Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Atlanta Hockey: Part 1: Atlanta Flames

Being a Winnipeg Jets fan, I understand what it's like for a city to loose its team, and wait for years to get it back. Quebec City and Hartford are two cities that have waited almost 20 years for their franchises to get back, Hartford has an AHL franchise, with a decent fan base, but similarly to the Manitoba Moose, it's just not the same. Kansas City, Seattle, Hamilton, Vaughan, Las Vegas and even Halifax have been brought up in possible NHL markets in the future.

One city that is not brought up is Atlanta.

Atlanta has had two attempts at an NHL team, the first started in 1972, the Atlanta Flames.

The Flames were a team who found decent success in 70's hockey, not something most teams can find (The Red Wings, a usual perennial playoff team, made the playoffs twice in the whole decade). The Flames missed the playoffs 3 times in their history, not bad. In 1980, the Flames were relocated to Calgary to become the Flames we know and love today, but

1. Lack of TV appearances

Like the WHA, not being televised nationally hurts a franchise. You don't gain a fan base out side of your city or even within your own city. Atlanta was the first Southern hockey team on the east coast. They were the test market for Southern Fried Hockey, and it wouldn't be until the mid 90's for another NHL team to be in the south (Nashville). Obviously, the 70's TV market was much different than today, there were no NHL cable packages or many tv networks from other regions from the USA or Canada (you couldn't get CBC in Atlanta). If you really wanted to see road Atlanta Flames games, you'd have to go to Minnesota or Toronto.

2. Lack of a star player

You can be good, sure, but do you have a marketable player? Atlanta lacked a Guy Lafleur, Darryl Sittler, Bobby Orr, or a goalie like Ken Dryden, Roggie Vachon or Tony Esposito. Who did they have....Pat Quinn (decent), Dan Bouchard (good, but not great) and not much else. The teams were good, but not great. They didn't have that one player to make people say "oh John Smith, he's the all star on the Flames". Kids wouldn't make the teams in their road hockey games Flames vs. Scouts because who wants to be those players when you can be Bobby Orr and Larry Robinson.

3. Other Atlanta Sports Franchises

Atlanta was one of the first cities in sports to have a team in all 4 major sports leagues, along with a nationally known soccer franchise. The Braves, Hawks, Falcons and Chiefs/Apollos all took away from the Flames publicity. Why go see a hockey game when you can watch an all American football game? The Braves had Hank Aaron, the greatest home run hitting ever! The Falcons, while playing some pretty bad football, played against some big market NFL teams, like the Chiefs, Vikings, Packers, 49ers and Da Bears, so Atlanta fans could see great teams play against a glorified practice squad. The Hawks had Pistol Pete Maravich and were a decent team. Of course, soccer is much bigger in Atlanta, however, the team folded in 1973 and came back in 1979, but still had a following, more so than hockey.

Next time, we'll see what the 2nd Atlanta Franchie 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Why Montreal Won't Have an MLB Team Anytime Soon

Oh, this one is going to get some hate.

It may seem unpopular to say this, but the Expos aren't coming back anytime soon. Despite the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets playing a 3 game preseason series at Olympic Stadium, there's little chance the MLB will return to Quebec for decades.

Unlike the other 3 North American sports league, relocating or expanding in the MLB is much harder. The NBA and NHL can expand into any 20'000 seat arena (sometimes smaller) and can use the same arena for both hockey and basketball. The NFL, while it can't expand into 20'000 seat arenas, majority of major cities in Canada or the United States have a football field, for either a University team or is a converted soccer stadium. Baseball lacks that privilege. While the Blue Jays may play in a footbal1 and former basketball arena, the Minnesota Twins used to play in the Metrodome, which, despite being built in 1979, was criticized for being, essentially, a blow up stadium.

Montreal has a "stadium". Olympic Stadium hold 45'000 occupants for a baseball game, but, one thing that had to be noted during this exhibition series, is Olympic Stdaium looked the same in 2014 as it did in 2004 and it did in 1994. Fashion may have changed, but the slightly bluish green tinted turf, undersized jumbo-tron and dark , indoor appearance are part of the Olympic Stadium experience, but in the modern MLB, with Comerica Park, PNC Park, Target Field and Busch Stadium being the league's premier modern fields, as well as the all time classic parks like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, New Yankee Stadium and yes, even Skydome (I know there are old stadiums, but after the '92/93 world series, it's truly a staple of Canadian baseball), the competition is very stiff.

The MLB also lacks teams to relocate. The NHL and NBA have relocated franchises within the span of year, and plan on expanding(unlikely in the NBA) and relocating more teams. Seattle, Quebec City, Kansas City and Las Vegas are building/have stadiums ready. The Jacksonville Jaguars have been rumoured to be relocating to Los Angeles, and Toronto is vying for an NFL franchise (at least according to some people). The MLB has two teams that NEED a new stadium, Oakland and Tampa Bay.

Supposing these teams get new stadiums, can they play in Montreal while waiting for the new field to be built, yes. In fact, that's probably the best solution to Montrealers who want their baseball fix. However, Tampa Bay can play out of the ESPN Wide World of Sports section of Walt Disney World, where they play some of their spring training and at least one series during the regular season. That leaves Oakland.

Oakland is only a short drive from San Francisco, hence the battle of the bay. Neither team would need to play out of Montreal, and it wouldn't be economically viable for the MLB to move a team up 1000s of kilometres for a single season. Tropicana field opened in 1990, 17 years after Olympic stadium was ready fitted for baseball. Despite the former Thunderdome being a hockey and indoor football arena, it simply has a non retractable roof, and lackluster catwalk. The Coliseum, while having that problem with flooding sewage in the basement and being nearly 50 years old, is in an area where there is decent weather almost every month of the year. Despite the fan made controversy it may cause, the Athletics will just play a season in San Francisco, then get a new park.

But let's pretend Montreal gets an expansion franchise, what happens then?

The MLB has the lowest amount of teams that can make the playoffs in a season in any of the 4 major North American sports leagues.

NHL: (16/30)
NBA: (16/20)
NFL: (12/32) However, playoff expansion is being considered within the next couple of seasons
MLB: (10/30) with the new wild card expansion

Yes, the NFL still has less than half of its teams in the playoffs, but in a 16 game seasons, a team only has to win about 9/10 games to get the wildcard spot, while in the MLB, they have to win 95/97. The MLB has two teams that haven't qualified for the playoffs in 20+ years (Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals) and teams that have gone almost 20 years without a winning season (Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles).

Could an expansion franchise really compete within a 5 year span...probably not.

Like the Hartford Whalers, the logo and charms of the team will keep the Expos sprite alive for many years to come, but as for a Major League Baseball team En Francais....perhaps within the next 15 years, but don't get your hopes up.