The move, while bad for Atlanta hockey, is probably good for pro hockey in general. Perhaps it can signal the end of Gary Bettman’s disastrous southern strategy. I mean, let’s be fair, there was a chance the southern strategy would work. My pet theory is that like the southern strategy of the GOP, that of the NHL was predicated on racism. With football, basketball and baseball increasingly dominated by minorities, hockey had a chance to capture that “want to watch something at least slightly interesting and yet have white men dominate it” demographic (C-SPAN just wasn’t cutting it on the first point, I guess). And why wouldn’t southerners watch hockey – hell, they watch NASCAR, and everyone should agree that even watching the Atlanta Thrashers is more exciting than that. It could have worked. But it didn’t work. And the reason that it didn’t work is simple. When there are no fans, their amount doesn’t increase quickly: being a fan on your own is just not that much fun. Now, the NHL is moving out of Atlanta. Perhaps it is the end of the southern strategy – after all, the GOP largely abandoned theirs when they realized it wasn’t working (and/or was a moral travesty). Surely, expecting GOP levels of intelligence from Gary Bettman is at least a viable hope – this is the party of Michele Bachmann and Rick “santorum” Santorum after all. And yet, everything is being done to stop the Coyotes from leaving Phoenix. I don’t know.
The second Atlanta event is less global, perhaps, but no less momentous: Atlanta was the scene for me watching game 6 and 7*, and it illustrates what it means for a sport to have fans. Game 6 I watched in a bar alone (well, with my friend A., but he only joined me because I complained that I’d feel stupid sitting in a bar drinking alone. Joke’s on A., though, that’s something I do regularly! Also, A. kept asking things like “what’s a powerplay” and complaining he couldn’t see the puck, so I don’t know if you can really count him as watching). By game 7, due to a conference that involved many people from MIT, a bunch of Bostonites arrived at my hotel. The lobby area couches were turned into an amphitheater arrangement, and when I left in disgust and went up to my room on the 16th floor, I was still able to hear the cheer for the game ending. Orders of magnitude away from Vancouver after game 5, but still something. If I were a Boston fan, it’d be awesome. That’s the difference hockey fans make. It’s a positive feedback loop.
*An unrelated note on watching hockey in the U.S.: Mike Milbury** is an analyst on NBC, as well. The fact that the U.S. has 9% unemployment means that there are on the scale of 20 million people who are out of a job, and yet Mike Milbury has two. I would venture to guess that of those 20 million, roughly 20 million would make for a better TV hockey analyst than Mike Milbury. The fact that the U.S. has 9% unemployment and Mike Milbury has two jobs talking about hockey is basically an ironclad argument against any sort of justice existing within the free market.
**Please don’t anybody say “at least he had the good sense to trade Roberto Luongo”. Now is not the time.