billsportsmaps.com

February 28, 2010

Japan: Nippon Professional Baseball, 2009 average attendances, listed with teams’ titles.

Filed under: Attendance Maps & Charts,Japan: Baseball — admin @ 11:06 am


[Please note: I have a more recent post [from 2012], on baseball in Japan (NPB), here, Japan: Nippon Professional Baseball, 2012 – location map, with titles list, and 2011 attendance data / Plus an editorial on Japan’s baseball stadium deficiencies / Plus a short article on Japanese-born players in MLB.]

Official NPB site, translated, here: NPB/english.

First off, I must point out that some of these figures, especially pertaining to the lower-drawing teams, might be inflated. On the message board at Japanese Baseball.com, where I found the figures, two of the total four forum participants insisted that the Orix Buffaloes’ figure of 17,680 per game had to be grossly inflated, even to the point of being almost double what they probably really were (!). One of the forum participants said he went to around half a dozen Orix home games in 2009, and at all the games the crowd looked more like 8,000 to 10,000, and not even close to filling half the stadium (the Osaka Dome capacity is 36,000). On the other hand, at least for the top drawing ball club in Japan, the Hanshin Tigers, it certainly does not appear that they are inflating their large, 40,000-plus-per-game attendance figures. They don’t have to. What is most likely going on here is that maybe one or two of the low-drawing teams in the NPB are probably jacking up their horrible attendance figures for the sake of not making the whole league look bad. Well, like I said re: the Argentina attendance figures I used earlier this year, sketchy figures are better than no figures at all.

Below: Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium, opened April, 2009. Home of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp…

Some other points on the 2009 NPB attendance figures…
Hiroshima Toyo Carp just moved into a new ball park in 2009, hence the 34 percent upswing at the turnstiles there. [Here are more photos of the stadium, from the Marinerds, etc. site: photos of Mazda Stadium, Hiroshima.]
The 7.2% attendance increase that the Seibu Lions saw in 2009 can be attributed to the fact that Seibu were reigning champions last year, having won the 2008 Japan Series, thus seeing the inevitable attendance increase the following season. On-field success leading to increased attendance can also be seen with Hokkaido’s ball club, the Nippon Ham Fighters, who won the Pacific Division and fittingly saw a decent uptick at the turnstiles of 6.3%. [By the way, this team's nickname is not "Ham Fighters". Nippon Ham is a big meat packing company in Japan. This mistake was made by me and my brother when we were were kids, and I have seen others comment on how they made the same error. To compound the confusion, the Nippon Ham Fighters used to feature a goofy mascot that was a pterodactyl whose head was a giant pink, meaty ham bone named 'Fighty'...so there actually was an aggressive, anthropomorphic pork product associated with the ball club.] Tohuku Rakuten are a poor drawing club that had a good season, finishing in second in the Pacific League, so their 4.7% attendance increase looks kosher.

Chiba Lotte Marines’ 8.5% decrease from 2008 can be seen in light of their poor 2009 season, when they were the third-worst team in the NPB. But what kept many fans away from the Marines’ ballpark was the fact that widely popular American manager Bobby Valentine was the victim of a season-long smear campaign by the Chiba Lotte Marines’ management. Valentine was the first foreign-born manager to win a championship in Japanese baseball, when he led the perennial basement-dwelling Marines to their first Japan Series title in 31 years, in 2005. But Valentine had worn out his welcome by constantly boasting to American media that he had a contract for life with the Chiba Lotte franchise (the owner had said as much to Valentine, in the euphoria immediately after the 2005 championship, but it was thought it was generally understood that that proclamation was to be taken with a grain of salt…evidently Valentine never got the memo for that; in other words, just one more example of how easily things get ‘lost in translation’ between Japanese culture and the American mind-set). Valentine’s high salary ($3.9 million a year), and the high salaries of several people who Valentine had brought into his inner circle at the ball club, contributed to the Marines’ top brass feeling they were justified in forcing him out. They basically put him into lame-duck status overnight, first by firing those in his inner circle. Then all the trappings of Valentine’s presence within the Marines’ stadium were removed…no more prominent video loop of Valentine at the stadium, no more giant Bobby V. murals, no more Bobby Valentine lunch boxes, beer or sake, and gone was the nearby street named after him…all this while Valentine was still manager in ’09. Fan protests took the form of banners criticizing Lotte management, and a petition campaign. Lotte management responded to this by doing everything in their power to make life miserable for Valentine, including demanding that reporters criticize Valentine’s managerial decisions, and having high ranking Lotte officials countermand Valentine’s instructions to players during games. They also started a whispering campaign, spreading the word that Valentine accepted kickbacks and sexually harassed a female employee (both untrue). So you can see why attendance was down at Lotte. Sheesh. If you want to read more about this sordid affair, see the Japan Times Online’s four-part series by best-selling baseball writer Robert Whiting, ‘Clandestine campaign led to Valentine’s demise’.

The Chunichi Dragons’ 5.3% drop in gate figures is harder to understand, seeing as how the Dragons finished 19 games above .500 and were the third-best team last season. Maybe the worldwide economic downturn has been particularly bad in the central Honshu Island city of Nagoya, where the Chunichi Dragons are located.
One other attendance increase is hard to pin down…the Yokahoma BayStars’ 10.4% upswing. As the BayStars are near the bottom of the average attendance list, maybe the official numbers-fudger at the BayStars was ordered to pad the gate figures even more. [Note, see bottom of this post, at NPB Tracker.com address, for potential explanation of Yokahoma BayStars 10% attendance increase.]

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Below: Koshien Stadium, home of the Hanshin Tigers…

hanshin-tigers_koshien-stadium_c.gif

The best drawing ball club in Japan is not the county’s most popular team, which is by far the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo, but the Hanshin Tigers, who are often called the Boston Red Sox of Japan. This comparison is apt, because not only do the Hanshin Tigers field a competitive, yet ultimately under-achieving team (like the Red Sox were, for around 80 years), but the Hanshin Tigers also boast a large and fervent following. And like Boston’s venerable Fenway Park, Hanshin has one of the nicest ball parks in the country, the Hanshin Koshien Stadium. Like Fenway, the Hanshin Koshein Stadium is old (built in 1936), and with the seating very close to the field. The Hanshin Tigers are from Nishimoya, which is located right between the cities of Kobe (to the west) and Osaka (to the east). This is part of the Kansai region, in south-central Honshu Island (which is Japan’s main island), and contains the second largest urban area in Japan, called Keihanshin {see this}, which is the combined region of Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto. So you can see where the name Hanshin comes from…a shortening of the Keihanshin region’s name. The Hanshin Tigers, for all their populatity at the turnstiles, have won but one Japan Series title, in 1985.

Thanks to Japanese Baseball.com…this site was where I found the 2009 figures,
Japanese Baseball.com ;
forum thread with 2009 NPB attendances, at Attendance figures for NPB .

Turns out I wasn’t the only one wondering about the Yokohoma BayStars’ attendance figures. I think I found somewhat of an explanation of Yokohoma’s gate increase at the NPB Tracker.com site site…there was a promotion in 2009 featuring cheap beer in the cheap seats at the BayStars’ Yokohoma Stadium. See this, NPB Tracker.com, ‘Attendance Rising’, from 29 August , 2009 [see comment #2]: NPB Tracker thread, attendance figures 2009

Thanks to Yakyu shop for the photos of the ball caps NPB merchandise. Thanks to NPB site for small logos, NPB, english. Thanks to the contributors to the pages at en.wikipedia.org , Nippon Professional Baseball page at en.wikipedia.org. Thanks to Thanks Aaron Shinsano at East Windup Chronicle.com , eastwindupchronicle.com. Thanks to Demis.nl , Demis World Map Server (Public Domain).

February 19, 2010

Korea Baseball Organization: the 8 teams, with teams’ parent corporations listed, and baseball stadium photos.

Filed under: Korea: baseball — admin @ 12:55 pm

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From Reuters, October 27, 2009, ‘South Korean series a corporate playground’, {click here}

From the JoongAng Daily site, August 4, 2009, ‘Korea’s love affair with baseball stronger than ever’, {click here} .

The Korean Baseball Organization was established in 1982, and began with 6 teams. There are now 8 teams in the league. The KBO has seen a surge in popularity in the last couple of seasons, and in 2009 the league had it’s highest-ever attendance numbers. The 2009 Korean Series was won by South Korea’s most successful baseball club, the Kia Tigers. The Kia Tigers have won 10 of the 29 Korean Series titles that the KBO has played. The Tigers are from Gwangju, which is in the south-west of the Korean peninsula, and is the 6th largest city in South Korea, with a population {2006} of 1.4 million. The Tigers, like all teams in the KBO, are not named after their home-city but after their parent corporation, in this case, the automobile manufacturer Kia Motors. Kia Motors bought the Tigers ball club from the Hatai Corporation in 2001.
Last year, the Kia Tigers were powered by both of their allowed two foreign players. One was pitcher Rick Guttormson (USA-born, and a former NPB player who threw a no-hitter for the Yakult Swallows in 2006), who went 13-4, with a 3.24 ERA. The other was 2009 wins and innings-pitched leader Aquilano Lopez (Dominican Republic-born, and a former Detroit Tigers player), who went 14-5, with a 3.12 ERA. Offensively, the Tigers relied on former Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Hee-seop Choi, who hit .302 with 32 home runs.

For the 2009 regular season, the Korea Baseball organization had a cumulative average attendance of 11,138 per game.

2009 KBO teams’ home average attendance-
Lotte Giants (Busan)- 20,597 per game.
Doosan Bears (Seoul)- 15,731 per game.
LG Twins (Seoul)- 14,778 per game.
SK Wyverns (Inchon)- 12,556 per game.
Kia Tigers (Gwangju)- 8,314 per game.
Samsung Lions (Daegu)- 5,782 per game.
Hanwha Eagles (Daejon)- 5,691 per game.
Heroes [now called Nexen Heroes] (Seoul)- 4,996 per game.

As you can see, South Korea’s second-largest city, Busan (population, 3.5 million {2008}) has the ball club with the biggest fan base, the Lotte Giants. The Lotte Giants averaged 20,597 per game at their 28,500-capacity Sajik Stadium. The Lotte Group also owns the Nippon Professional Baseball team the Chiba Lotte Marines. The next two highest-drawing teams in the KBO are both from Seoul, the capital and largest city in South Korea (population 10.4 million{2007}). The Doosan Bears drew 15,731 per game and the LG Twins drew 14,778 per game last season. Both ball clubs play in the 30,000-capacity Jamsil Baseball Stadium. Fourth-highest drawing ball club in Korea are the SK Wyverns of Inchon which is South Korea’s third largest city (population 2.6 million {2005}). The SK Wyverns averaged 12,556 per game in 2009. [A Wyvern is a mythical winged dragon.] After these 4 ball clubs, there is a significant drop-off in fan base size, with the fifth-best gate figures being the Kia Tigers’ 8,314 per game. The other three KBO teams do not average higher than 6,000 per game.

[Note: I am not covering KBO attendance on a team-by-team basis on the map here, but I will post a KBO attendance map in mid March, a few days before the 2010 KBO season starts on March 27th.]

The KBO initially went through a period of slight growth and then sudden rising popularity with a spike in attendance in 1995, boosted by the exciting 1995 season which saw three teams, the OB Bears, the LG Twins, and the Lotte Giants, go neck-to-neck for the pennant (the title in ’95 was won by the OB, now Doosan, Bears). The KBO had its then-peak attendance in 1995, of 10,727 peer game. This figure wasn’t surpassed for 14 years. After 1995, the KBO began to see dwindling fan interest that lasted for a decade. What first helped reverse the gradual slide in attendances from 1996 to 2004 was the good showing the South Korean national baseball team had in the first World Baseball Classic, in 2005, when they finished in third. Another boost to the game here came three years later, when South Korea narrowly lost to Japan in extra innings in the second World Baseball Classic, and then six months later, the South Korean baseball team won the gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. These results convinced many South Korean sports fans that KBO baseball was a product worth supporting. And there is no doubt that the calibre of Korean baseball players has improved in the last 25 years. There is a large number of South Koreans playing in Japan, in the Nippon Baseball League. In the United States, in Major League Baseball, there are currently two Korean players: free agent pitcher Chan Ho Park (who in 1994 became the first Korean player in Major League Baseball) and Cleveland Indians’ right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, who hit 20 home runs and batted .300 in 2009 for the Tribe. These days, KBO ball games, and South Korean high school baseball games, are attended by a considerable amount of MLB scouts.

Here is a good site for KBO news, called True Stories of Korean Baseball {click here} .

KBO attendance figures, KBO attendance figures from KBO official site [list of teams at the top is only partially in English, so here are the teams as they are listed in order of left to right at the top of the attendances list...SK Wyverns, Kia Tigers, Samsung Lions, Hanwha Eagles, LG Twins, Doosan Beras, Lotte Giants, Nexen Heroes].

Thanks to lockerroom.co.kr , for the ball caps photos… KBO team caps, here .
Thanks to Panoramio.com. Munhak Baseball Stadium, by Youngmin Park
Thanks to CW at OOTP Developments message board, for the circular KBO logos Circular cap logos of baseball teams .
Thanks to Baseball Fever.com message board thread, ‘Possible future locations of MLB games abroad’ {click here} .
Thanks to the contributors to the pages at en.wikipedia.org Korea Baseball Organization

Below, key players for the 2009 KBO champions, the Kia Tigers…

kia_tigers-2009_.gif

Thanks to Aaron Shinsano (who is a part-time scout for the Chicago Cubs in Korea), at East Windup Chronicle, a KBO and Asian baseball blog, {click here} .
Thanks to Jeremy at Albion Road [on the blogroll here at 'Football Club Guide'], for showing me how to add links in code. Albion Road, here .

Thanks to commenter John, who put in a request for a KBO map and a CPBL (Taiwan) map last November.

Thanks to Demis World Map Server, Demis World Map Server .

February 14, 2010

2010 Copa Libertadores, Second Stage.

Filed under: Argentina,Copa Libertadores — admin @ 5:05 pm

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Note- I still am having a few problems with my admin. I have got a handle on inserting images via code, but I can’t figure out how to make links to other sites.

Below are two sets of images relating to the Cup-Holders, Estudiantes de La Plata…

Estudiantes de La Plata. La Plata, Buenos Aires state, Argentina. 4-time Copa Libertadores champions.

Estudiantes won 3 straight Copa Libertadores titles, in 1968, 1969, and 1970. This squad featured Juan Ramón Verón. His son, Juan Sebastián Verón, a midfielder, began at Estudiantes, where he helped the club return to the Argentinian top flight in 1995, before moving on to Boca Juniors in 1996, where he played 17 games (3 goals), and was a team-mate of Diego Maradonna. Verón had always dreamed of playing for Sheffield United (his uncle Pedro Verde played there). However, it was to Italy he went shortly after making his international debut in the summer of 1996, when he was signed by Sven-Göran Eriksson at Sampdoria. After two seasons in Genoa with Sampdoria, Verón signed with Parma, with whom Verón helped win the Coppa d’Italia and the UEFA Cup in 1998-99. Sven Goran Ericksson again sought the talents of the playmaking midfielder, and brought Verón over to Lazio. With Lazio, Verón helped the Roman side win the Double in 1999-2000 (this was Lazio’s second and last national title).

Juan Sebastián Verón then tried his luck in England, but he didn’t have nearly the success he had in Italy, with tepid stints at Manchester United and Chelsea. The pace basically got the better of Verón in England. In 2004, Chelsea manager José Mourinho loaned out Verón to Internazionale, and after two years in this situation, Verón decided to return back to his and his father’s original club, in a sort of prodigal son role. Estudiantes were undergoing a giant disruption, because they were homelesss following the government ruling that banned wooden stands, and Estudiantes had 2 wooden stands at their ‘Estadio 1 y 57′ (aka Estadio Jorge Luis Hirschi). A waiver on the wooden stands ruling, which would have allowed Estudiantes to continue to play in the ’1 y 57′, was overruled by the mayor of La Plata, and this started the feuding between the local government and Estudiantes over the whole stadium issue.
Meanwhile, in his first year back with Estudiantes, Verón helped the club win it’s first national championship in 23 years, as the Pincharattas (the rat-stabbers) claimed the 2006-Apertura title. In the intervening 3 years, Estudiantes have played their home matches in 3 different venues, and currently are playing at the stadium of second-level club Quilmes (who are located in the southeast of Greater Buenos Aires, which puts them around 35 kilometers away from Estudiantes’ La Plata home). In spite of all this, in early 2009 the Estudiantes squad were able to keep their composure and progress through the stages of the Copa Libertadores, and after dispatching Uruguay’s Nacional 3-1 aggregate in the semifinals, Estudiantes were set to face Cruzeiro of Belo Horizonte, Brazil in the finals. Throughout the tournament, Estudiantes were powered by the field general Verón, and the goals of striker Mauro Boselli. And it was these two who were instrumental in the outcome, when, after a nil-nil draw in the first leg in La Plata, Mauro Boselli scored the winning goal in Brazil in the 78th minute, on a header, from a corner kick by Verón. Verón won MVP for the competition, and Boselli was top scorer, with 8 goals.

The stadium had began being rebuilt in August, 2008, and as the last photo (taken in August 2009) shows, most of the main structure is up. Verón has contributed some of his own funds toward the new stadium’s construction, as well as to the club’s nice new training facilities just north of La Plata. Observers note he is positioning himself as the future president of the club, after retirement. The stadium is projected to be ready for play in a not-completely-finished state in late 2010. So soon Estudiantes will be back home, playing in a new 30,000-capacity stadium, on the site of their old and distinctive ground, with the luxurious canopy of trees which flanks the exterior still intact.

estudiantes_veron_copa-libertadores.gif

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estudiantes_stadium.gif

Thanks to the contributors to the pages at es.wikipedia.org; I found the photo of the new stadium under construction there. There is also a nice blog covering the construction progress at the Estadio Tierra de Campeones’ , at estadiopincha.blogspot.com http://estadiopincha.blogspot.com/
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Thanks to Sam Kelly for help on this post. Sam’s work can be found at his excellent Hasta El Gol Siempre site, which covers the Argentinian scene (click on it at the Blogroll in the sidebar at right, at ‘hasta el gol siempre’), and at The Engache.com site (at the Blogroll on the right under ‘the engache.com’). Plus there is the Sam Kelly archive at ESPNSoccernet.com (on the Blogroll at ‘Sam Kelly @ ESPN soccernet’).

February 12, 2010

England: 2009-10 FA Cup, Fifth Round proper (the 16 clubs).

Filed under: 2009-10 FA Cup — admin @ 1:59 pm

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Note…I am having problems with my site’s admin, and half the time I can’t even insert the images or the links I want to insert. I had to switch my server from Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox. At the same time (or slighty before that), the WordPress dashboard has changed, and there is no toolbar for inserting images oir links, and writing and illustrating new posts can now only be done via code, and not through a copy-and-paste procedure. If anyone out there has a WordPress platform for their site, or is familiar with WordPress, I would really appreciate some help.

February 7, 2010

The World Hockey Association, 1972-73 to 1978-79: map of all 26 teams, with attendance figures and notes.

Filed under: Hockey,Hockey-NHL and expansion,Hockey-WHA — admin @ 12:31 pm

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The World Hockey Association, 1972-73 to 1978-79: map of all 26 teams, with attendance figures and notes


The World Hockey Association was a professional ice hockey league that operated for 7 seasons in the 1970s. It was a rival league to the National Hockey League that was ultimately successful in that it put four of its teams into the NHL in 1979.  Those four franchises still operate in the NHL, although only one, the Edmonton Oilers, have remained in the same city since its WHA days. 

The other three WHA teams that joined the NHL in 1979-80 were the New England Whalers, the Quebec Nordiques, and the Winnipeg Jets. The Quebec Nordiques played 16 seasons in the NHL before moving in 1995 to Denver, Colorado, USA, as the Colorado Avalanche. The Winnipeg Jets played 17 seasons in the NHL before also moving across the border (in 1996), to Phoenix, Arizona,  as the Phoenix Coyotes (named Arizona Coyotes since 2014-15]. The New England Whalers changed their name to the Hartford Whalers when they entered the NHL in 1979. The Whalers played 18 seasons in the NHL before they moved south to North Carolina, in 1997, as the Carolina Hurricanes.

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The WHA was founded by sports promoters Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson,  who had been co-founders of the American Basketball Association (1967-1976),  which challenged the National Basketball Association and eventually put 4 ABA teams in the NBA. 1971,  the World Hockey Association was established, and began laying the groundwork for its first season, which would be in 1972-73, with 12 teams: 4 in Canada and 8 in the USA. The 12 teams that began play in 1972-73 were…Eastern Division:  Cleveland CrusadersNew England Whalers New York Raiders,  Ottawa Nationals,  Philadelphia Blazers,  Quebec Nordiques.      Western Division:  Alberta Oilers, Chicago Cougars,  Houston Aeros,  Los Angeles Sharks,  Minnesota Fighting Saints,  Winnipeg Jets.  8 teams would make the playoffs and compete for the Avco Cup. 

67 NHL players jumped to the WHA in the WHA’s first season.  The move that gave the new league instant credibility was the signing of Chicago Black Hawks superstar Bobby Hull by the Winnipeg Jets.  Hull was lured by the then-unheard of sum $1 million, which he received as a signing bonus (Hull earned $250,000 per year on top of that). Hull went on to be a two-time WHA MVP, scoring 77 goals in one season (1974-75). In a four-season period between 1974 and 1978, Hull’s teaming with Swedish line-mates Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson led the Winnipeg Jets to the first two of the team’s three Avco Cup titles. 

wha_winnipeg-jets_bobby-hull_anders-hedberg_ulf-nilsson_b.gif

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Before the first season began,  in 1972,  other WHA teams used a similar strategy of luring an NHL star or two to build a team around.  The Philadelphia Blazers had goalie Bernie Parent,  who they’d snatched from the Toronto Maple Leafs,  and former Boston Bruins defenseman Derek Sanderson.  The Cleveland Crusaders signed Boston Bruins goaltending star Gerry Cheevers.  The Quebec Nordiques signed defenseman  JC Tremblay,  who’d bolted from the Montreal Canadiens.  The New England Whalers stole defenseman Ted Green from the Boston Bruins.  Green would captain the Whalers to the league’s first championship in 1972-73.

The NHL responded to all the incursions by the upstart WHA teams in two ways,  by litigation (all of which failed to get their players back) and by blocking the WHA from forming teams in arenas,  such as the newly built Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York.  There,  the NHL hastily assembled the expansion New York Islanders to play in 1972-73.  The WHA’s New York Raiders were forced to rent Madison Square Garden on onerous terms which they could not keep up with due to lackluster attendance.  The New York Raiders changed their name to the New York Golden Blades in 1973-74,  then moved to south New Jersey halfway through the season,  becoming the New Jersey Knights.  The Knights played in a dilapidated 4,000 seat areana that had a slope in the ice that caused pucks to shoot up in the air.  The franchise moved again,  this time across the country to San Diego,  where they became the San Diego Mariners,  who lasted for three seasons as a competitive hockey club that drew around 6,000 per game. 

The Houston Aeros got off to a rocky first season,  then set about trying to find a marquee name to draw the spotlight.  They came up with a promotional coup that in the end won them two championships.  The Aeros persuaded NHL legend Gordie Howe to come out of retirement as a 45-year old and play with his two sons,  Mark and Marty.  Some felt this was just a cheap stunt to draw attention to the novelty of an ice hockey team in the Sunbelt,  but no one was criticizing the Houston Aeros after the team won the Avco Cup in the first two seasons the Howe family played for them (1973-74 and 1974-75). 

wha_gordie-howe_mark-howe_marty-howe_houston-aeros_new-england-whalers_hartford-whalers_nhl_.gif
Gordie Howe scored 100 points his first season back,  winning the 1973-74 MVP.  Mark Howe won Rookie of the Year that season.  The Aeros repeated as champions in 1974-75,  then moved into the swank new Houston Summit,  where they became one of the top 3 draws in the league,  averaging 9,180 per game in 1975-76.  But in 1976-77,  the three Howes opted to sign with the New England Whalers.  The Houston Aeros folded after the 1977-78 season,  a year before the WHA did.  Once it became known that the NHL wasn’t interested in a team in Houston,  management cut their losses and did not play in the final WHA season of 1978-79. 

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Circa 1973-76,  in Toronto,  the Maple Leaf Gardens and Toronto Maple Leafs’ owner Howard Ballard did everything in his power to make life difficult for the WHA’s Toronto Toros,  starting with charging an exhorbitant rent and including dimming the lights during Toros games,  preventing the Toros from using the Leafs’ locker room,  and taking away club house seat cushions.  The Toros actually drew pretty well,  averaging over 10,000 per game in 1974-75.  And the Toros got back at Ballard by stealing some of his players,  like Frank Mahovlich and Paul Henderson.  But two years later the Toronto Toros gave up trying to compete with the Maple Leafs and moved to Birmingham, Alabama as the Birmingham Bulls,  where they lasted until the end of the WHA in 1979,  drawing over 8,000 in 1976-77 and 1977-78.  The 1977-78 Bulls were maybe the largest collection of bruisers and goons ever assembled on a major league hockey team, including Steve Durbano and Dave Hanson.  The Bulls management had got to understand the Birmingham fan base after 2 seasons there,  and what those fans wanted there (in the Deep South which had no hockey tradition) was fights,  and lots of them. In the book “Rebel League”, by Ed Willes, veteran sportswriter Al Strachan recalls going to a game during the 1977-78 season in Birmingham, when the Bulls hosted the New England Whalers. After the Star Spangled Banner and ‘Dixie’ were played, a priest blessed the players. About 4 minutes into the game, the fans started chanting “Bring in the goons, bring in the goons.” So Bulls coach Glen Sonmor sent in a line featuring three toughs including Gilles “Bad News” Bilodeau. Bilodeua immediately jumped the Whalers Mark Howe. The next shift, Dave Hanson started another fight. The crowd went wild. So this was essentially the routine for hockey night in Birmingham.

Another team with a pugilistic legacy was the aptly named Minnesota Fighting Saints.  The Fighting Saints had the Carlson brothers,  three big shaggy enforcers who wore dorky black plastic rimmed glasses while terrorizing opponents on the ice, and relaxed by playing slot-cars in their free time.  If this all seems familiar,  that’s because the Carlson brothers (particularly Jack Carlson) were the prototype for the characters of the Hanson brothers in one of the greatest sports movies ever made,  Slap Shot  (1977),   which starred Paul Newman (and two of the three Carlsons) {see this, ‘Slap Shot’ (film), at en.wikipedia.org}.  Right before he began his big-league career with the Fighting Saints,  Jack Carlson had played for the minor-league Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Jets in 1974-75,  and was a teammate of Ned Dowd,  whose sister Nancy Dowd wrote the screenplay for the film. 

wha_minnesota-fighting-saints_mike-walton_jack-carlson_steve-carlson_jeff-carlson_aka-hanson-brothers_.gif

The Minnesota Fighting Saints best moment was when they made it to the semi-finals of the Avco Cup playoffs for the second straight season in 1974-75,  selling out the 16,000-capacity St. Paul Civic Center for some thrilling games versus the high-flying Quebec Nordiques.  But the Fighting Saints could not compete in the crowded Minneapolis-St. Paul market with the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars,  in spite of having attendances in the top 5 of the WHA (their best was 8,410 per game in ’74-75).  The Fighting Saints could not meet payroll for much of the 1975-76 season, and did not last the season.  The following season,  1976-77,  the Cleveland Crusaders then moved to Minnesota as the reborn Minnesota Fighting Saints (with red and yellow instead of blue and yellow uniforms),  but this team also could not last the season.

That was part of another instance of the NHL making a franchise move in response to the WHA..  The weakest NHL team,  the California Golden Seals,  moved to Cleveland, Ohio as the Cleveland Barons after the 1975-76 season.  The somewhat successful WHA team the Cleveland Crusaders chose not to compete directly with an NHL team for fans in Cleveland and promptly moved to Minnesota as the second incarnation of the Minnesota Fighting Saints (where they had to compete with the Minnesota North Stars,  but go figure;  they obviously felt that Minnesota was a better market for two ice hockey teams than northeast Ohio).  The Cleveland Barons were dissolved in 1978 (as the last NHL team to fold),  while the second Fighting Saints did not last the 1976-77 season.

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While the WHA saw relatively successful franchises being built in Edmonton,  Winnipeg,  Houston,  Quebec,  and Hartford (New England),  all of the other WHA teams were on shaky ground.  But in spite of this,  the WHA expanded to 14 teams in 1974-75.  [And insanely,  the WHA also added 2 more expansion teams the following season in 1975-76:  the Cincinnati Stingers (1975-1979),  and the short-lived Denver Spurs (who folded before the end of their first season)] .  The new teams in 1974-75 were the Indianapolis Racers and the Phoenix Roadrunners.  Indianapolis drew well,  with averages of 7,900;  8, 700;  and 9,200 in their first three seasons.  The Indianapolis Racers lasted until early in the final WHA season of 1978-79.  The hockey club is now best known as the first pro team Wayne Gretzky played on,  in 1978,  when Gretzky was a 17-year old (and ineligible to play in the NHL).  The Phoenix Roadrunners lasted three seasons in the WHA,  with their highest average gate in their first season,  when they drew 7,400 per game.  Their star was Robbie Ftorek,  whose MVP season in 1976-77 was still not enough to keep the team from folding.

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The following link features a nice summary of the history of the Quebec Nordiques…from Third String Goalie blog, from Monday, June 21, 2010, 1995-96 Quebec Nordiques Prototype Jersey (thirdstringgoalie.blogspot.com).

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Of their time in the WHA,  the Edmonton Oilers only won one playoff series,  and that was in the final season of 1978-79.  In the first 4 seasons,  the team pretty much was a perpetual .500 percentage club run by tireless promoter Bill L. Hunter,  who despite his lack of hockey coaching acumen would perenially step in and replace the coach midway through the season…this happened in 1972-73,  1974-75,  and 1975-76.  The city of Edmonton had begun building a new hockey arena in 1973,  with the hopes of attracting an NHL team,  and the Oilers began playing at the Northlands Coliseum in November, 1974.  Their gates,  previously hampered by the small arena the team originally played in (see below),  shot up to the top of the league in 1974-75.  They drew 10,722 in 1974-75.  The club was still mediocre,  though,  but the arrival of two individuals would soon change that:  Glen Sather and Wayne Gretzky…

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In all,  26 teams played in the World Hockey Association.  7 seasons were played,  with the Winnipeg Jets winning 3 Avco Cup titles,  the Houston Aeros winning 2 Avco Cup titles,  and the New England Whalers and the Quebec Nordiques winning 1 Avco Cup title each. 

The WHA effectively refuted the NHL’s postiion that there weren’t more than 3 cities in Canada capable of supporting a major league hockey team.  The fact that 2 of those 3 Canadian WHA teams that made it into the NHL in 1979 were eventually moved to American cities doesn’t diminish the WHA’s importance to Canadian hockey fans.  Had the WHA never existed,  it is doubtful that the NHL would have ever put a team in Calgary in 1980 (thus making road trips to Edmonton that much more economical) or put a team back in Ottawa in 1992.  And it is very doubtful the NHL woukd have ever put a team in Edmonton,  whose Oilers went on to win 4 Stanley Cup titles in 5 years from 1984 to 1990.  The WHA also is important for opening the door to European players,  which in turn had a big influence in changing the game to the swift,  skills-oriented passing game it is today. 

And finally,  the WHA is important to hockey players for challenging and legally removing the NHL’s reserve clause which (illegally) restricted hockey players’ rights and abilty to seek employment elsewhere when their contracts ended,  thus allowing pro hockey players the chance to realize previously unheard of earning potential. 

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I recommend this site for further info on the late great WHA… http://www.whahockey.tv/ .   There is lots of old video from WHA games here.

Here is but one,  of New England Whaler Tom Webster scoring two sweet goals {click here}.

This one is not from that site,  but I decided to end with this… ‘WHA Hockey’- Fights and Fashion’ (7:13),  posted by galaxycorps,  on Youtube {click here}.

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Thanks to the contributors to the pages at en.wikipedia.org {click here}.   Thanks to WHA Uniforms.com,  for jerseys {click here}.   Thanks to Super 70s.com,  for attendance figures {click here}.   Thanks to Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page {click here}.   Thanks to WHA San Diego Mariners site {click here}.   Thanks to Winnipeg Jets Online.com {click here}.   Thanks to Joe Pelletier’s Greatest Hockey Legends site {Glen Sather page, here}.

Thanks to  WHAhockey.com {click here},  for some of the photos,  and for some of the facts.

Thanks to Ed Willes,  for his book on the WHA…‘Rebel League, the short and unruly life of the World Hockey Association’,  published by McLelland & Stewart, Toronto, 2004  {at Amazon,  here}.

February 4, 2010

National Hockey League. 1970-71 season, with the 2 expansion teams-the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks.

Filed under: Hockey,Hockey-NHL and expansion — admin @ 11:00 am

Category: NHL and expansion
-Please note:
to see the most-recent entry in the category: NHL and expansion,
click on the following (from Dec. 2014),
National Hockey League, 1991-92 season, 22 teams, with one team added (San Jose Sharks)./ Origin of the Sharks franchise and nickname./ Stats leaders in 1991-92 NHL./ Map features dark-jersey-logo histories of the 22 oldest active NHL franchises.

-To see the first entry in the category: NHL and expansion,
click on the following (from Dec. 2009),
National Hockey League. 1927-28 season map, and an overview of the NHL’s first expansion era, with 7 expansion teams added between 1924 and 1926…and 5 teams defunct by 1942.

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In 1970-71, the NHL built upon their 6-team expansion of 3 years earlier by adding two more expansion teams, the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks.

The league also addressed the power disparity of the two divisions. There was widespread criticism of the divisional structure after three straight Stanley Cup finals where the team from the all-expansion Western Division was swept by the team from the Eastern Division. All three years it was the St. Louis Blues who were swept in the Stanley Cup finals…twice straight by the Montreal Canadiens in 1967-68 and 1968-69, and by the Boston Bruins in 1969-70. 

So the NHL top brass was forced to tinker with the divisional and playoffs structure. First they put both of the expansion teams, Buffalo and Vancouver, in the Eastern Division. Then they had the Chicago Black Hawks switch from the Eastern to the Western Division. And finally, the league made half of the round-two playoff teams play opponents in the other division.

Putting Vancouver (a Pacific coast city) in the Eastern Division was rather strange. So was the new playoff system, which violated a basic principle of divisional structures, by having teams cross over to play teams from the other division. But there were far more competitive Stanley Cup finals for the next few years.

The 1970-71 Stanley Cup finals went to a hard-fought seventh game, with the Montreal Canadiens defeating the Chicago Black Hawks by the score of 4-3, coming back from a 2-0 deficit halfway through the second period of game 7.  Down by two goals, the Habs’ Jacques Lemaire took a shot from center ice that somehow escaped Chicago goalie Tony Esposito, and Henri Richard tied the score just before the end of the second period. Henri Richard scored again 2:34 into the third period, and goalie Ken Dryden, in his first season in the NHL, shut down the Black Hawks for the final half hour of the game. This was the last time a seventh game in the Stanley Cup finals was won by the visiting team, until the Pittsburgh Penguins won the 2009 Stanley Cup final in Detroit.  
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Thanks to Logo Shak {click here}. Thanks to Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page {Vancouver Canucks,  click here };  {Buffalo Sabres,  click here}.
Thanks to NHL/shop, http://shop.nhl.com/.

Special thanks to Jersey Database, for the jersey illustrations on the map page, at Jersey database.com/ [browse - Hockey...see column for "Jersey Fronts", by team].

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