NHL Panthers Offer Free Tix, Still Can’t Sell Out

The Florida Panthers are a struggling franchise that hasn’t made the NHL playoffs in nine years, so the organization is trying to boost lagging attendance in a number of creative ways. One way is to offer “priority” for playoff tickets to people who buy a four-game plan, and if the team misses the postseason again (the team’s only one point out of a spot) they’ll get free tix to four games next year.

Florida Panthers crowd

(Another big night for hockey in South Florida)

It’s actually a pretty good idea, but once you hear about a promotion that already didn’t work, it’s unlikely that any amount of ingenious marketing is going to save this team. Last night, all you had to do was show up at a tent outside the arena and you’d get tickets … free tickets. They still couldn’t fill the place.

Mike Zeisberger of SLAM! SPORTS has the details:

Leading up to the game last night, fans had the opportunity of picking up ducats at no cost simply by visiting the van outside the arena’s front doors belonging to AM-790, the local radio station that carries the Panthers games.

On his daily afternoon drive program, Dan Le Batard, a well-known local broadcaster and columnist, was predicting the station could give away as many as 500-1,000 free tickets for the Leafs game.

Even with that, there would be no sellout on this night. Not like 48 hours earlier in Tampa when thousands of Leafs fans made Toronto players feel as if they were the home team.

Part of the problem, Zeisberger says, is that the Panthers play in no-man’s land. Literally, their arena is as far west as you can go before the Everglades start. And it’s some 25 miles northwest of Miami. Not exactly a prime location, when you consider the NBA’s Heat plays at a downtown arena that is a stone’s throw from South Beach.

But still, not even being able to give away free tickets to see the Leafs, one of hockey’s most popular teams, at a time when many northerners are in Florida for spring break. That’s tough, and perhaps demonstrates that hockey might not have much of a future in the area. The Panthers broke onto the scene by making the Stanley Cup back in 1996, but have faded into obscurity since. They haven’t won a single playoff game since moving into their current arena in 1998.

Clearly, it’s time to start putting some of these inexplicable NHL franchises back in better hockey cities. Let’s move the Panthers to Hartford, the Coyotes back to Winnipeg, and the Predators to Quebec. Gary Bettman tried, and a few of these warm-weather teams have worked, but I think the experiment is over.