On Wednesday Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold extended a midnight deadline for local investors, trying to buy the Predators and keep them in Nashville, to finalize the sale or lose exclusive negotiating rights. The local group is negotiating with Nashville city officials on more favorable arena lease terms they deem necessary for the sale to go through and for the team to be profitable.
Back in March Leipold signed a letter of intent to sell the team for $220 million to Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie. In June Balsillie started taking deposits in Hamilton, Ontario for season tickets and suites, hoping to move the team after voiding the Predators’ lease (a possibility if the team does not average 14,000 in paid attendance this season). Leipold then decided not to sell to Balsillie. The local group signed their letter of intent in August to buy the team from Leipold for $193 million – much less than Balsillie’s offer.
It’s believed that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is against a team moving to Canada at this time (Winnipeg would also like a team). However, a team wanting to move to a U.S. market such as Las Vegas or even Kansas City, which has a new arena but no team, would get more favorable treatment. While I’m not entirely convinced Nashville is a viable enough NHL market, I do think there is a team that should be ahead of the Predators on the moving-franchises list. And it’s not one of the teams in the state of Florida, or Atlanta, or even Phoenix.
It’s the New Jersey Devils.
Despite three Stanley Cup titles and a generally high standard of excellence, the Devils have never drawn well. Until this year they played at the Continental Airlines Arena (now the Izod Center) in the Meadowlands. It’s considered one of the poorest hockey facilities and it’s in the middle of nowhere. But now the Devils’ home is the Prudential Center in downtown Newark. It’s two blocks from the train station, making it easily accessible via Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and other lines. Generally, teams moving into beautiful new facilities are able to sell tickets easily, at least for the first season. But after their home opener this past Saturday was sold out, the announced attendance for their second home game last night was 13,218 – over four thousand short of capacity.
Simply put, the Devils have no fan base. The northern part of the state is dominated by New York Rangers fans, and the south is Philadelphia Flyers territory. Whenever the Rangers or Flyers play road games against the Devils, their fans attend in large numbers. With the new building’s proximity to the train station, that trend will continue and may even increase. And having three teams in the New York City media market (Devils, Rangers and Islanders) hasn’t had a positive effect on the NHL’s fortunes. There is no reason for a team to be in New Jersey.
Besides, I’m pretty sure a trip to see a Flyers-Devils game will be much more fun if it’s in Las Vegas. -- Joe Guckin