The Carolina Hurricanes, who play in the Metropolitan Division of the National Hockey League (NHL), are a team in a dire situation. There have recently been talks about moving the team away from its home in Raleigh, North Carolina in hopes to save the franchise. How does a team who recently hoisted the Stanley Cup during the 2005-2006 season find themselves hanging by a thread, with the possibility of being sold, nearly a decade later?
It should come to the surprise of no one that it can be difficult to retain an audience when the team just isn’t doing that well. This holds true for the Carolina Hurricanes. After a successful 2005-2006 season, they failed to make the playoffs the following season with a record of forty wins, thirty-four losses and eight overtime losses. Their eighty-eight points left them on the outside looking in.
The 2007-2008 season was the same story. Although the Hurricanes finished with ninety-two points in their forty-three wins, thirty-three losses and six overtime losses, they again looked at the playoffs from the outside. They would again see the playoffs during the 2008-2009 season. Unfortunately, after being swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, it all began to go downhill for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Following the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, the Hurricanes have found themselves on the outside looking in for the past seven seasons. The current 2016-2017 season seems to be the same story as they’re on the bottom of the Metropolitan Division with a record of 24-23-8 and 56 overall points. Not only do they find themselves at the bottom of the Metro Division, they’re also fourth from the bottom in the entire league. Eventually fans have to consider the pros and cons of attending a game in which they’ll most likely see their team lose. With the cost of tickets, parking, and concession (and not to mention the moral defeat of your team losing), many would choose to watch the game in the comfort of their home through a local broadcast. This could be a leading cause as to why the Canes are having a difficult time filling the seats of the PNC Arena.
The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t making money. It’s plain and simple. According to the business magazine Forbes, the Cane’s are at the bottom of the list out of all thirty NHL teams for revenue. In fact, they sit at around $99 million in terms of revenue and at -$15 million in terms of operational income. This means that they are actively losing money, diving further into debt, which is a trend that may eventually derail the franchise.
To make matters worse for Carolina fans, the franchise is also on the bottom of the list for overall value. This could be more appealing for new owners who want to take a team for cheap, move them and attempt to make a profit if popularity were to grow. For a mere $230 million dollars an owner could buy up the Carolina franchise. This may sound like a lot, but when compared to the Rangers ($1.25 billion), Canadiens (1.12 billion) or Maple Leafs ($1.1 billion), a price tag of $230 million doesn’t look bad for someone looking to purchase their own team, even with the baggage that would come with the team.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evengi Malkin. The Philadelphia Flyers have Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. The Chicago Blackhawks have Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane. The Carolina Hurricanes have… some hockey players. Now, I know this may be reaching but when a team is in a slump, fans often still fill the seats and tune in for the games to see their talented star players take the ice in hopes of seeing a highlight reel play.
I’ll be the first to admit that the Hurricanes do have several players that I’d consider good and would even consider on my fantasy hockey league team, but the star players are lacking. If the New York Rangers are in a slump, you’ll still see fans flood Madison Square Garden to see Henrik Lundqvist make an awe-inspiring save. As the Dallas Stars fight through their current slump, you’ll still see fans tune in to watch the likes of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Unfortunately this is something I believe the Canes lack. It’s tough enough to watch your team lose, but even worse when they aren’t playing any entertaining hockey which often is sparked by those star players.
The Carolina Hurricanes play in the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. Countless times I’ve tried to meet up with family in the area to attend a game at PNC Arena but was continually met with a severe lack of enthusiasm. On the other hand, if you mention football around them, they’re buying tickets before you can finish your sentence. Many in the area bleed blue for their North Carolina Tar Heels. In fact, most people I’ve met from that area seem to have little to no interest in hockey as it’s not as big of a sport as it is in the northern United States. Obviously this is from a small sample size and is much more opinion than fact, but it could be a tell tale sign as to why the Canes are struggling to fill the seats.
In addition to the struggle of filling the PNC Arena, the overall location of the stadium doesn’t appear to be the greatest. Situated between the towns of Raleigh and Durham, the arena sits in a more rural area of North Carolina. Rural may not be the right word as much of the area is populated, but when you consider where other NHL teams hold their games, rural may fit perfectly. Many NHL teams can be found in large, heavily populated cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, and the list goes on, and on. Could the Hurricanes franchise see a spike in attendance and revenue if they were to move to a large city? We may know the answer to that if things don’t change.
Finally, attendance is a huge issue for the Carolina Hurricanes. With a limited amount of people buying tickets to attend a game, and even less purchasing concessions, one could guess at the revenue, or lack thereof, making its way into the hands of those leading the franchise.
In the Stanley Cup winning 2005-2006 season, the Carolina Hurricanes were averaging an attendance of 15,596 fans, which was nearly 84% capacity, putting them at 21st in the NHL in terms of attendance.In the 2015-2016 season, where they found themselves near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, their attendance had gone down to nearly 12,000 fans (out of a capacity of 18,680), a drop of nearly 3600 fans over the period of ten years.
So far, in the 2016-2017 season, the Canes are averaging an attendance of 11,934 fans. With a capacity of 18,680, that leaves 6,746 open seats and a severe loss in revenue. Their current attendance stats have them at the bottom of the league.
Attendance can be tricky, though, as the number does not account for who has the tickets in hand. Any fan who has watched their team face the Hurricanes in the PNC Arena has seen their team supported in the stands. So, take the attendance portion of this debate with a grain of salt.
Saving The Hurricanes
Now that we know the issues facing the Hurricanes, what could be done to help save the franchise and to keep it in its current location? Here’s some ideas:
Season Ticket Discounts
For some fan bases, the idea of owning season tickets is a pipe dream. This is something that the Hurricanes can benefit from, even for fans around the Raleigh area who may not be Canes fans, but enjoy watching hockey in general. Season ticket discounts and promotions could lead the way toward getting more fans in the seats, thus increasing revenue.
In addition to discounts, the Hurricanes could offer perks that come with the purchase of season tickets or tickets in general. For example, there could be an increase of stadium giveaways such as game worn jersey, free tickets, food vouchers or a chance to be in the locker room after a game.
Prospects, Trades and Free Agents
One of the most obvious ways of saving the Hurricanes is to go into rebuilding mode. Of course this is something that no hockey fans wants to hear as this often results in seasons of heartbreak and frustration. I believe that the Hurricanes should become comfortable with being sellers. Their front office must work toward building their team back up through the use of draft picks, trades and free agents.
In addition, if the Hurricanes were to make a splash in the free agent market, this would allow for the team to begin to gain more fans or followers as they attempt to follow along with the opportunity of landing a big name.
One other thing this accomplishes is it allows for excitement to fill the PNC Arena again. Fans would begin to attend again in order to watch the newest prospect fly around the ice, or to watch the newest trade pick up in a Hurricane’s jersey.
New Stadium in North Carolina
The PNC Arena is located on the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina with a population of around 403,000 people, with the next closest city being Durham, with a population of around 228,000. As I discussed earlier in this article, it could be beneficial for a team to be in an area with a higher population. With the PNC Arena coming up on its twentieth birthday, it may be worth looking at a new location.
The area with the highest population in North Carolina is Charlotte which comes in with 731,000 people, nearly double the population of Raleigh. The move from Raleigh to Charlotte would allow the stadium to rest in a more populated area while also remaining within driving distance of those in the Raleigh area. Now, I’m not saying this is a grand idea, but it’s something worth considering as a worst case scenario to try and save the franchise before it’s sold and moved completely out of state.
What do you think will happen? Should there be actual concern for the dire state that the Hurricanes are in, or will they fight through it and persevere?
Sean Surer is a contributor and Lead Editor for Good Night, Good Hockey. If you’d like to contact him, he can be reached at SSurer@gnghockey.com.