While I may be biassed, I've always considered Calgary and Edmonton to be the barometer of the NHL's health. We are small markets, but small markets filled with some of hte most passionate hockey fans in the world.
This belief is supported by the attendance figures of many of our remaining teams.
The Edmonton Roadrunners are currently third in the AHL, averaging 8884, right behind Chicago (8999) and Manchester (8945).
The Calgary Hitmen obliterated the WHL and CHL attendance record by nearly 40,000 fans becomming the first team in CHL history to average over 10,000 fans. Also in the WHL, both Lethbridge and Red Deer set attendance records of their own, while Medicine Hat has sold out 90 straight games, prompting calls to replace their 4006 seat arena.
There is no doubt. Fans in this province eat, breathe and sleep hockey. It seems like a very logical place for a "goodwill tour" of prominent NHL players to start. Ryan Smyth thought so. He decided Red Deer, which is right in the middle of the province, and about 1 hour away from both Calgary and Edmonton would be a good spot for a game.
Afterall, they just packed 7200 fans into their 5800 seat arena on Saturday for a WHL game agaisnt their arch-rivals from Calgary. On Monday, 5700 showed up to watch oldtimers like Lanny McDonald and Tiger Williams face off against the local police/fire team. And Ryan Smyth's expectations were modest. His hastily arranged tour only hoped to draw 1500 fans last night.
According to the Edmonton Sun, only 800 fans bothered to attend. 100 of those were only their because their children and grandchildren were participating in a mini-game of atom hockey players during the first intermission.
The NHLPA has long believed that the fans will flock to them because of who they are. The collosal failure that the OSHL was didnt break that belief, and I doubt this will either. In fact, Smyth already has his excuse for this failure:
"It was frustrating, but this has nothing to do with (the lockout)," Smyth said between periods. "Maybe we could have done a better job marketing, but I don't think we had enough time."
A couple of thoughts Ryan. You put this thing together. Why didnt you make the time? Blame marketing all you want, but people knew you were coming. Radio in both Calgary and Edmonton, of which Red Deer gets both made mention of it, and it has been mentioned in all of the papers.
No Ryan, people didnt go because people dont want to pay $25 (Red Deer Rebels ticket $20 or so) to watch a bunch of egotistical primadonnas play shinny for a couple hours. People didnt go because you did not offer a product worth watching. People didnt go because they are pissed off at what you have done to the game.
Smyth's tour has three more stops to make. Prince Albert, Saskatchewan tonight. Saskatoon tomorrow and Winnipeg on Friday. We shall see if "poor marketing" leads to small crowds there as well. I am betting yes, as word out of Winnipeg is that they have already cut ticket prices in half because of poor sales. I hear sales are still poor.
And Winnipeg is a city full of people who would kill to get the Jets back. If Winnipeg turns it's back on you Ryan, will you and your union bretheren still be making excuses?
Something tells me they will.