Saturday, June 12, 2010

Want a team? Start attending the minor league games!

It seems to happen every other year, and lately every year.   Someone thinks that now is time for Hamilton to get an NHL team and expectations run high -- only to be let down when new owners are found who commit to keeping a target team where they are.    And inevitably, the local mainstream press claims Gary Bettman "hates Hamilton."

The question that the press should ask is, do Hamiltonians hate Hamilton?   Or do they like it enough to care?

We have a minor league team, which is affiliated with the Montréal Canadiens.   For now -- the rumours that it may move to Laval to be closer to the "home team" is not an unrealistic prospect.    Why?   The absolutely lousy attendance for home games.    Maybe a couple thousand for home games, four thousand if we're lucky for the playoffs.   They actually had to install a curtain system to close off the upper deck -- it only opens up if they manage to get over 10,000 which they haven't done since the Dogs won the AAA championship three years ago.   Ask fans of the Habs if they'd like to see their developmental team closer afield, they'd jump -- especially now the subway's been extended to Laval.

You look at smaller cities, like Wilkes-Barre and Scranton; maybe a 110,000 between the two cities but they always manage to pack in 15,000 plus for every minor league home game.   Rochester, 220,000 -- same thing.    And Milwaukee, which has about twenty percent more people than Hamilton's half million -- same thing.

If I was a team owner looking to relocate, and even if the indemnity issues could be resolved, there's no way I'd even consider Hamilton.    If no one can be mustered to attend the second tier there's no way they'll be prompted to attend a first-tier league.    Heck, we couldn't even be bothered with Single A baseball.

The other thing -- and this is the big thing -- is the corporate boxes.   Copps was designed to be jacked up to add a third deck if it ever was necessary, but to put in a whole bunch of box seats to replace the current second deck would cost a fortune and in any case, many businesses have left Hamilton for more tax-friendly jurisdictions like Kitchener and London both of which are well outside the "exclusive zones" claimed by Toronto and Buffalo.   It'd be more cost effective to build a new arena with a guaranteed fan base.   And the boxes, too -- there's only enough demand for maybe a dozen or so boxes in Hamilton.   Fifty or sixty at least in K or L.

I know -- what about the time all those people put down deposits for "season tickets" a few years back?    Three years time down, they wouldn't commit.   Trust me. It's just Hamilton's defeatist nature.    We can't even agree on where a new stadium for the Cats will be -- and the deadline to pick a site is July 15th.   Most other cities, knowing the 2015 deadline for the Pan-Am Games, would have had the shovels in the ground the day after the host city (in this case, Toronto) got the bid.   So what makes us think we're "entitled" to an NHL team?    We haven't shown we earn it.   That's why Bettman keeps giving us a pass.

If Hamilton wants to be serious about getting an NHL team -- thinking that's going to be the city's Jerusalem of Gold -- then the fans have to come in and regularly.

Not only that the city has to become much more business friendly.   When the local BMW dealership points out they pay as much in property taxes as the sister dealership in Oakville with three times the floor space, that tells you a lot about our priorities and the fact we refuse to accept the steel industry operates just fine with a fifth of the workforce of twenty-five years ago.

This will have to mean new tax powers and the right to make certain by-laws that don't need to be reviewed by the Ontario Municipal Board -- similar to the autonomy that Toronto got a couple years back.   People might flip over having to pay more for a vehicle sticker or on land transfers, but we can't rely solely on residential property taxes anymore which are high enough as it is not to mention the business rate.   And why are we so afraid of a lodging tax for hotels and motels, or dramatically increasing fines for moving violations?   That's how American cities pay for their stadia.

We can do this.   We have to stop thinking inside the box -- but we need to do the legwork first.   A team just won't drop in just because we say we "deserve one."   Everything we've done to date, points to the opposite.

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