George Santayana in his Reason in Common Sense, vol. 1 said, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” The past for us includes Hartford, Connecticut and the NHL WhalersPeter Karmanos.
In 1994 Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos bought the Whalers. It was the beginning of the end for the team in Hartford. Karmanos would not have bought the Whalers if he hadn’t been confident that he could move them. The team’s low attendance history is likely what gave Karmanos that confidence. Prior to his purchase attendance had dropped to less than 11,000. With low attendance numbers, the Hartford franchise was a prime takeover target for someone looking to relocate.

Efforts by former Connecticut Governor Rowland to keep the team were half-hearted at best. His eye was on the prize and that prize was the New England Patriots’ announcement of proposed relocation. Efforts by the fan base to increase attendance figures were dismissed by Karmanos. The NHL was focused on extending its presence into non-traditional markets in the South and West. It became the perfect storm and by 1997 – in three short years – the Whalers left Hartford.
Fans were angry and felt betrayed. Their feeling was akin to dealing with a death in their family. It was an intangible cost difficult for many to comprehend. Hartford lost its sense of pride and the national recognition that comes with a professional sports team.
The economic impact to Hartford and its Civic Center proved to be substantial. Immediately the hartfordciviccenter (2)Civic Center lost over half of its bookings. Dependent on events to survive, the loss of the Whalers created long-term economic repercussions throughout its downtown and beyond. Loss of the team caused merchants and businesses in the Civic Center mall (home to the arena) and elsewhere downtown to close. It meant cutting wages and losing jobs for hundreds of people and it depressed the city’s commercial real estate market.
The Hartford Town Council poured millions of dollars into the area in an attempt at revitalization only to meet with limited success. The jewel of its downtown, the Civic Center, would never shine as brightly as it had when the Whalers played there.
It’s an instructive tale, isn’t it? Glendale, at this time and in this place, is at a crossroads. It can become another Hartford or it can commit to keep the team. It rests on a simple realization that some of Glendale’s elected officials have yet to accept. Sports venues, in and of themselves, do not make money. Their economic impact is derived from the businesses that locate in and around the venue, the new development that is attracted and the long-term value they bring to adjacent commercial markets. They are job creators and the wages paid have a ripple effect throughout the community.
If Glendale’s leaders will not commit to an investment to keep the team for the next 20 years then city hall 2Glendale will face sudden economic death of a substantial portion of its community. Chasing a deal with a limited life span of 5 years does nothing to build a committed fan base or to build long-term success for the arena, the area…or the team. It merely turns the death of relocation into a protracted and tortuous one.