It’s fair to say LA has not been a hockey town. Fans here have been all about the Lakers and the Dodgers and have had little love leftover for the Kings. But when the team won the Stanley Cup last year, fans here learned to embrace the sport.
But what’s happened to all that excitement now that the NHL season is in its second month of the lockout? Jed Kim brings us this report.
When Chris Tsangaris and his brother opened the Redondo Beach Café eight years ago, they decided to make their place into a hockey-fan hangout. For years, they’d get a small, but steady base of hardcore fans coming in to watch the games. And then last year, the Kings made the playoffs, and suddenly they were packing the place out. They even had to buy new TV’s just so everyone could watch the games.
“They’d spill out over here, so we had to put in the flat screens over here, and we put in a projector," said Tsangaris. "See this projector here, a giant-screen projector? So everybody in this part of the dining room and out in the patio looking in were able to see, because the patio – we had tables on the sidewalk. It was pretty incredible.”
And then on a magical night in June, the Kings won the Stanley Cup for Los Angele for the first time in their 45-year history.
"There was champagne flowing everywhere. It took us a couple days to clean up for sure. It was electric. It was incredible," said Tsangaris.
The party continued when the Stanley Cup came to the restaurant.
“We had the line up started about six in the morning, and it literally spanned all the way down to the beach. People were waiting in the sand to get their turn for a picture with the Cup that was held in our parking lot," said Tsangaris.
NHL Lockout Drains Fan Momentum
Today, the Redondo Beach Café’s pretty empty. One reason for the slower business is the NHL lockout means there are no hockey games playing on the TVs.
“There’s absolutely a big impact on the businesses. It’s absolutely a big hit for us," said Tsangaris.
And all that excitement? It’s feeling like a missed opportunity to people who study the business behind sports. See, there’s no better time to build a fan base than right after a championship.
Courtney Brunious is the assistant director of the Sports Business Institute at the USC Marshall School of Business. He says the momentum from a championship is crucial to keep newer fans who may have latched on when the team was winning.
“Oh, championships are huge. Not only do you have your core fan base – your fans that have been fans for five, 10, 15, 20 years – you have those fans that get excited because they follow a frontrunner, or they follow a team that’s popular, or they follow a team that there’s excitement building around," said Brunious.
In other words, bandwagoners. In Los Angeles, where hockey has largely been an afterthought, there are going to be a lot of those fans. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because they evolve.
“They follow the team the next year, you know, they know the players, they get excited, they want to watch a little bit more, they tell their friends, you know, it becomes more of a ritual to them, then they’re not really a bandwagon fan anymore. And they become part of that hardcore base," said Brunious.
And that means a lot of money. Last year, the NHL pulled in a record $3 billion in revenue. Franchises with strong fan bases can sell a lot of merchandise and season tickets. Forbes published a list of the most valuable NHL teams after last year’s season, and the Kings were in 10th place after established franchises like Toronto, New York and Detroit. This season was a chance to climb up the list, but unfortunately for the Kings, the lockout’s already kept them from capitalizing.
"Opening games, the raising of the banner, you know, everybody having the excitement about seeing the Stanley Cup again – all of that leading up into the season was washed out by the lockout," said Brunious.
I reached out to the Kings to learn how they’re feeling the effects, but they wouldn’t comment in light of the ongoing lockout.
Back at the Redondo Beach Café, Chris is no fair-weather fan. He’ll be there if and when the season starts. He also wants a dynasty.
“I can’t wait for them to drop the puck again," said Tsangaris. "I can’t wait to be a part of it, to watch them move forward, because it’s special.”
There is one bright side to all of this. If you’d like to jump on the Kings bandwagon, now is a rare opportunity. Years from now you can say, “I became a Kings fan during the lockout.” Just don’t say which lockout – this is the third one in less than 20 years.