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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

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With word breaking that the Florida Panthers may have a new New York-based owner shortly, it appears that this 20th anniversary thing they're doing may get better. After all, a new infusion of cash and new leadership at the top should be able to inspire most players and a good number of fans. Florida's citizens, however, appear to be immune to this sort of excitement after seeing the turnout for an afternoon preseason game between their Florida Panthers and the visiting Nashville Predators.

That was the crowd during the singing of the anthems. Click on the image to make it bigger if you like, but you're looking at nothing but green seats. Wisely, the game report for the Predators-Panthers tilt in the afternoon did not report the attendance, but officially the puck was dropped at 2:36pm on Monday. Yes, you read that correctly. 2:36 in the afternoon. 14:36 in military time.

That picture, taken by Fox Sports Florida's Erin Brown, is pretty overwhelming. I have never seen a preseason game where the players outnumber the fans. I'll grant the Panthers some slack in that they were playing two games on one day to allow more players to play and be evaluated, and I'll even allow them some slack in stating that the night game was attended by 6541 fans. But if no one shows up to a game on a Monday afternoon as seen in the photo above, why schedule it at all at your home rink? Why not find a smaller rink where the costs of running that rink would be far less?

Secondly, what is playing in that cavernous arena with no fans like? The 6-3 final score saw the goal horn used six times and there was someone piping music into the arena between whistles, but it has to be tough to get yourself motivated when you look out into the crowd and see no one. Literally, no one. The players were probably as overwhelmed with this crowd as the ticket takers were outside the arena. Can we get security to Gate One, please?

The Panthers, of course, are the team that offered up season tickets for $7 per game. I can't get a beer in Winnipeg for $7 let alone a ticket to see the team play. What's that, you say? Not good enough? How about if they throw in a team jersey too? And then add in free parking to those games! Still not enough for $7 per game? How about free concerts as well? WOW! I feel like I work on infomercials with all the free stuff I'm including for this one incredibly-low price! But because we can't do this all day, keep in mind that I'm no Vince Offer.

Perhaps what should have the NHL worried, though, is how the sunbelt teams that struggled to attract fans last season are seemingly experiencing the same problem this season. Florida isn't the only subtropical US city to see fans stay away by the thousands. The Dallas Stars are playing host to those Florida Panthers tonight, and Jonathan Huberdeau tweeted out this photo as he sat in the crowd.
If you're doing the math at home, in two out of three preseason games played by the Panthers, they have had less than 500 people show up to watch them combined. I get that Dallas wouldn't have many fans come to cheer on the Panthers, but Dallas also had a problem attracting fans last season. And while I understand this is preseason hockey and no one really gives a damn, it has to bother the NHL that these sunbelt teams can't seem to gain any fan support while Toronto gets over 19,000 people to a preseason game at the Air Canada Centre against the Flyers.

I'm not sure what the Panthers can do to attract more fans. They have dropped ticket prices to an astoundingly low price and killed any parking and merchandise revenue in the same breath. This franchise is bleeding red ink and can't seem to stop the hemorrhaging regardless of what it does. And for all the empty seats that the Dallas Stars had last season, it appears that trend is continuing despite new ownership, a pile of new players, and a new division to compete in for a playoff spot.

I guess the only saving grace is that it is the preseason, and no one gives a damn until October.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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