Right now, the city of Cleveland has the “Big 3”. That’s because they have the Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA), Cleveland Guardians (MLB), and the Cleveland Browns (NFL). There are a lot of cities that don’t have the “Big 3”, instead they have one or two teams. Thus, I’m not upset that Cleveland only has the “Big 3”. However, I think it would be better if Cleveland had the “Big 4”.
The “Big 4” are the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB. There are several cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Denver, New York, Los Angeles, etc. who have the “Big 4”. I believe that Cleveland should get a membership card and join that club.
The main concern with trying to justify bringing an NHL team to Cleveland is that the city sits in a black hole when it comes to hockey markets. When you look around, there are NHL teams in every direction. The Detroit Red Wings reside a few hours to the north. To the east is where the five-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are. To the west, you’ve got the Chicago Blackhawks. Of course, to the south sit the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The other challenging part of bringing an NHL team to Cleveland is that we already have an AHL (American Hockey League) team, the Cleveland Monsters. The Monsters just so happen to be the affiliate of the Blue Jackets. Thus, it would create a very interesting dynamic.
Speaking of the Monsters, I’m a partial season ticket holder for them. So, I go to a fair amount of their games during the season. While I’m attending these games, I love looking around at the fans in attendance and seeing how many NHL teams are represented. There are usually a decent number of teams represented in a many ways. These ways include jerseys, hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and various other things. The Monsters aren’t a pro team like the Anaheim Ducks or the Boston Bruins, they’re a minor league team. Even still, for fans to be showing up at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse wearing NHL apparel shows that people in Cleveland do care about hockey. There was even a Monsters game a couple years ago where the Stanley Cup was in the building.
When the Monsters hosted the Hershey Bears, AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, in Game 4 of the 2016 Calder Cup Finals (which is the AHL equivalent of the Stanley Cup Final) 19,665 people were in attendance. According to Branson Wright, author of Lake Erie Monsters win Calder Cup title with 1-0 OT victory over Hershey (photos) writes: “The sellout crowd is a franchise record for the Monsters and the second-largest crowd in American Hockey League playoff history. Philadelphia vs. Chicago at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia in 2005 attracted just over 20,000.”
Now, I understand that this was a championship clinching game, which usually attracts more people. Yet there were still nearly 20,000 fans in attendance.
But even in non-championship games, the Monsters bring in a large contingency of fans. According to an article titled: Monsters celebrate 1,000th regular season game in Cleveland: “3,869,540 fans have attended Monsters home games since the franchise’s inception. The Monsters led the AHL in attendance during the 2019-20 season and have finished top three in league attendance each of the past seven seasons.”
This article is from March 26, 2021, thus, the numbers are different now. But for the Monsters to have brought it 3,869,540 fans at that point in time is still extremely significant. In many of the games I’ve attended this season, the lower bowl of Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse was either really close to being full or was full.
As stated earlier, Cleveland is in a weird spot when it comes to the possibility of an NHL team. There are teams on all sides of the city which also includes the Buffalo Sabres in the east as Buffalo is approximately four hours away. Thus, giving Cleveland a team could potentially take fans away from those teams. But by the same token, it would bring in more fans to the NHL.
To further enhance the point of the geography being a good thing rather than a detractor, placing a team in Cleveland would create rivalries based on that geography. Rivalries are one of my favorite parts of the sports world. When it’s a rivalry game, the overall atmosphere gets amplified x10. A majority of Browns fans hate the Pittsburgh Steelers. So, by that same logic, if Cleveland had an NHL team then they would hate the Pittsburgh Penguins, right? Cleveland and Detroit haven’t always been the best of friends. So, giving Cleveland an NHL team would create another outlet for the two to meet and settle the score.
With the way the AHL is set up right now, the Monsters don’t play every team in the league. They just play a handful of teams. Whereas in the NHL, every team plays each other a minimum of two times. That means Cleveland fans would get the opportunity to see star players like Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and countless others. Moreover, Cleveland fans would get the opportunity to see certain teams in person that they might not otherwise get to see. For example, let’s say there’s a fan who really wants to see the St. Louis Blues in person. If Cleveland had an NHL team, that fan would get that opportunity. Otherwise, that fan might not ever get the chance to see the Blues unless they’re on TV.
Cleveland is a very passionate sports city. Even when the Browns are having a bad season, the Dawg Pound still comes out to support them. When the UFC came to town for Stipe Miocic’s first title defense at UFC 203 against Alistair Overeem, it was a total sellout (I really hope the UFC comes back to Cleveland at some point). As the Cavaliers made their push to try and get into the playoffs this season, fans were coming out to RMFH to support them. When the Guardians (although at the time they were called the Indians) had their run from 2016-2018, fans were going out to the ballpark. Especially when they were on that historic winning streak. As such, I think fans in Cleveland would embrace an NHL team and I think the city as a whole would embrace the NHL coming to town.