Well, so much for the Florida Panthers being all alone in taking South Florida by storm as the NBA ended its lockout, with the start of the season beginning Christmas Day. That doesn't mean all is lost in terms of continuing to rebuild the Panther fan base, but it is now tougher.
Working against the Panthers are several factors, but most importantly their lack of success for a decade. It is hard enough to keep any fan base in South Florida interested in anything...ever...unless there is an obvious promise of post-season success and/or championship. Keep failing to reach the playoffs and interest erodes faster in this region than almost anywhere else.
It is an interesting phemomenon in South Florida as to why sports have so much trouble thriving. Most myopic and uneducated opinions on the subject will say something to the effect of, "Well, there is so much to do there, so it's hard to make time." BS. If someone is a true fan, time is made, without question, all the time. Sure there are things in life that come up that are obviously more important, and that is not what is being discussed. If someone goes to the beach instead of going to or watching the game, they are not the fan they claim to be. If they go shopping instead of going to or watching the game, they are not the fan they claim to be. South Florida is FULL of these types.
The other argument would be that most people that live in Miami aren't from the U.S. and were not brought up on American sports so they have no interest as a result. That is another misconception that needs to be tossed, as many of the diehards that do exist in Miami and surrounding areas are now second and third generation U.S. citizens that learned to appreciate and love American sports. There are also many, many remaining caucasians in the area that have no excuse for their flippant attitudes toward local sports but are the first to tell you the lie that they are "big fans."
|The circus brings the sheep, and mass apathy.
Look at the Florida Marlins, who have won two World Series (although the 1997 team was a Yankees-style, store bought group that was fire sold the next year in typical embarassing fashion). During the 1997 and 2003 runs, attendance was pitiful, as it always is, during the regular season. However, when the playoffs and World Series started Joe Robbie Stadium was full with all of these supposed "fans." Where were they during the grind? There would be no surprise if the handkercheifs waved during those World Series games were a promotion from some radio/TV station with directions on how to get to the stadium, because surely the majority had never been there before.
One would think with roughly 13 million people in the Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach areas games could get sold out easily. Up north and out west very bad teams sell out there games in all sports. Not all cities mind you, but most. Most of these areas do not have nearly the numbers or congestion of people South Florida does, yet this area doesn't seem to care. It's astonishing, really.
There is no denying that South Florida is a non-traditional hockey market. However, if 1996 showed the world anything, it is that this area not only can support an NHL team, but they are clamoring for that success again.
There are more diehard Panther fans in South Florida than most would have you believe. Diehard is what they would have to be considered to endure the embarrassment that has been the on-ice product since 2001. But with GM Dale Tallon's overhaul of personnel the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers are making some waves in this market once again. After years of watching teams full of what should be minor leaguers, the Panthers now have bonafide talent from top to bottom. Finally a statement could be made, especially with the spotlight only on them.
For months the NBA season looked doomed due to incessant greed and posturing between owners and players. Selfishly, hockey fans that hate the NBA were loving such a scenario as it would put more focus on the NHL and force sports fans nationwide to watch all that is left as football winds down.
With the NBA situation apparently resolved there is now another avenue for sports fan's time and energy. For all that South Florida is incapable of regarding support of their college and professional sports teams, the Miami Heat have become the exception. An exception of embarrassing proportions, but an exception nonetheless. Between the Heat's championship in 2006 and the signing of James and Bosh, interest waned in typical Miami fashion. People would say they were fans, but their actions, or lack thereof, would not support such convictions. That has dramatically changed.
Such buzz around any sports team in any city is a good thing for the league and the sports world because it keeps people talking. But those newly created Heat "fans" learned a lesson last year about justice, and hate. The entire country outside of the 305/954 area codes became Dallas Mavericks fans during the NBA Finals last year. A quick refresher as to why:
This shameful, despicable, and classless display was and is the ire of the league and will never be forgotten. Even Pat Riley admitted this was a mistake. That is an understatement. Every time the Heat lose the nation rejoices because of this event and Lebron's "The Decision":
|Kris Versteeg is a big key to Panther relevance.
What most people do not realize is this is the type of shenanigans that teams in South Florida have to pull to garner interest. Did it work? Sure. However, adding 1.5 superstars (sorry, Bosh is the weak link) to Dwayne Wade should be enough for the bandwagon to go over capacity. It surely would anywhere else without the charade and circus, because other parts of the country are knowledgeable on how to be classy. But that is how the 305 rolls. In your face, over the top, and unprofessional when it comes to Miami Heat basketball. Is it any wonder why the entire country celebrated the Mavericks in June?
Sadly this is what it takes to be relevant in South Florida. Lots of noise will get the masses interested, regardless of class or substance. The Miami Hurricanes of the 80s and 90s are considered the most hated teams in college football history. The effects of that are still felt today. But their unprecedented excellence took the city by storm, and rightfully so.
The Heat are obviously built for the post-season and potential championships. The Florida Panthers are much improved yet still a ways from such contention. The Miami Dolphins and Hurricanes have much work to do to be in the same sentence.
So for better or worse, come Christmas Day all eyes will be back on the Heat. Most cheering for their failure. A few thousand actual fans in South Florida hoping for success. Can the Panthers and Heat thrive simultaneously on paths to the playoffs? Yes. The Panthers have a much steeper climb when you combine arena location and most fans waiting for them to come crashing back to earth after their hot start. Also, no Panther player having the star power of James or Wade makes it tough to compete for eyeballs as well.
Few sports fans in South Florida realize the Panthers are actually built for the long term while the Heat are for the next few years. That hardly matters in a region and society that wants results now and now only. What does being sensible get you when the bandwagon you're on doesn't feel as good as where the rest of the sheep are going?