Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Moving To Markham

HBIC officially is not relocating. That's not even an option at this point in my life nor would I want to move. I like the little niche that I've carved out for myself, and I'm happy to be where I am. However, the CWHL made a significant decision to move today. Specifically, the league decided to move a franchise from an area where they were somewhat underrepresented to an area where they will receive increased exposure through both fans and television along with moving into a fancy new home. The Brampton Thunder will move northeast to Markham, Ontario and rebrand themselves as the Markham Thunder!

The Markham Thunder will take up residence in the Toronto suburb starting this winter for the 2017-18 season. Brampton, which was the lone Ontario women's hockey franchise that survived all the changes through women's hockey, will move into an arena that will accommodate TV cameras and crews, more fans, and possibly a fierce rivalry with the Toronto Furies in the years to come. While it's sad to see Brampton abandoned by the CWHL, this move to the city of Markham will be good for the team, the league, and the women's game overall.

Having the community support from Markham is huge, and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti was proudly on-hand to welcome the Thunder to Markham this morning. That's not to say that there wasn't community support in Brampton, but moving to "Canada's most diverse community" doesn't mean there will be more fans attending games unless the city of Markham and the CWHL sell the Thunder hard to the existing Markham community. From a diversity standpoint, the 2011 census information on Markham shows that residents who speak languages as their mother tongue outnumber the traditional Canadian official language speakers by a ratio of 171,875 to 117,785 - just under 55,000 more than English- and French-speaking residents combined. That's a lot of varying interests and sporting passions in Markham.

Where the CWHL and Markham should really make a push is through the Kunlun Red Star appearances in Markham in terms of appealing to one of the largest individual groups in its census area. According to the census, the number of residents who identified themselves as either Cantonese- or Chinese-speaking residents was 78,625 in 2011 - 26.1% of all respondents to the census. That's one-quarter of the entire census population in Markham, and there were some 40,900 women who identified themselves as Cantonese- or Chinese-speaking residents - over half of all those who identified themselves as having Cantonese or Chinese as their primary spoken language.

There has been talk that because the CWHL held the Clarkson Cup Final in Markham for a few seasons that the community is already primed for CWHL hockey. I'm calling nonsense on that idea as it's now 2017-18, not 2014, and the Clarkson Cup Final will bring in spectators and supporters from all over the map. We're talking about support for 15 home games plus playoffs potentially in an area that has only hosted the league's biggest game in the past. This will still be a hard sell for the team to overcome, but they do have access to the greater Toronto area now for added marketing opportunities. I just don't think this initial season is going to be rainbows and unicorns out of the gates unless the team adds some major star power or can sell the community on the Markham Thunder/CWHL experience.

I still have no idea why the CWHL and Markham are selling the players of yesteryear when there's a whole crop of amazing women playing for the Thunder. Statements from the releases that say, "The Thunder have been home to several great Olympians including Jayna Hefford, Vicky Sunohara, Cherie Piper, Gillian Apps and Lori Dupuis" do nothing for selling the on-ice product of today. Yes, those players are part of the Thunder's history, but why aren't we talking about Olympians Jocelyne Larocque and Laura Fortino? Why was there no mention of the CWHL All-Stars that included goaltender Erica Howe, defenceman Courtney Birchard, and forwards Jess Jones, Laura Stacey, Rebecca Vint, and Jamie Lee Rattray? Why is nothing said of the community and charitable efforts put forth by players like Fielding Montgomery or Liz Knox? There are a ton of amazing things being done by these women and every player on this Thunder team, and it seems like the CWHL, in its press conference, missed its first big selling opportunity to get the community onboard.

Look, I'm always critical of a relocation. I think that uprooting teams does harm to the civic pride of a community, and the resentment that hangs over said community towards the team and league can affect the team's financial performance. I lived through the Jets leaving Winnipeg, the Whalers relocating to Raleigh, the Nordiques jumping to Denver, the North Stars heading south to Dallas, and the Thrashers packing up for Winnipeg. I can tell you I've seen the good and bad, but the teams who have arrived in their new cities have sold the present and future well in order to get the community excited. I don't believe Brampton lost a team as much as the Thunder simply needed a better arena in which to play. I hope that Brampton fans will continue to support the team even if they moved out of your backyard because this team and the CWHL rely heavily on your support. Don't hate them for moving into a better home the same way you wouldn't hate a neighbor for moving to a better home.

In the end, this move helps the Thunder for exposure and marketing opportunities. Whether or not the fans show up to support the Thunder in greater numbers than they saw in Brampton will remain to be seen. There are some key selling features the CWHL should be endorsing as reasons why people should go see the Thunder in my view, so we'll see what the future holds for this franchise.

If there is one certainty out of all of this commotion today, it's that the Furies now have a closer rival than before.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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