The change "spawned the 'We See Red' campaign which, starting in June, has been on billboards and buses all over Broward County, along with some of the players." Panthers President & COO Michael Yormark said the campaign has "helped us distance ourselves from the past several years which, as you know, have not gone well. It's a symbol of hope" (PALM BEACH POST, 10/6).

SOUTHERN COMFORT: The Hurricanes played their first preseason game in Charlotte last month, drawing 10,433 fans for a game against the Jets, and President & GM Jim Rutherford said the team "would love to come back." But with Time Warner Cable Arena hosting the DNC next September, Rutherford said, "We might have to skip a year." In the meantime, the Hurricanes have no plans to explore other markets. “We get calls all the time certainly from places in North Carolina and South Carolina,” Rutherford said. “But we do not have a plan at this point in time to go anywhere else.” He added the team will “see if it makes sense to go into Atlanta and do a game.” Rutherford emphasized the Hurricanes will not be competing with the Predators for the Atlanta market, which lost its NHL team to Winnipeg this offseason. “We’re just trying to keep the National Hockey League alive and well in Atlanta without having a team, and keep people interested in it," he said. "I suspect that that would be a shared promotion with Nashville, not that we’re trying to go in there on our own” (Matt Schiffman, THE DAILY).

NO HARD FEELINGS? The AP's Paul Newberry wrote Atlanta Spirit co-Owner Michael Gearon Jr., whose ownership group in May sold the Thrashers to Winnipeg-based True North Sports & Entertainment, "feels the partnership did everything it could to keep an NHL team in Atlanta." He pointed out that "none of Atlanta's prominent -- and richest -- citizens stepped up to help the team." Atlanta Spirit had been "seeking additional investors since 2008, and Gearon made it clear in February that the current ownership couldn't continue to absorb some $20 million a year in losses." Gearon said, "I feel bad as an Atlantan. I don't feel bad about the way we did things. I was the one guy in the city who stepped up and did what I could, when there were other people in this city who didn't step up and could have." He added, "I don't agree with people who say it's my fault. Over eight years, we put more than $100 million into that team, basically subsidizing entertainment for the city of Atlanta" (AP,10/5).

PACKING THEM IN: Blackhawks Chair Rocky Wirtz Tuesday discussed the state of the franchise since he took over in '07. Wirtz said, "Did I think we would have 160-plus sellouts, that we could sell-out three exhibition games, that we could sellout a practice and have 18,000 people coming and watching the Hawks? I knew eventually we could get there, but I didn't think it would take four years." Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said the team had to be "reintroduced to the city" because it "had gotten to the point where Blackhawks hockey was almost irrelevant." McDonough added, "Our fan base needed to see significant change. They needed to see in a new way, a new way of doing business, getting out of the grudge business" ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 10/3).

LOOKING UP
: In Columbus, Michael Arace notes the Blue Jackets have "never looked better on paper, and season-ticket sales are rebounding." Nationwide Arena was "filled to 96 percent capacity through" the team's first five seasons in Columbus, and the "possibility is there for the Jackets to recoup the heady atmosphere that pervaded during their honeymoon." But Arace writes the "notion that the Jackets can seize the city is as specious as the idea that Ohio State football leaves little room for anything else" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/6).

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