In the midwest, hockey is a way of life. Among active U.S.-born NHL players, 47% are from the midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri) Averaging the attendance of the NHL’s four midwestern teams (Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, St. Louis) yields 18931 fans. This is a sellout or more than a sellout in most NHL arenas, especially with Blackhawks games.
Out of the five states in question here, only one does not have an NHL franchise. 4.8% of U.S.-born NHL players hail from the state of Wisconsin, combining for 3523 points. Wisconsin produces top-tier NHL talent. Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel, Ryan Suter, Alex Galchenyuk, the Hawks’ very own Jake McCabe, and Cole Caulfield are all current NHLers who were born in Wisconsin. Narrowing this list to Blackhawks players include Jake McCabe, Adam Burish, Jack Skille, and Nick Schmaltz.
By now, you know where this is going. The NHL is missing out on what could be an absolute jackpot of a market in Wisconsin.
If the NHL ever does go to Wisconsin, undoubtedly they would choose Milwaukee as the franchise’s destination. Milwaukee checks off every box when it comes to supporting an NHL franchise.
First, where would this team play? The 17,341 seat Fiserv Forum would be a perfect home for an NHL franchise. It is already considered a multi-purpose arena with an NHL-size ice sheet already built in.
Next, let’s look at Milwaukee as a sports market. Sure, it’s not Chicago or New York, but refer to the 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks. The Deer District outside of Fiserv Forum was rocking all playoffs long and could be doing the same for an NHL team. Additionally, the Brewers averaged 36000 fans a game in 2019 which was good enough for 8th in Major League Baseball.
‘Sconnies show up for their teams and show up for their hockey. The University of Wisconsin-Madison ranked second in the NCAA in 2019 for fan attendance, only behind North Dakota (Johnny Toews’s alma mater I may add). The Badgers average just under 11000 fans in the Kohl Center per game, which is also second-most in the NCAA.
Milwaukee would also fit into the central division perfectly. Traveling to Milwaukee for divisional contests makes much more sense than flying across the country to Phoenix, Arizona. Not only would it be an easy trip for Central Division teams, but clubs like the Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Penguins could benefit from a quick trip to Milwaukee. Moreover, west coast teams and east coast teams could make road trips shorter, by hitting St. Paul, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis all in one trip.
Hey Cubs fans, what are your thoughts on the Brewers? Probably nothing too positive considering they are a division rival. Adding an NHL team in Milwaukee would unquestionably create a rivalry with the Blackhawks. The geographic proximity could make it one of the best in the NHL.
By putting a team in Milwaukee, the NHL would be tapping into the Chicago market. Blackhawks fans would absolutely travel the hour-and-a-half drive by the thousands to see their team play on the road. Milwaukee fans would do the same to see their team play at the UC. Both franchises would be making money off of the other.
The Brewers and the Cubs are a fitting example. Both franchises are able to survive just fine even though they are just 92 miles away from each other. Cubs fans often go to Brewers games and vice versa.
At the end of the day, it comes down to who has the money. As recently seen in Las Vegas and Seattle, expansion fees are expensive and it takes a wealthy ownership group to add, or even relocate an NHL franchise. Until Milwaukee finds that, they will, unfortunately, be NHL hockey-less.