SUNRISE Commissioner Gary Bettman, on hand to watch the Panthers’ first playoff game in 12 years on Friday night, said this turnaround season has shown a resiliency for the franchise and believes “there are good times ahead” for hockey in South Florida.
“The buzz is great. I get down here a lot, and the buzz down here has been great all season,” Bettman said. “I’m happy for the fans down here that have so loyally and spectacularly supported this franchise over the years. … This is a team that through some lean times has gotten really good fan support, and it is only going to increase as the team’s performance increases.
Bettman has been a consistent supporter of the franchise while some factions within the league have questioned the staying power of this and other franchises in so-called non-traditional hockey markets.
“Teams are making their own traditions[through] game presentation, how fans interact. Whether it’s red here or gold, in Nashville. Everybody is doing it different, but the fans are connecting everywhere in increasing numbers, and that’s the positive sign,” he said.
Bettman cited record revenues the past seven years and record attendance six of the past seven years as positive signs league-wide. He said having all first-round playoffs games televised is helpful in showcasing the league at its best, and pointed to strong ratings in the early games.
The NHL will face a challenge later this year with the collective bargaining agreement due to expire Sept. 15. Donald Fehr, former chief of the major league baseball players union has taken over that roll for NHL players. Negotiations have not begun.
“There’s no immediate pressure. We’re ready whenever the unon is ready,” Bettman said.
Not quite full house
The first playoff game at BankAtlantic Center drew an announced attendance of 19,119, falling short of a sellout by “a couple hundred tickets,” said Michael Yormark, Panthers president and COO.
There were scattered empty seats in all three levels. The South Florida sports dollar was spread thin Friday with the Marlins opening their first homestand at Marlins Park, and the Heat also playing at home.
“You’re never goingt to have a 100-percent show rate. But we’re very pleased with the response from the marketplace, and this is something we can build on moving forward,” Yormark said.
“These are all Florida Panthers fans. They’re not rooting for an opponent, they’re rooting for the Florida Panthers. We haven’t had that in a long time.”