Luc on NHL to KC “It’s not us, it’s you, Kansas City”.

Quite a bit of buzz about the NHL, Sprint Center and the chances of a team coming to Kansas City. Probably the most significant story appeared in the Kansas City Star. It’s a Q&A between NHL Hall of Famer/AEG exec Luc Robitaille and the Star’s Randy Covitz. Before I get into breaking down the story that appeared in the Star, I’d just like to say I loved Lucky Luc as an NHL player. Except for the two years he wasted playing for the Red Wings, I absolutely loved following his career.

As an exec for AEG, he obviously is very good at citing the company line. The bottom line to this Q&A:

“It’s not about us (AEG). It’s about you Kansas City. You get your own owner, you may get a team.”
I’m not sure this is what the city expected when they gave AEG the exclusive responsibility to find an anchor tenant for Sprint Center.

It’s interesting how the tone of Covitz’ stories have changed over the years. Years ago, Covitz wrote pieces that polished AEG’s golden calf. I wrote blog post after blog post that Covitz was basically taking AEG’s word an NHL (or NBA) team would come to Sprint Center as fact. There was very little research into the history of NHL franchise moves and, it seems, little real reporting being done. It generally went like this — interview someone from AEG/print story. Now, years later Covitz seems to be asking the tough questions he should have been asking BEFORE the hotel/motel/rental car tax vote or before ground was broken on the Sprint Center. Of course, like dealing with a difficult person, still not good enough for me… ;)

Q&A with hockey great Luc Robitaille
First, Robitaille thinks a one-time, one-hit, every other year preseason game is generating interest for an NHL team in Kansas City. It’s not.

People are guaranteed to see some really high-end players, and we have to make sure people come to the game to make a statement to everyone.”

Maybe Covitz could have asked “Really, because there is no precedent attendance at exhibition games has any bearing on which markets get an NHL franchise. Hamilton sells out their game every year and no team. So does Saskatoon. Raleigh or any location in North Carolina never did and they have a team. San Jose never did, either.”

Robitaille is citing the company line because, well, it makes AEG money if people show up.

Q. How surprised or disappointed are you that Sprint Center is still without an anchor tenant?

A. “I’m not sure I can say surprised or disappointed. It’s reality. It’s really hard to make a move

Now, I don’t want to be too hard on Robitaille. This NHL to Kansas City thing is really low on his priority list, but when I read this I thought.

What? It’s really hard to make a move? These words were NEVER uttered before the hotel/motel/rental car tax. See what I mean by how the tenor has changed? Like I’ve always said, the “promise” (or near promise) of an NHL team was just campaign spin to get the vote passed because you can’t get a vote passed with “you’ll get really great concerts” or, as stated this week, “we’ll try, but it’s really hard to make a move.”

Obviously, the team that was ready to move without really people knowing … was Atlanta (to Winnipeg)

Without anyone knowing? Where has this guy been? It’s been clear the Atlanta franchise was in trouble from the time Steve Belkin’s lawsuit started back in 2005. See blog post from five years ago.

They (AEG) got the Kings to come back (for a preseason game).

Ok. I’ll admit. This is a good thing. But, can we please have Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson show up this time?

Q. How are you doing on sales for the Pittsburgh game?

A. “Doing real well, We have over 10,000 tickets sold. … We expect to sell out the game. We expect nothing (less). We expect people to come to the game and make this building alive …”

Um, yeah. See my comment above. It’s not about showing Kansas City can support a team. It’s about AEG “doing really well” and meeting their own expectations.

Now, here’s where I get really frustrated.
I’m sorry. You cannot grow a potential fan base by having a one-time, one-shot, every other year, NHL season of ONE GAME in which the tickets include a gift certificate so you can stuff your face with Buffalo chicken logs, taquitos, potato rollers and a 44 oz Rooster Booster. I don’t believe it generates anymore interest in the NHL than Glee Live! increases the chances of us getting better Broadway Across America shows.

You know what does? Growing the sport at a grassroots level Get more rinks. Get more kids playing. More kids playing even increases the number of adults playing. You know what markets have the largest USA Hockey-registered adult leagues? Three of the top five are: San Jose, Columbus and Dallas. Not exactly hockey hot beds.

What do these markets know that no one seems to be able to grasp in Kansas City? Hockey is a sport in which you have to have a close personal tie in order to be a loyal, dedicated fan. That doesn’t mean you have to grow up on a frozen pond in International Falls. It means you have to get involved in the sport to truly love it. Adult hockey fans who didn’t grow up in hockey markets generally get involved because little Connor wanted to try hockey. Or, little Connor’s best friend was playing and he wanted to play, too. You, of course, always have the transplants from Minnesota, Michigan, Chicago or Canada who grew up with the sport. But, you can’t build a strong fan base in a non-traditional hockey market, like Kansas City, on transplants alone.

I’m not negative. It’s nice we have an NHL exhibition game in 2011 (and the NCAA Ice Breaker tournament in 2012). I simply think it is not a sound strategy to expect to grow a fan base or prove a market worthy with a single, weeknight exhibition game.

San Jose, Dallas and Columbus seem to have it figured out. San Jose has an adult league with 4,500+ adult players. I bet those 4,500 names are the “Glengarry leads” for any Sharks AE.

Where would Kansas City get their “Glengarry leads”? From the dwindling number of kids and adults playing the game and potentially losing interest? And, it’s not just Johnson County that has suffered. I talked to a parent last Spring who drove from Platte City to Overland Park just so his junior high age son could play the game (he did not return to hockey this fall, by the way).

Get more kids involved, their parents will get involved. Their parents will then buy tickets and may even influence their place of business to get involved in some way.

GRASSROOTS GROWTH

Here’s a great story about the Missouri Mavericks fantasy camp. The Mavericks are doing a great job growing the sport in the Missouri-side suburbs of Independence, Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs. Kudos to them. The game is fading quickly in Johnson County.

If AEG REALLY wanted to prove that Kansas City is a great hockey market, they would build us something similar to their own Toyota Center (or something similar but smaller). They won’t. Because they aren’t dedicated to growing the NHL fan base at a grass roots level. If they did partner to build a rink, you think they’d sell more tickets to an exhibition game? Bet they would.

Is this a self-serving criticism on my part? Partially, yes. I do occasionally play ice hockey. It’s also partially a criticism based on the fact that I feel a great deal of empathy for those kids who had to give up hockey because there are so few indoor rinks now.

Kansas City has four sheets of indoor ice and one of those sheets is inside the arena at the Independence Events Center, so it isn’t always available.

Which NHL market has just four indoor rinks in their metropolitan area?

But someone locally needs to step up and get involved and say, ‘I need this for Kansas City.’ ”

Oh, Kansas City “needs someone locally to step up”, but not for a $150M plus relocation fee franchise.

What Kansas City “NEEDS” is a place for our kids to learn to skate, to play the game and then fall in love with hockey like so many of us did.

I don’t love hockey because my parents took me to a Flyers game and three or four Sabres games a year. It certainly didn’t hurt to be able to watch Gare and Martin and Perrault and Korab. I love the sport because my little suburb had it’s own rink in the winter and the suburb a few miles away had one where I could play in the Summer. Learning to skate and understand the game made me love it.

I like to watch and attend Sporting KC games, but I never played soccer so I will never have that level of understanding of the game and inherent love.

Who knows? One of those kids could be the Matthew Hulsizer of Kansas City and really want to be involved in hockey because they played as a kid. They aren’t going to fall in love with the sport by going to one preseason game.

As far as getting excited about the Islanders?
Read this before you get all a twitter.

About blogger

Just a guy in KC who loves hockey. KC is a hockey town. We just don't know it, yet.
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2 Responses to Luc on NHL to KC “It’s not us, it’s you, Kansas City”.

  1. Jon says:

    What happened to “If you let us build this stadium we will find you a NBA or NHL team”, now there blaming KC for not having a team. Also why dosent AEG buy a team since they own around 10 sports teams world wide…..

  2. blogger says:

    AEG already owns the LA Kings.
    AEG already owns a portion of the LA Lakers.
    AEG already owns the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL.

    Therefore, AEG cannot “buy” a team for Kansas City.

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