Florida Panthers: The Zombie Franchise
Time to bring an old sports joke back to life:
Fan calling team ticket office: What time does the game start?
Ticket office response: What time can you get here?
For all anyone knows, if the Florida Panthers record calls for quality control, that might be an actual conversation. Why else would a major sports franchise have a 3.00pm game time on a Saturday?
Oh, right. The Heat were playing last night, and their box score shows over 19,000 spectators turned up. Were there really only that many sports fans available in the USA's eighth-largest metro area? Actually, the Marlins probably wouldn't argue.
It's hard not to notice the vast expanses of empty seats:
The Panthers' new ownership came into the deal saying and doing all the right things, but even having a gray-hat ATM of an operation on Wall Street doesn't mean the team can support announced crowds of 9000 spectators forever.
Miami and environs were a keystone to Gary Bettman's so-called southern strategy to expand the NHL's footprint, but so was Atlanta. That city's a two-time loser as a hockey host, despite the efforts of Ted Turner and even former LA Kings draft choice turned MLB Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. Ultimately, the local government didn't support the teams, so Bettman did the obvious and allowed each of them to emigrate to the Great White North.
It now seems clear that the Broward County authorities won't be heartbroken if the Panthers pull up stakes. Here's the mayor, Barbara Sharief:
The consultant's report was due in October. So far, no sign of its popping up in public. And there's still no sign of the public popping up at Panthers games.
Apparently, all the Sunshine State's hockey fans live near Tampa. Ring that region up as a southern success, accept that no strategy is perfect, and plop the Panthers where they'll be appreciated and even profitable.
Because right now, all they are is a dead club skating.