No one cares about the Carolina Hurricanes outside of Raleigh. That’s been my observation over the years.
But it’s time to start paying some extra attention to the capital city’s National Hockey League team.
It’s up for sale after decades of protection by owner Peter Karmanos Jr. I happened to be in Raleigh in 1997 and with some curiosity studied Karmanos as he sat on a podium with Raleigh honchos during a formal welcoming ceremony for the pro sports team that moved from Hartford, Connecticut.
Detroit native Karmanos smiled broadly but spoke little as the locals preached about how great hockey would be in N.C. State’s new basketball arena. I wondered whether Karmanos really shared the love of Tobacco Road.
But over the years he kept his word and made himself and the Hurricanes a solid citizen of Raleigh.
Then last year the 73-year-old Hurricanes owner began talking about about letting it go, about selling the team, which quite frankly has not done too well when compared to most other NHL teams. In July, Karmanos struck a tentative deal with the owner of the minor-league Myrtle Beach Pelicans baseball team.
Raleigh has been telling itself not to worry.
Next, Carolina sports fans should turn their attention to the pro team that they really care about.
Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is 81, had a heart transplant in 2009 and cannot last forever. Richardson and the Panthers have been solid citizens of Charlotte as Karmanos and the ‘Canes have been in Raleigh, and Richardson has protected the National Football League team from talk of relocation to London, Mexico City and other venues.
Richardson has cut his family out of inheriting the team and instead has said the Panthers will be sold upon his final whistle. Then will begin the agony that the Hurricanes are going through now. If Richardson gets a nagging cough, watch out.
The ‘Canes final sale is being drawn out, and little is being said about why. The agony is being prolonged.
Meanwhile, talk continues to swirl about moving the hockey team to Quebec, a natural NHL market where they’re openly courting a team that they should’ve had long before now. Quebec built a new arena in 2015, and folks there grow impatient.
We’d get over losing the Hurricanes to Quebec, but we would not get over losing the Panthers. Their next owner will pay big bucks for the team, and the next owner in return will expect big favors like a new stadium on the order of the new $1.6 billion stadium in Atlanta for the NFL Falcons, the Panthers’ big rival.
Charlotte folks still resent having to build a second arena for the NBA Charlotte Hornets. Queen City leaders would take intense heat in spending Atlanta kind of money on a second football stadium.
The failure in Charlotte of plans to build a Major League Soccer stadium in October shows that the Queen City is in no mood to subsidize expensive pro sports.
Meanwhile, the NFL hungers to place a team in London. Since 2007 it has been sending teams there for games in a trial run, and the league has set a date, 2021, for placing a team there.
As the NFL’s weakest franchise, the Jacksonville Jaguars had been the team most often mentioned as the one to move overseas, and only the Jaguars have agreed to play one game a year in London. But since that team’s sale in 2011 the Jags are on the upswing, and the team will end its games in London in 2020.
The NFL team that ends up moving to jolly ol’ England may well be decided by unfortunate timing.
If Panthers ownership is up in the air come 2021, as the Jaguars future was a few years ago, we may be the one to lose our most beloved pro sports team to London.
Stranger things have happened.
Just ask folks in St. Louis, which lost first the Cardinals and then the Rams. Ask in San Diego which lost the Chargers and in Oakland which is losing the Raiders.
So brace yourself, sports fans.
At least the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils look secure. But then again, Wake Forest the town lost the Demon Deacons to Winston-Salem.
Stranger things have happened.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.