Monday, August 13, 2012
Give Howard Baldwin Credit
As usual, there are some people, fans and media, who are trumpeting around this summer saying they knew Howard Baldwin and his marketing company Whalers Sports and Entertainment would get into hot water over the contract he signed to run the New York Rangers farm team.
What surprises me is what they are not seeing.
The price to run hockey in Hartford is absurd. Over the last two seasons Baldwin and Hartford hockey fans, were beaten over the head with the notion that Hartford can never be an NHL market again.
If that's true why is Hartford the most expensive place to run an AHL minor League hockey team? It's interesting to note that Hartford can't be home to a major league team but no one has problems with businesses and fans paying major league prices.
Did you know that a Hartford hockey fan can get a beer for less money at a Ranger game at Madison Square Garden or at a Bruin game at TD Garden?
In fact nine dollars for a beer was more expensive then what Baldwin was asking for a ticket to a game.
The company that runs the concessions in the XL Center (Delaware North) is the same company that sells concessions for the Boston Bruins, in fact they serve many NHL arenas, but yet prices here in Hartford are higher than most cities that have an NHL team. Why do Hartford hockey fans have to pay NHL prices for a sub-NHL product on the ice?
Do I find it surprising that Howard Baldwin ran into money problems in the Hartford hockey market? No way, and neither should you.
In fact it’s entirely reasonable to say that you can't name one other person, who is not a billionaire, who would not end up the same when being put in similar financial burdens.
It's nearly impossible to run a minor league hockey team with a per game rent that is two and one half times the league average, especially for a city that is often accused of being; "not major league".
Howard never promised the NHL, never put a time table on the NHL's return to Hartford. He even said that Hartford main focus should be rebuilding/revitalizing the market back to where it once was.
He said it was going to be a long road but it was cut short at 21 months.
Many are critical of Baldwin but at minimum he was just Hartford's best shot at reviving a completely dead hockey town.
Allowing MSG and AEG to run their course for their final year of the contract is fine, but if they do leave when the contract expires in June a new team would have to renegotiate a new lease that is reasonable with whomever runs the XL Center next year.
There will always be hockey in Hartford, because Hartford is way too large a market to fail. It’s been 37 consecutive years of hockey in Hartford and we are still counting.
Now AEG and MSG may stay after this season and it does look like Governor Malloy has given his blessing to AEG. Just six weeks ago he appointed AEG's general manager of Hartford, Chuck Steedman, a seat on the newly formed Connecticut’s Convention and Sports Bureau.
Howard Baldwin is done running the Connecticut Whale all that remains are the logo the team wears and the team name which MSG decided to keep over returning to the Hartford Wolf Pack, a name that the team carried the prior 14 seasons.
Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs and WTIC sports reporter Scott Gray believe that Howard has hurt the market more than helped, both have said its time for Howard to ride off into the sunset and leave Hartford hockey.
I think they are entitled to their opinion but I think they are wrong too.
Scott Gray even went as far as to say that the team should return to the Wolf Pack brand. Scott Gray has been a constant in the Connecticut sports world for as long as I can remember but he sounds like a new comer with an idea like this. The Wolf Pack brand had nine years of declining attendance ending in 2009-2010 with the lowest attended season in Hartford hockey history. Was Scott trying to sabotage Hartford hockey, I was surprised at the statement he made it’s a little like saying the Sahara could use more sand.
In all honesty nothing against MSG or AEG but they have not made attendance any different since Whaler fans stopped supporting the team in 2002.Jacobs and Gray may have what they feel are valid reasons for Howard to leave but I don’t think they are looking at the bigger picture.
In just two seasons Howard Baldwin put up four games that attracted more than 10,000 fans.
Let me put that in perspective, from 2004-2010 when the team was under the Wolf Pack brand there was only one game that attracted more than 10,000 fans and that was January 6, 2006. Thats over six seasons of underachieving attendance.
That night is also known as Hartford Whalers Appreciation Night. A crowd of 12,206 attended a Wolf Pack game where Hartford Whaler legends Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen and former Wolf Pack assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson had their Hartford Whaler numbers retired.
As Howard has said he signed a poor contract and also didn’t realize the fans base in Hartford was so damaged. Even with that the amount of interest and discussion he brought Hartford hockey was good and it was a stale market prior to his return.
Howard Baldwin and Howard Baldwin Jr. did one thing that hasn’t happened in this town for awhile they came in with great intentions. More people like that will be needed in the future if Hartford hockey is ever going to succeed.
Here is a list of a few games with attendance numbers that havent been seen in Hartford for some time.
January 28, 2012 Springfield Falcons, Attendance: 11,181 Springfield
October 15, 2011 Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Attendance: 8,893
March 26, 2011 Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Attendance: 9,276
February 19, 2011 Providence Bruins, Attendance: 21,673 (Whale Bowl)
January 29, 2011 Springfield Falcons Attendance: 10,872
December 27, 2010 Portland Pirates Attendance: 7,913
November 27, 2010 Bridgeport Sound Tigers Attendance: 13,089
November 13, 2010 Springfield Flacons Attendance: 7,385 (Under Wolf Pack brand)
October 9, 2010 Charlotte Checkers Attendance 7,013 (under Wolf Pack brand)