Today in sports history (1997), the Hartford Whalers announced that they would be moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, becoming the Carolina Hurricanes. The Whalers began their history as the New England Whalers in 1972. In 1979, they joined the NHL and became known as the Hartford Whalers.
Throughout their history, the Whalers struggled. At one point, the Whalers were known as “The Forever .500s” due to their lack of postseason success. When the Whalers made the NHL Playoffs, they were often matched up with Boston or Montreal, when both teams were in their glory days of the sport.
Being in Hartford, Connecticut, the Whalers were by far the smallest market team. The team averaged just over 14,000 fans only twice in its 15 years at the Civic Center in Hartford. Most of their sellouts came in part to the other team packing the stadium with their fans.
Hartford Whalers Become Carolina Hurricanes
In 1994, the Hartford Whalers were purchased by Peter Karmanos. When he purchased the team, Karmanos vowed to keep the team in Hartford for four years. This was thought to give the owner a chance to rebuild the team and garner more fan interest. However, that quickly went by the wayside, as just two years later Karmanos announced that they did not sell at least 11,000 tickets. Karmanos became frustrated with the lack of attendance and little-to-no corporate support. Fans became frustrated that Karmanos made the decision to sell season tickets in a 41-game bundle, as opposed to smaller packages.
When fans became irate to hear that their team was moving, fan interest instantly shot up. The “Save the Whale” campaign provided the team with over 8,000 season ticket purchases in 45 days. This came on the back of a season ticket increase by 20%.
In early 1997, Connecticut Governor John Rowland said that he did not want to use tax-payer money to fund a new arena. Talks eventually fell apart after Karmanos asked for an additional $45 million. The team eventually announced that they would leave Hartford at the end of the 1996-97 season. This is one of the only times in sports history where a team announced a departure before a landing spot.
In an effort to keep the team, Rowland attempted to negotiate with the Patriots to play their games in Connecticut. On May 6, 1997, Karmanos announced that the team would be moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, becoming the Carolina Hurricanes.