Weighing the 'share' options for Penguins

1/11/2007 - NHL

This is presumptuous, Pittsburgh. Sorry.

Even with Pittsburgh's Plan B being retooled and with C through X being formulated, the Penguins nonetheless are up for bid.

If they end up in Houston or Portland, which are among the cities mentioned, they would be going up against an NBA franchise. Because of the Devils' pending move out of East Rutherford to Newark, a Penguins' move to Houston or Portland would keep the number of arenas with both NBA and NHL teams at 11. If the standard is using common sense and considering teams competing for fans in the same metropolitan areas, the number of NBA and NHL matchups would grow from 16 this season to 17 next season.

On the surface, moving to Houston and Portland might seem a mistake, but Houston is big enough and affluent enough to support both the Rockets and Penguins. Portland would become the smallest dual-franchise city, but the NHL could actually take advantage of a market primed by the NBA's Trail Blazers in what was one of the harmonious relationships between team and town before a misbehaving and losing roster turned off Oregonians.

Those folks, some of whom are regulars at Portland Winter Hawks major junior games and remember the old minor-league Buckaroos and believe center Art Jones should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, would flock to big-league hockey, especially if the new show includes Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and instant competitiveness (see Nordiques/Avalanche).

One of the roadblocks -- Trail Blazers and Rose Garden owner Paul Allen's reluctance to add a second Portland franchise to his sports portfolio -- no longer is a problem because the Microsoft co-founder and Seahawks owner turned over the Portland arena to the corporation's creditors.

And what of Kansas City? If Mario Lemieux stopped by Gates and Sons Bar-B-Q for a slab of ribs on the way to the airport after touring and hearing the offer of free rent for the franchise in the new Sprint Center, the chances of the storied franchise moving to Missouri probably were increased.

(To the uninitiated, that's the establishment where you're no more than two feet through the door when someone behind the counter calls out, "Hi, may I help you?" Perhaps if Lemieux squinted and looked indecisive while looking at the menu overhead, he was told: "Can I recommend the short ends … and the new arena for you?)

The advantages of Kansas City would be many: An instant and real rivalry with the Blues. No competing NBA team. A new arena. A niche constituency of hockey fans who can recite the old Blades' rosters.

But the avoidance of NBA competition should only be a minor issue. The NHL can hold its own with the NBA, at least at the box office, and forays into hockey-only markets such as Nashville, Raleigh, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Columbus have had mixed results.

There are 11 markets where the NBA and NHL teams play in the same arena. Using liberal definitions, there are five more where the NBA and NHL teams are competing in the same markets, but play in different arenas. In those 11 same-arena cities, the NHL is winning at the gate in four, the NBA in six, and there is one push. In the five different-arena markets, the NHL is winning in two, the NBA in one, and there are two pushes.

Before I get to the details, the disclaimers:

• One of the NHL's major problems is that it is far more reliant on gate receipts than the NBA, so basketball's proponents have a point if they argue these figures aren't necessarily relevant comparative standards. But the U.S. sports media's tendency to chortle and cite NHL attendance slippages as confirmation of a lack of hockey interest is shameful in light of its refusal to tie NBA attendance slippage for rotten teams to a diminution of basketball interest.

• The "official" attendance figures for both sports are often such a joke, they should be run in scrolls on Comedy Central. Unused season tickets can't explain all those empty seats, especially in such places as Atlanta, where I've been to NBA games and felt as if I'd better keep my voice down because voices carry in empty arenas. I've been to NBA games where the announced attendance was in the 14,000 range, but there couldn't have been more than 5,000 in the seats. The NHL isn't quite as bad, but similar phenomena occur.

• In the same arenas, capacities always are higher for basketball than for hockey.

• Offer limited to stock on hand.

The undisputed box-office champion -- the only market in which both teams always sell out -- is Detroit. The Wings draw an automatic 20,066 in downtown's Joe Louis Arena and the Pistons are an automatic 22,070 in the suburban Palace of Auburn Hills. There's no belittling those impressive shows of support, though some of the chest-beaters want to forget that both the Olympia and the Joe had tons of empty seats in the days when the Wings were struggling. There's nothing "wrong" with that, but to portray Detroit as invulnerable to the fluctuations is off base.

Beyond that, the NHL's clear winners in same-arena matchups are Toronto, Philadelphia, the Rangers and Colorado. For what it's worth, all four of those examples involve dual ownership of the NHL and NBA franchises, as well.

In the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs average an SRO 19,425 and the Raptors 17,998. If Andrea Bargnani develops into a star, though, increased support from Toronto's Little Italy community and vast Italian-Canadian population might push the NBA back up the charts.

In the Wachovia Center -- that is what it's called this week, right? -- the Flyers, for all their problems, have averaged a near-capacity 19,233, while the 76ers are drawing 14,927 a night, or 71.1 percent of capacity.

In Madison Square Garden, the Rangers have nightly sellouts of 18,200, though there are some nights you wonder if the ticket manager had gone to the stairwells and inhaled deeply before making the announcement; and the Knicks have averaged 17,892, or 90.5 percent of capacity.

And in the Pepsi Center, while the Avalanche's official sellout streak ended this season at 487 games, Colorado still is outdrawing the Nuggets. The leveling effect of the cap era has been an issue, but the primary cause of the slippage was the delayed toll of the lockout season, because many season-ticket holders decided not to renew for 2006-07.

The six clear NBA winners are in Dallas, Los Angeles, Boston, New Jersey, Chicago and Washington.

At the American Airlines Center, the Mavericks are drawing an overflow average of 20,279, the Stars a near-sellout average of 17,799. That's interesting because the Mavs couldn't draw flies when they were terrible, and the Stars not so long ago had a sellout streak of 238 games.

At the Staples Center, the Lakers (18,973 average, or 99.5 percent capacity) and Clippers (18,071) both are outdrawing the Kings (16,528), but the parroted talk that nobody cares about hockey in the Southlands is ignorant rationalization.

At the TD Banknorth Garden, the Celtics are drawing 17,042 and 86.9 percent of capacity, the Bruins 14,115 and 75.8 percent. That might seem puzzling, but the plethora of hockey options in Massachusetts and the reality that the Bruins' recent problems have had a delayed effect all help explain the relative inactivity at the hockey box office.

At the cavernous United Center, the Bulls are drawing 22,049, or close to capacity, and the Blackhawks are luring only an average of 13,174 and still have a lot of work to do to get hockey's cynical and suspicious loyalists to again hand over money to the Wirtz ownership.

At the Verizon Center, the Wizards average 18,125, the Capitals 13,135. If Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps get it cranked up, though, more fans will figure out how easy it is to ride the Metro to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop and walk several feet to the arena.

At the Continental Airlines Arena, the Nets (16,839 and 84 percent) are winning the battle against the lame-duck Devils (13,206 and 69.4 percent). The Devils will move into The Rock in Newark next season, and this is ironic for those of us who were at the 1982 news conference in an under-construction Meadowlands Arena, where we were told that the relocated New Jersey franchise never would have an unsold ticket and that season tickets would be bequeathed and fought over in divorce settlements.

But next season, the Devils and Nets will be added to the list of NBA and NHL franchises competing for the same fans, but playing in different arenas. Detroit heads that current list.

The Wild sell out (18,524 average) in St. Paul's Energy Center, while the Timberwolves average 15,923 in Minneapolis' Target Center.

The Sharks draw 17,358, or 99.2 percent of capacity, to downtown San Jose, while the Warriors average 17,806, or 92.7 percent, to Oakland. That's probably a push.

The Panthers' average in Sunrise is 15,294, while the champion Heat sell out (19,722) in downtown Miami.

The Coyotes draw 14,002 in suburban Glendale after fleeing the bad sight lines of the downtown building, where the Suns are averaging 18,422.

The bottom lines: The high cost of tickets has made most franchises more vulnerable than ever to the fluctuations caused by winning and losing cycles. But hockey's hard core is more faithful, sticks with losing teams longer and takes longer to bail.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."