The demographic the Panthers overwhelmingly need to attempt to reach out to again are Hispanics. The team cannot be relegated to the false notion that hockey cannot be sold to Hispanics. It is a notion that is similar to those who don’t believe hockey in South Florida can survive and the team should move. Hockey in general has begun to see players of Hispanic descent make it to the NHL in the past two decades starting with the first, Bill Guerin, being of Nicaraguan-Irish descent. A 2011 draft pick of the San Jose Sharks, Matt Nieto, is a Mexican-American who fell in love with sport in Southern California, showing that the sport can reach to a non-traditional demographic in a non-traditional market.
When the Panthers moved out of Miami Arena to the BankAtlantic Center they cut themselves off from the predominantly Hispanic Miami-Dade County in favor of drawing crowds from Broward and Palm Beach County. Those 35 miles from downtown Miami and Sunrise have left many potential Hispanic fans by the wayside. The Panthers have attempted Spanish play-by-play especially in the early years of the franchise, and the crowds in Miami Arena were made up of more than just transplanted northerners.
The Panthers may look towards the former Atlanta Thrashers in how to not approach diversification and outreach. The city of Atlanta has an African-American majority in population. The Thrashers were placed in a position where they couldn’t solely depend on transplanted northerners and had to market to the majority population. But the approach they chose was passive aggressive at best in my opinion. They attempted to draft and trade for players of African-American descent to give the franchise a reflection of the city’s residents but they neither promoted those players nor the game to African-Americans in the right way. We can chalk that up to terrible ownership but in my opinion the point is not to sell the game mostly on the fact that there are people that look like you who happen to play it but on the game itself.
If the Panthers want a good example on how to market their sport to Hispanics in South Florida then they should look at their neighbors the Marlins, Dolphins, and Heat. The Marlins have it easy due to baseball’s popularity among Hispanics but beginning last year the Fish started to truly inject some of the culture in their games by holding "Fiesta Fridays" in which they played with "Los Marlins" written on their jerseys, all PA announcements were made in English and Spanish, and a Pachanga band played in the stands. The Heat began to wear their black uniforms with "EL HEAT" written on the uniforms in an initiative the NBA as a whole is making to tap into the Hispanic market. The Miami Dolphins have been showcased the past two seasons in primetime games labeled "Hispanic Heritage Night" in which the Dolphins wear their orange jerseys and Spanish is featured all over the field and stadium. Now which could be good for the Panthers? The Marlins option may be overdoing it considering the Panthers no longer play in downtown Miami. The Heat alternative would be good if the NHL attempted the NBA’s marketing plan by having the largest Hispanic market teams play each other with a Latin vibe in the stands and broadcasts. The NHL attempted a light approach like this in 2006 when the Panthers played the New York Rangers in Puerto Rico for an exhibition. Finally the Panthers could have a Hispanic Heritage Night of their own, maybe a nationally televised game on NBC when the Panthers become contenders again much like what the NFL did with the Dolphins.
As a Latino I in a way wished I could have found out about hockey when I was younger. There are currently several ice rinks in South Florida now, with highly successful youth hockey programs. Hispanic kids are joining these leagues and the game has spread since the inception of the Florida franchise. All in all the Panthers have always had a sizeable population to work with across the tri-county area. All it takes is one game to capture the heart of someone and the Panthers may just have to speak a demographics language to show them the appeal of hockey. Of course there is always one language that can always lure new fans no matter who they are: winning.