Do Playoff Wins Create Good NHL Markets?

The Columbus Blue Jackets where swept out of the NHL playoffs by the Red Wings last night. That leaves the Thrashers and Blue Jackets tied for dead last in playoff wins at zero--but the city of Atlanta actually has two NHL playoff wins to its credit thanks to the Atlanta Flames. During their tenure in this city the Flames lost early and lost often in the playoffs. If you add together the sorry record of the Thrashers and the playoff defeats of the Flames it combines for an amazingly poor 2 playoff wins in 16 NHL seasons. Ouch.

Which brings me to around to my point. How much do playoff wins matter in terms of building a fan base? Personally, I think they matter a great deal. Why? Going far in the playoffs is what grabs the attention of casual fans. I have joked that when the Falcons made their first every appearance in the Super Bowl you couldn't find any Falcons gear for sale in stores in Atlanta because all the bandwagon people ran out and bought up all the stuff for their super bowl parties--and that is not much of an exaggeration.

On the flip side of the coin you have NHL franchises that regularly fail to qualify for the post-season (Atlanta, Columbus) or always fade out very early (Kings, Predators). Cities that don't make some noise in the post-season have a much tougher time attracting casual sports fans--all things being equal.

Of course not all markets are equal. A bad Vancouver team is going to have a better fan base than a bad team in a non-traditional market. But even original six markets struggle after prolonged periods lacking in playoff excitement. Consider for a moment that the sparse crowds in 'traditional" hockey markets such as Detroit, Chicago and Boston. Winning in the post-season matters in Detroit and it matters in Columbus and it matters in Georgia.

So which markets have benefited the most from post-season joys? To figure this out I calculated the average number of post-season victories per city (excluding the incomplete 2009 playoffs). Note that this is by city (NOT by franchise) so we have multiple cities with two NHL incarnations: Atlanta (Flames, Thrashers) Denver (Rockies, Avalanche); Minneapolis-St. Paul (North Stars, Wild), San Jose (Seals, Sharks) and Kansas City (Scouts and Coyotes well not yet anyways).

At the top of this list are two franchises that were handed contending teams right off the bat--Dallas and Denver. Unlike those cities that had to suffer through the expansion ugly ducking years the Stars and Avalanche never really tested their fans resolve. Instead they rolled into town and the party started.

If you look at the bottom of the list you see a lot of franchises that left their cities: Winnipeg, Hartford, Quebec, Kansas City after multiple unexciting years. This raises the question--how much blame for the "failure" of these teams should rest upon the shoulders of the management and how much on the fans? I lean towards the management--after all why should consumers keep buying a lemon year after year?

Average Playoff Wins Per year Post-1968 Playoff Wins NHL Season City Stanley Cups Won
5.7 226 40 Montreal 10
5.5 94 16 Denver 2
5.4 75 13 Dallas 1
5.2 152 29 Edmonton 5
4.7 189 40 Philadelphia 2
4.7 118 25 New Jersey 3
4.1 163 40 Boston 2
3.8 152 40 Detroit 4
3.5 138 40 St. Louis 0
3.5 121 33 Long Islanders 4
3.4 134 40 Manhattan (Rangers) 1
3.4 51 14 Ottawa 0
3.3 130 40 Chicago 0
3.3 88 27 Calgary 1
3.3 46 13 Anaheim 1
3.3 33 10 Raleigh (CAR) 1
3.2 128 40 Pittsburgh 2
3.0 112 37 Buffalo 0
2.8 91 33 Minneapolis - St. Paul 0
2.8 110 40 Toronto 0
2.4 60 25 Oakland/San Jose 0
2.2 72 33 Washington 0
1.9 71 37 Vancouver 0
1.9 33 17 Quebec 0
1.7 26 14 Tampa 1
1.6 63 40 Los Angeles 0
1.0 18 18 Winnipeg 0
0.9 18 19 Hartford 0
0.9 13 13 Miami 0
0.9 10 11 Phoenix 0
0.7 6 8 Nashville 0
0.1 2 15 Atlanta 0
0.0 0 7 Columbus 0
0.0 0 2 Kansas City 0

 

Conclusion: While the relationship between playoff wins and "strong" NHL markets is not perfect, I do think that it is a fairly strong relationship.

The good news is that if you look at this list, there are teams which were bad for a long time but managed to turn things around (Detroit, Chicago, New Jersey, Washington, Pittsburgh). Like most markets Atlanta really needs something to cheer about in the spring time. The question is will ownership and management provide those thrills and chills?

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