Sheboygan may be a little better than Wausau in terms of small city supporting a franchise. Roughly 50,000 people, within an hour of high populated areas such as Milwaukee (and the greater metro area), Green Bay, Fond du lac, Manitowoc, and Appleton. It is outside of 150 miles that I think you need to be now outside of the Blackhawks territory without paying a fine. You get the Green Bay and Milwaukee TV audience.
Whitewater, good distance between Madison and Milwaukee. It is also located around several smaller cities but when put together create a sizable population. Cities like Janesville, Beloit, Jefferson, Johnson Creek, Oconomowoc, and Delavan. You may also get a sizable audience from Rockford, IL that don’t feel like traveling to Chicago for the Blackhawks. It also has a great college population. The biggest knock would be size as Whitewater has the smallest population listed on here of around 13,000.
Conversely look at the Green Bay Packers. In a city with a population a little over 100,000 and the largest by far in the immediate area, they sell out every weekend, have a huge national following and will for generations to come. Although it would be near impossible to recreate the situation of the Packers with the history and tradition, their franchise is the framework I would like to see this one built around.
Best Location so far – Wausau, WI
Wausau? Wausau?! How could they ever support an NHL in team with a population a smidge under 40,000? We believe Wausau would be a great city to host a franchise due to it’s regional following, still relative proximately to major markets and in creating the cult of following of winning one for the little guy that sconnie embraces so well.
Northwest Wisconsin has a very rich hockey tradition that I think is hungry for the highest level of competition. This area has excellent youth programs, up through high school that create champion caliber hockey every year due to that passion. The region is pretty much left out of the major sports in Wisconsin and is more apt to contain Minnesota fans as a result. Southeast has the Bucks and Brewers, Northeast the Packers, southcentral/west the badgers. By putting a team there, places like Tomahawk, Merrill, Wisconsin Rapids, Eau Claire, and Superior would all have easy access to the team. All these cities among others in the area also support a total population of well over 100,000, quite a few within an hour of Wausau. It isn’t so far out though like an Eau Claire or Superior that it wouldn’t be somewhat accessible by the major markets of Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Madison every once in awhile. Hockey is a tough sport that is certainly not for the prima donna. It is full of tradition, strict codes that imbibe honor and respect so you need a region that fits that spirit and I think they do perfectly.
Wausau would also maintain that national appearance in similar light as Green Bay has of David v Goliath, but that David will always go to the whistle, the 15th round, the bottom of the 9th type mentality. Green Bay has a very specific taste where if you are an athlete that whines about contracts, doesn’t hustle, doesn’t have respect for the game that you won’t have a place much longer in the organization. Putting in a place like Wausau over a Milwaukee would certainly help that image and mentality that we take pride in with our sports figures and teams.
To note, Wausau also has an airport for team travel.
Madison is still a big one we were tossing around for obvious reasons. Good hockey town, they have the facilities, and they are decent size. But we thought about the semi-pro teams that came and went over the last 20 years (Monsters, Kodiaks, Capitals, and the recently collapsed Madison Ice Muskies but that’s a different topic all together) so that was a big knock. But were those more of a problem of situation rather than interest? Also somewhat in the middle between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
Need to be born in Wisconsin.