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Carolina Is Fastest Growing Market In NHL

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Several negative factors affected poor Hurricanes' attendance last season but being a bad market is not one of them.

There is plenty of passion in Carolina
There is plenty of passion in Carolina
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Recent news concerning the ownership of the Carolina Hurricanes has got many wondering about the future of the franchise, and perhaps rightfully so.  Anytime a sports franchise is for sale, it leads to speculation and there are no guarantees about the future.

Especially if the organization is not making money in it's current situation.

Does the recent revelation of this Karmanos "family squabble" mean that Carolina ownership has financial problems and make it even more apt that the team will move?  Who knows?

Here is one perspective by Luke DeCock, who thinks this is a pretty big deal, while the NHL and other officials downplay it.

Certainly as DeCock points out, the timing could be better for news to be released that Karmanos is being sued by three of his sons for nonpayment of a loan.  The NHL's executive committee will be voting regarding league expansion soon.

Still, it seems hard to believe that the one-time billionaire could be out of funds and is literally unable to make these payments.

It's no secret that he and his oldest sons have been at odds for years and it could very well be possible that he is just not paying the debt on purpose, just to mess with them, not necessarily because he is out of money.

The lawsuit stipulates that the money borrowed from the trust fund was used to finance Hurricanes related expenses but millionaires and billionaires move around money and designate funds as they wish.  It's above my pay grade to know all the reasoning why they do the things they do, but again it does not necessarily mean that "Karmanos the Elder" is stone cold broke.

Yesterday, Chip Alexander followed up with an interview with Centennial Authority Chairman Tom McCormick, who stated that Karmanos personally assured him that the team is going nowhere.  As a matter of fact, the Authority is setting aside $80,000 in their 2017 budget to conduct a feasibility study about adding a practice facility for the team.

It seems they are not anticipating any changes in locale.

Bill Daly, from NHL headquarters, was also interviewed by  Sportsnet yesterday and was asked about expansion as well as the "situation in Carolina."  Daly said the league was not concerned and knew much more about the matter than the public did.  He called the lawsuit a "family squabble".  When asked if the Hurricanes had needed "emergency funding" the answer was no.  But Daly did say that the Canes have borrowed money on their line of credit with the league, the same as 15 other teams have.

Peter Karmanos has made multiple statements in recent months that the team is going nowhere.  Of course, that is what he's going to say no matter what.  Even if he was moving the team or selling it to an out-of-town owner, he would never admit that in public.

But the controversial owner, who has often made outlandish statements in the past which didn't make much sense, makes perfect sense with his statements on this subject.

This is a growing market with the potential to be a great market.  The club has one of the best arena deals in the league.  As Karmanos once said, he would be an idiot to move the team, as would a new owner or owners.

How much of a growing market is this?  According to an article from Forbes in 2013, from 2000 to 2012 the Raleigh metropolitan area was the fastest growing area in the country.

The population of the Raleigh, N.C., metropolitan statistical area has expanded a remarkable 47.8% since 2000, tops among the nation’s 52 metro areas with over 1 million residents. That is more than three times the overall 12.7% growth of those 52 metro areas.

That's right, Raleigh was number one.

For those curious, this is also faster growth than in the major Canadian cities.  (example)

Why would a league which is looking to expand, allow the move of an established franchise from the fastest growing city in that league?  This is the type of market you look to move to, not move away from.

One negative factor that is often brought up and given as a reason to move the club is Carolina's poor attendance.  Let's take a closer look at that.

Indeed, the Hurricanes finished dead last in NHL attendance in 2015-16 with a per game average of 12,203.  But there are other factors to look at before making a judgement based upon that one year.

To begin with, this is the first time the Canes finished last in attendance since the 1998-99 season, when they were in Greensboro.  Several other franchises have had the distinction of finishing in last place over this time span and some of them have done so multiple times.  None of them have been relocated.

The beloved Pittsburgh Penguins came last in the league in 2003-04 with an average of 11,877. The Anaheim Ducks were last in 2001-02 with a 12,002 average per game.  Florida, St. Louis, Nashville, and Arizona have all done so.  The New York Islanders have finished last in the league an incredible seven times over this period.  They did finally change arenas, but they remain in the same region.

Just two seasons ago, the Hurricanes finished 23rd in the league with an average of 15,483 and the year before that they finished 17th in the league with an average of 17,588.  They did not make the playoffs in either of those seasons.

A site called infogr.am compiled a listing of 10 year averages as well as year-to-year results.  The most recently listed 10 year average is from 2005-06 to 2014-15.  The Hurricanes posted a per game average over that 10 year period of 15,964 per game, placing them in about the middle of the league.

Wouldn't it make sense to look at averages over a period of time and incorporate those with projections for the future, rather than look at one bad year and say the team should relocate?

But admittedly, the club should still draw more fans.

Why did they finish poorly in recent seasons?  I think there are a few factors.

The number one reason can be attributed to poor team performance.  Only one other club in the NHL has failed to make the playoffs in the past seven years and that is Edmonton.  But unlike Edmonton, who has been fortunate enough to be able to generate excitement within their fanbase by securing multiple number one draft picks, the highest pick the Hurricanes have selected over that seven years is at number five.

That does not exactly generate the same excitement.

Also, not only has the team failed to make the playoffs for the past seven years, but in many cases their season was more or less over by the end of December.  Slow start after slow start has put this team behind the eight ball almost every year, to the point where there is less interest in this team by January, much less than there should be and could be.

If the Canes were at least in the hunt more often, attendance would improve.  If the team could make the playoffs, attendance would improve even more.

Another negative factor is ownership itself.  Mr. Karmanos seems to shoot himself in the foot quite often when he makes statements to the public.  Blasting his Stanley Cup winning coach, (who has gone on to success away from Carolina), criticizing long-time friend and partner Jim Rutherford, telling fans to "be patient" when they have repeatedly been patient, and now this very public lawsuit, do nothing to give fans a warm fuzzy feeling about the Hurricanes.

These actions do nothing to help sell tickets.  It is almost like he does not care if his statements are looked upon favorably or not.  Karmanos could be his own worst enemy as he seemingly drives down the value of his property.

New ownership, especially local ownership that cares about and spends time in the community, would create a huge boost to ticket sales and attendance, all by itself.  How many fans are waiting for the shoe to drop concerning the sale of the team to see what happens, before buying season tickets again?  By looking at previous attendance compared to last season, it seems quite a few.

The good news is that Ron Francis and Bill Peters are working hard to change a losing culture to a winning one.  Francis is bringing in fresh faces on the ice and Peters has them playing better and better.

There is a positive vibe of late, (not including this week's ownership news), and hopefully this will translate to more wins and more people in the seats in the coming season.

Regardless what happens, the market here is not the problem.  Pundits and journalists around the league and especially north of the border should do a little research before coming to a premature conclusion that the club should be moved.