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Bobble-Head Indignities and NHL Day Dreams

Jim Cryns on Sports

Jul. 7, 2008
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Getting the Nod

Our society is enthralled with ceramic images of athletes whose heads bounce and wiggle like a man suffering from chronic seizures.

Left fielder Ryan Braun is the latest player to be ridiculed in such a manner. The doll is altogether unimpressive, a slim guy with an enormous cranium holding a bat above his head. His body is slightly contorted in a batter’s stance on a large wheel of cheese. Braun’s name is etched between his legs adjacent to a missing wedge. The bobble-head has eyebrows like a Cro-Magnon, and spindly Barney Fife arms.

So, what’s all the fuss about? You couldn’t swing a Braun bobble-head at MillerPark without hitting someone the afternoon, because these goofy collectibles were dolled out at the door. Grown men and women, children, old folks alike, cramming through the gates, salivating at the prospect of securing one of these creepy statuettes.

Ryan Braun is one of the good guys and it was a wise choice to secure him for the team’s future. But the next time the Brewers want to “honor” one of our players, how about a nice portrait or bronze sculpture, like they’re doing with The Fonz.

Milwaukee On Ice

Is Milwaukee capable of sustaining an NHL team? Most sports pundits worth their salt don’t think so, yet hockey remains a popular sport in this town as the Admirals continue to demonstrate. But it costs a small fortune to run an NHL team, and those expenditures have to be supported by television contracts, high attendance, two things Milwaukee is incapable of providing.

In the mid-’90s, it appeared some investors were dallying with the notion to bring a team to town but ultimately decided to pull the plug. Big money for inferior teams was cited as the primary obstacle.

Milwaukee is not a huge market for sports. It’s a medium sized town with limited financial and corporate support. A survey was conducted in 1990 to help determine if Milwaukee could support a NHL team and at that time it proved overwhelmingly that it would have. However, the average ticket price in 1990 was 15 bucks, these days it’s more than 60.

Statistics say small markets can’t sustain the costs of operating a professional team. The areas of revenue are all generated by the market, by the people watching, media and attendance. Essentially, if you don’t have those things on your side, the costs will outweigh the gains. It’s confusing, because you have many of these teams that do well on the field or ice, but they can still fail financially.

Issues like facility sponsorships and stadium-naming rights can play a large role toward the profitability of a team. It doesn’t really matter if you have a good year or not, there are other factors involved. You’d have to say that intangibles play a role. In research, there’s nothing else telling you why one team is successful and another one isn’t. Everyone wants to see the Packers and Cubs, even if they’re having a losing season.

We have a small hockey community in Milwaukee, and it’s still very much a football and baseball town.A city like Milwaukee must have a more fervent base to sustain a NHL team. The local papers don’t show much interest in hockey and the Admirals appear to be very much an afterthought in their coverage.

The Admirals have difficulty merging their players with the community, a tough time creating identity with the fans and a strong player identity with the community. Conversely, the Wave has done a good job promoting their image. After every game the players go to a restaurant and their fans can follow them there. Detroit is crazy about their Red Wings, Chicago is nuts about their Blackhawks. They have long-standing traditions of legends and they seem to have a hockey culture.

Things are getting better on a youth level. UniversitySchool now has 15 teams that play in their league and the youth base is growing. Kids have their priorities and hockey doesn’t seem to be one of them. The Packers are so entrenched in the Wisconsin culture.

Minnesota has a strong hockey culture and supports high school and collegiate hockey.

Cal Roadhouse played for the Admirals from 1980-’83 and spent some time with the Edmonton Oilers and played briefly with legend Wayne Gretzky.A Canadian native, Roadhouse says kids haven’t grown up with hockey around here. "Roots never seem to have gotten planted here like they did in Minnesota 40-50 years ago." Roadhouse said. "But I think some good things are happening now. We’re seeing big strides. In time, I think the hockey in Milwaukee will be where it was in Minnesota a few years ago. Kids haven’t grown up with hockey around here. In Detroit, they appreciate hockey as much as any Canadian. I grew up in Alberta and moved to Calgary," Roadhouse explains. "I used to skate to school and we’d skate all afternoon until my mom would pick us up for dinner."

Hockey is similar to basketball and soccer. You pass and move, and you have rotations. It’s something you need to start young because the skating is so difficult. Hockey is continuously flowing and to me that’s exciting.

"As much as I would like to think Milwaukee could sustain a NHL team, I don’t think it could," Roadhouse said. "You need the corporate sponsorship and with the economy the way it is, I don’t believe you can have both the Bucks and a NHL team in Milwaukee."

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