As I was flipping through an old issue of Sports Extra Hockey this week, I came across an interesting article: "W.H.A. vs. N.H.L. -- Can two teams survive in one city?" It was the January 1974 issue. Initially interested in the retrospective, another section in the article piqued my interest as I got into it:
Answer this question: Why does everyone think that just because a team is from Canada that its home city is a good hockey town? Probably because of Montreal and Toronto, which are great hockey towns.
But Ottawa is not necessarily a great town for professional hockey, and that's why the Nationals failed there. The people in Ottawa simply identified more with their hometown boys, the 67's, than they identified with a mercenary bunch of hockey players who played in Ottawa because the league office said they should play there.
That was in 1974, a year after the WHA's Ottawa Nationals played their one and only season in Ottawa before moving to Toronto. Since then, Ottawa has seen the birth of many franchises, and the demise of many, too.
A quick scan of Wikipedia revealed at least eight Ottawa-based professional sports teams that have folded since the Nationals (to say nothing of those which folded before them):
- Ottawa Civics (World Hockey Association): 1974
- Ottawa Rough Riders (Canadian Football League): 1876-1996
- Ottawa Loggers/Wheels (Roller Hockey International): 1995-1997
- Ottawa Rebel (National Lacrosse League): 2001-2003
- Ottawa Wizards (Canadian Professional Soccer League): 2001-2003
- Ottawa Renegades (Canadian Football League): 2002-2006
- Ottawa Lynx (International League [baseball]): 1993-2007
- Ottawa Rapidz/Voyageurs (Can-Am League [baseball]): 2008-2009
So, is Ottawa a bad sports town?
There have been success stories in Ottawa. The Lynx seemed like a success story at first, setting attendance records early in their existence and winning the Governor's Cup in 1995. The semi-professional Ottawa Fat Cats (Intercounty Baseball League) seem to be a similarly successful case, with relatively huge draws considering the league size, although it remains to be seen if that's a 'honeymoon period'. Today's Senators, aside from that bankruptcy deal (which had many other issues besides fan support) have been successful: Aside from their time at the Civic Centre, the Senators' lowest average attendance was 16,751 in 1997-98, better than 90% capacity for that season.
But there have also been the failures. The abysmal failures.
So which is it: Bad sports town, or bad sports teams?