This is not going to be a long, well thought piece using wonderful prose and (mainly) constructive arguments. This is going to be a rant, because I've lost my patience and need to vent. This is the best place for me to do it as well. It may offend some people, but sometimes rants do that. Maybe you think this is nothing more than spewing Hot Takes, and I can't do anything to dissuade you from that. All I can do is put my thoughts out to the public sphere for consumption. Here goes nothing:
Yes, the Florida Panthers attendance tonight was bad. Very bad. Historically bad. I get it. I knew this was going to happen in August. I don't need everyone being vultures on twitter to tell me something I and most sane Florida Panthers fans already knew well in advance. Guess what happens when your team is consistently awful minus one fluke season since the turn of the millennium? People get annoyed, fed up, and stop throwing their money down the drain. Wouldn't you do the same thing?(Toronto is an outlier here)
I admire Panthers SSO's all these years who have had to put up with so much crap from the team, opposing fans, and media (mainly from Canada). How they have been able to stomach it consistently and still go back for more is amazing dedication to blind loyalty. I could only dream of such devotion; I've been at it with the Panthers for 6+ years and I'm now starting to lose my cool. 14 years? You folks are stronger than I'll ever be.
Time for some facts:
1) The Panthers have been papering over the cracks of bad attendance for years. The reason attendance numbers were as high as they were because old ownership gave handouts and subsidized/free tickets to get people in the barn. Can't forget when visiting fans have a field day at BB&T Center, even when they aren't directly advertised to. Old ownership never wanted to admit they had a major problem, even when they were stuck in a vicious cycle of penny-pinching that led them absolutely nowhere.
2) Normally, people won't show up to watch consistently garbage teams. I know this is a foreign concept in places like Edmonton or Toronto, because hockey's the big game in town, but South Florida is the polar opposite of that. Did you see the pictures this weekend from the University of Miami football game? It was a ghost town. Miami and South Florida above all like winners, nothing more, nothing less. Once you lose, the average fan has many other better things to do than watch consistent crap night in and night out. This might not be the case in Toronto or Edmonton or Calgary or even Winnipeg, but it certainly is in Sunrise, and who could blame them for it? The building was full during the playoff run, it was at about 16.5K in the lockout shortened season because the team had just WON. The handouts inflated it sure, but the building will be full when the team wins. Simple. They nearly filled a 20K seat arena at the turn of the millennium with Pavel Bure in tow. It can be done.
3) Every team has attendance issues at some point. Yes, this includes every market whose media is now taking shots at the Panthers. Calgary, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Colorado... pretty much every single one sans a handful have had these issues in the past. Why are things different now? WINNING. It's very simply. The Bruins, Blackhawks and Penguins are turned things around because they won. So did Calgary. So did Colorado. It's not a hard concept to grasp. I'll also bring up markets like Hartford, Quebec City, and Winnipeg the first time, whose attendance drops were precipitous in the years before the relocation specter became a force. Why did the attendance go up in the years right before the move? Because either the realization that hockey was going away for good hit them hard and told them to get back int the building because they wouldn't have many more chances to see it live at the NHL level, and because it's common too. See the Sonics in their last home game before moving to OKC. Unless you are a handful of markets, complaining about attendance is not something you should do without looking at your own history first. It's not just a Sunbelt thing.
4) No two hockey markets are alike, and thinking that is the case is absolutely foolish and telling yourself blatant lies. Yes, so that means Toronto is different from South Florida, and South Florida is different from Phoenix. I don't understand why this is such a difficult concept to understand, but apparently it is. All markets should be judged against themselves, not against each other because each is unique and cannot be shoe-horned into one set template matching a narrative. Sorry.
I could go into why the team is not likely moving anywhere anytime soon, from Bettman needing the market to the new owners to the lease, but even if I won the argument it would be a Pyrrhic victory. I'd have no energy left to talk about the bad hockey, which is the real problem here. If the team showed signs of winning, the building would fill up. If they actually won, like they did in 2012, the building would be full every night. That's not just a Miami sports market issue (and anyone who knows me knows I say Miami is the worst sports market in the country every time of asking), it's an issue for almost every team who consistently loses. Even if the game-day experience was the best in any sport, it would be like selling a diamond-encrusted dog turd to the masses. It might be covered in diamonds, but... well, you get the idea.
The Panthers are not blameless in this. The vicious cycle of losing and penny-pinching was not started by this ownership group but they have decided to confront the problem head-on instead of ducking from it, and that's admirable. What that means is that nights like tonight will happen again unless they win, and they may continue or even get worse. But this ownership has decided that this plan of action is better than papering over the cracks. I guess the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. I'm not a billionaire like Vinnie Viola is, so I can't tell you for sure whether that is the correct business move or not. It's the plan of action though, and there's not much I can do from 1000 miles away other than go with it.
I wrote this to prevent myself from getting into needless arguments on twitter and ruining endless days of my life from this. I barely have the energy to get into the hockey issues with the Panthers, let alone the off-ice ones. I try to take the high road but it's incredibly hard when you're being attacked from all sides at all times.
I'm not saying the Panthers don't have a problem. They do, and it's a major one. Hopefully, it will get solved, either by hell or high water. But I don't need people constantly spreading propaganda, misinformation and lies at our expense because some unlucky dude on twitter needs to pick on someone to make himself feel better, or some Canadian writer is having a bad day at the office so he needs to troll for page clicks. Everyone needs their whipping boy, so the mob moved from Atlanta to Phoenix and now to Florida. It wasn't fair on the first two fanbases, and it certainly isn't fair now.
This is the last I will speak on the subject, for better or for worse. If you have problems with what I said here, tell me. I'm open for constructive debate and constructive discussion on why the problem exists to begin with, and how it can be fixed. I'm not for burning down straw men.
But I'm not interested in flinging diamond-encrusted dog turds at people from across keyboards and cyberspace anymore.
I dealt with this bull-crap with the Jaguars for many years. I'm tired of it.