Skating on thin ice

Why the hidden gem of Detroit sports is in danger of relocating

By Nick Misiak, Sports Editor
By Nick Misiak, Sports Editor

Detroit sports have a lengthy history of winning traditions and building championship caliber teams. From the Red Wings being in the playoffs 23 straight years to the Tigers resurgence as one of Major League Baseball’s biggest contenders, Detroit dominates in practically every sport. However, there is one team that is a dark horse when it comes to Detroit sports; the Plymouth Whalers.
The Plymouth Whalers have silently been one of the best teams in their league over the last 25 years. Since their incorporation into the Ontario Hockey League in 1989, the franchise has only missed the playoffs once, which was during their inaugural season. Since then, the Whalers have reached the playoffs for 23 consecutive years (a league record), appeared in the finals four times and won two league championships (1995 and 2007).
At the end of the 2013-14 season, rumors began circling that team owner Peter Karmanos was talking to investors who wanted to buy the franchise and move it to Hamilton, ON. The reason behind the possible sale and relocation was due to a lack of attendance. The team lacked a full capacity crowd for the majority of the season and seemed to struggle to draw the much-needed attention of the highly saturated Detroit sports market.
The conditions are right to sell the team, but many devoted fans would be heartbroken if their favorite players moved to Canada and no longer wore the blue and green sweaters. The fact that the Whalers are in talks of being sold raises a question.
Why would a successful franchise like this not flourish in such a hockey crazy community like metro Detroit?
It is understood that the team competes in a predominately Red Wings market and that alone takes a significant amount of the potential fan base, but it is sad that such a illustrious franchise could possibly be taken away from this area because of lack of attendance.
Sports fans are more concerned about the professional sporting events that take place at the same time the Whalers are playing, which is understandable, but even during the NHL lockouts of 2005 and 2012, the blue seats that surround the ice at Compuware Arena were not all occupied.
There is no reason why a team that has won over 60 percent of its games during its history should not be selling out a 4,500 seat arena in a community where hockey is almost like a second religion to many.
Part of the blame for the poor attendance goes to owner Peter Karmanos Jr, who also owns the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, the Florida Everblades of the ECHL and the Compuware Youth Hockey organization. However, his interest in the Whalers team has appeared to dwindle over the past few years because he does not provide the proper budget to effectively promote the franchise. Besides a few radio advertisements, the only other marketing tool that he has is word-of-mouth.
If Karmanos provided the necessary money to increase the marketing budget, a whole new realm of potential fans would be informed of the incredible franchise that is currently hidden in the shadows of Detroit sports. The seats would be full of screaming and cheering fans, and it would not be surprising to see Karmanos’s eyes light up and his thoughts of selling the team to diminish.
The tunnel vision that Karmanos has from running this organization from a financial standpoint is obscuring the potential that it has, and is preventing it from growing into a thriving franchise.
For a follow-up, please look in the Oct. 6 edition of the Schoolcraft Connection.