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Expansion under the sun

Expansion under the sun

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The NHL’s history of placing franchises in markets that are not viewed as traditional hockey towns has seen mixed results. The Los Angeles Kings, for example, are the only fair-weather franchise left that was part of the NHL’s expansion efforts half a century ago, when the league grew from six clubs in 1966 to 16 over a period of seven seasons.

The California Golden Seals played in Oakland for nine seasons before moving to Cleveland in 1976, and the Atlanta Flames relocated to Calgary in 1980 after eight years. In the 1990s, the league began to shake things up again, adding a new or relocated franchise in San Jose, Tampa, Miami, Anaheim, Dallas, Phoenix, Raleigh, Nashville and Atlanta (again).

San Jose Sharks (1991)

Population in 1991: 1.6 million
Arena (opened): SAP Center (1993)
Capacity: 17,562
First-year avg. attendance in current arena (1993-94): 16,595
2015-16 avg. attendance: 16,747
Notes: For their first two seasons, the Sharks played at the Cow Palace in Daly City (11,089), just outside San Francisco, selling out every game. The club has qualified for the playoffs in 18 of the 21 seasons it has played since moving into the SAP Center, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final last year.

Tampa Bay Lightning (1992)

Population in 1992: 2.1 million
Arena (opened): Amalie Arena (1996)
Capacity: 19,092
First-year avg. attendance in current arena (1996-97): 17,412
2015-16 avg. attendance: 19,092
Notes: The team played its first season in Tampa’s Expo Hall (10,425). The following three seasons were played in the Florida Suncoast Dome, which is now Tropicana Field (28,153), home of MLB’s Rays. The team has been to the Stanley Cup Final twice in the past 12 seasons, winning it all in 2004.

Florida Panthers (1993)
Population in 1993: 4.3 million
Arena (opened): BB&T Center (1998)
Capacity: 19,250
First-year avg. attendance in current arena (1998-99): 18,501
2015-16 avg. attendance: 15,384
Notes: The team played its first five seasons at the Miami Arena (14,703). The Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

Anaheim Ducks (1993)
Population in 1993: 2.5 million
Arena (opened): Honda Center (1993)
Capacity: 17,174
First-year avg. attendance in current arena (1993-94): 16,989
2015-16 avg. attendance: 16,337
Notes: The team has made the playoffs 10 times in the past 13 seasons and won the Stanley Cup in 2007.

Dallas Stars (1993)

Population in 1993: 4.3 million (Dallas); 2.7 million (Minneapolis)
Arena (opened): American Airlines Center (2003)
Capacity: 18,532
First-year avg. attendance in current arena (2001-02): 18,532
2015-16 avg. attendance: 18,377
Notes: While in Minneapolis as the North Stars, the team played in the 15,000-seat Met Center. After moving to downtown Dallas, the Stars played their first eight seasons at the 17,001-seat Reunion Arena, selling out every game. The Stars reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 and 2000, winning it in ’99.

Arizona Coyotes (1996)
Population in 1996: 2.9 million (Phoenix); 684,000 (Winnipeg)
Arena (opened): Gila River Arena (2003)
Capacity: 18,300
First-year avg. attendance in current arena (2003-04): 15,467
2015-16 avg. attendance: 13,350
Notes: Formerly the Winnipeg Jets, the Coyotes played their first seven seasons at US Airways Center (capacity 16,210), a venue they shared with the Suns and Mercury.

Carolina Hurricanes (1997)

Population in 1997: 1.1 million (Raleigh); 1.1 million (Hartford, Conn.)
Arena (opened): PNC Arena (1999)
Capacity: 18,680
First-year avg. attendance in current arena (1999-00): 12,400
2015-16 avg. attendance: 12,204
Notes: Formerly the Hartford Whalers, the team played its first two seasons at Greensboro Coliseum (21,273), 75 miles from Raleigh. The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 but have made the postseason just once in the decade since. Even in its championship-winning season, the team only filled 83 percent of its seats, and has had the lowest overall attendance in the league during the past two-plus seasons.

Nashville Predators (1998)

Population in 1998: 1.3 million
Arena (opened): Bridgestone Arena (1996)
Capacity: 17,113
First-year avg. attendance in current arena (1998-99): 16,202
2015-16 avg. attendance: 16,971
Notes: The Predators have made the playoffs nine of the last 12 seasons, though they’ve never advanced past the conference semifinals.

Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2011)

Population in 1999: 4.2 million
Arena (opened): Philips Arena (1999)
Capacity: 18,545
First-year avg. attendance in current arena (1999-00): 17,206
Last-year avg. attendance (2010-11): 13,469
Notes: The Thrashers were the league’s second attempt in the market, following the Flames’ eight-year stint from 1972 to 1980. The Thrashers struggled to fill seats in the arena, filling less than 75 percent of seats during their final three seasons, and moved to Winnipeg in 2011.

Note: Years are when teams began play.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal

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