Friday, April 13, 2007

give me a pro sports franchise or give me death!

It’s time that a professional sports franchise comes to Hawaii. Logistically, a Hawaii team would fit best into the NFL.

Hawaii sports fans are very passionate--there is an ESPN sports radio station in Hawaii and not one pro sports team (I doubt any other city would stand for this). It amazes me that Hawaii is not being talked about as a possible location for a franchise. There are many factors that people have argued as the reason that a team in Hawaii would not be feasible—I will dispel those now.

The first reason that many people cite is that they claim Hawaii is too far away from the rest of the nation for a sports team to be feasible. This is a ridiculous argument—the NFL is going to play a regular season game this year in London, which is no closer from the East Coast than Hawaii is from the West Coast. This just proves that a five-hour flight is not too long of a travel period; why should this prevent Hawaii from getting a team? There was talk that the NFL and NBA wanted to expand to London and put real franchises in these cities—if it’s feasible there, it’s feasible in Honolulu as well.

NFL teams play one game a week—a five-hour flight would not be too hard to do, especially as NFL teams have one day devoted entirely to travel. Teams would go about their routines no differently, and with all teams having charter jets, I’m sure comfort would not be an issue. They would not “lose their legs” anymore than they do playing any other in-conference rival: the distance between DC and Dallas is similar to the distance between San Francisco and Hawaii. The argument that Hawaii is too far may be acceptable in the case of the NHL, NBA or MLB, but the NFL has no real reason for using the travel factor as a reason to deny Hawaii a pro sports franchise.

The next oft-cited reason is that Hawaii has no city big enough to house the team. I have one word for them: Honolulu. Honolulu has a population of around 327,000 people. This may appear small to some, but when looked at in context, it becomes clear that it really isn’t.

Miami and Oakland, who each have professional teams, each have less than 20,000 more citizens than Hawaii. And, Oakland plays in an oversaturated market—the Bay Area. If LA is granted an expansion team, the Raiders should move to Hawaii.

One must also then consider how Honolulu’s population only refers to “Honolulu proper”—the entire island of O’ahu has nearly a million residents. Since no point on O’ahu is more than an hour from Honolulu, this should really be considered to be Honolulu’s population. This would make Honolulu the tenth largest city in the US. How can it be said, then, that Honolulu does not have enough residents? This would make Honolulu more populated than San Francisco, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Charlotte, Boston, Washington, DC, Seattle, Atlanta, Kansas City, New Orleans and Cleveland—all cities that have NFL franchises.

If one thinks that this is unfair inflation of Honolulu’s population (well, you’re sour grapes), then look no further than the fact that Honolulu “proper” is more populated than St. Louis, Cincinnati, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Green Bay—again, all cities with NFL franchises (I omitted the Vikings because, if one was to amalgamate the population’s of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the population would be larger than that of Honolulu, although individually, both of these cities have less citizens than Honolulu).

It’s simple to see that Honolulu is a big enough city to be home to a proud NFL franchises—how about the Honolulu Kings, Monarchs, Ali’i, Dukes, Menehune, Sharks or Surfriders? Personally, I’d like to see the Hawaii franchise be named the Rainbows in homage to the great University of Hawaii teams of the past, but we are all aware of the unfortunate hubbub that this name generated to people who like to make mountains out of molehills. A team paying respect to the US Armed Forces would also be appropriate—not only because Hawaii has a large military presence, but because Pearl Harbor is visible from Aloha Stadium, where the team would undoubtedly play.

I’m tired of hearing that Honolulu is too small and too far for an NFL franchise—I truly believe that a team would flourish here and that the league would see a great return. Visiting fans would undoubtedly travel to Hawaii to watch their team play and would probably make a week-long vacation out of it—just what Hawaii’s economy needs. The NFL is experiencing a period of huge support by the American public, and I truly had no idea just how big this league was to America until I got to college. Everything stops on Sunday when games are on—and the NFL must tap into the Honolulu market if it wants to continue to grow as a league.

Think about the great marketing schemes: the Hawaii team could wear great aloha-print jerseys that would sell incredibly well on the “mainland”—I’m sure lovers of fitted hats would also love to have a colorful, aloha-print hat to add to their collection, regardless of where they are from.

The NFL wouldn’t have to even wait for a stadium to be built—it’s right there, in historic Aloha Stadium. And, the promise of an NFL team could probably get the potential owner to spring for improvements to the facility—the state would then be able to avoid paying for these renovations. And, seeing how the stadium is state-owned, the NFL team would pump money back into the state’s budget. Of course, if the potential owner did not want to do this, he/she could easily build a new stadium in Kapolei—there was, at some point, talk of building a new stadium there. The state has wanted to make Kapolei O’ahu’s “second-city” for the longest time—surely, an NFL stadium would encourage more hotels and businesses to shoot up out there and would definitely stimulate growth in the area.

The Pro Bowl is already a huge draw in Hawaii, and this happens once a year. What would happen if, for eight weeks out of the year, Hawaii had the same visitor numbers as it does the week of the Pro Bowl? This would be a definite occurrence if some rich Hawaii Kai businessman decided to stump up the money and tried to persuade the NFL to put a team in Hawaii. The NFL has been trying to move into the Asian market by playing preseason games in Japan—it’d be more than safe to say that Japanese fans would travel to Hawaii to watch the team play against NFL teams in games that actually mean something, as opposed to the exhibition games played in the Tokyo Dome between two NFL teams with no real playoff aspirations who aren’t even putting their best players on the field.

The NFL would be able to tap into a completely new market—definitely Hawaii, but also possibly Asia and the South Pacific (remember, many of the nation’s best linebackers are of Polynesian decent). The Hawaii team could hold its preseason camp in Polynesia and could play exhibition games in Australia and New Zealand—all areas where the University of Hawaii has been very proactive in recruiting players (last year’s leading punter, Matt McBriar of the Dallas Cowboys, is from Australia and played rugby growing up). Soccer has not taken a hold in Polynesia, and the NFL could definitely make football the pre-eminent sport in the area, enabling them to even further maximize profits.

This is clearly a win-win situation for all. The NFL would definitely gain fans, viewers and money. The state government of Hawaii would gain tourists, a newly revitalized second-city and, again, money. And the people of Hawaii would gain a great sports franchise to back every week, which would enable them to feel like a bigger part of the national picture—for the first time, Hawaii would be relevant on the national sporting stage. Imagine: we would no longer have to root for random teams from far away places at Super Bowl parties—one day, our very own Honolulu Rough Riders could be playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And no longer will I have to tell my friends that Honolulu is a great sports town and that it has put out some great major-league players through its summer and winter leagues or that Barry Bonds once played at Aloha Stadium for the Hawaii Islanders. The NFL needs to be in Hawaii; the people of Hawaii deserve an NFL franchise.