The Missing Piece: Why Isn’t There an NHL Team in Wisconsin?

Benjamin Kenyon

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Why Isn't There an NHL Team in Wisconsin

Hockey is undeniably a beloved sport in the state of Wisconsin, with a rich tradition of college and youth hockey programs, passionate fans, and a thriving local culture. 

Yet, amid this fervor for the sport, one question looms large: Why isn’t there an NHL team in Wisconsin? 

Despite being home to the Milwaukee Admirals, a successful American Hockey League (AHL) team, the state lacks representation in the National Hockey League (NHL).

In this blog post, we will delve into the complex factors that have prevented Wisconsin from securing an NHL franchise. 

We will explore the market dynamics, financial considerations, and the strong presence of neighboring NHL teams that have all played pivotal roles in shaping the state’s hockey landscape. 

Why Isn't There an NHL Team in Wisconsin

Hockey in Wisconsin

Hockey is a popular sport in Wisconsin, and the state has a rich hockey tradition, with a strong emphasis on both professional and amateur hockey. Here are some key points about hockey in Wisconsin:

Professional Hockey

Wisconsin is home to the Milwaukee Admirals, an American Hockey League (AHL) team affiliated with the NHL’s Nashville Predators. 

The Admirals have a dedicated fan base and play their home games at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

College Hockey

The state is well-known for its college hockey programs. The University of Wisconsin-Madison (the Badgers) and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (the Blugolds) have competitive NCAA Division I and Division III men’s and women’s hockey teams, respectively.

High School Hockey

High school hockey is popular in Wisconsin, with many schools having boys’ and girls’ teams. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) oversees high school hockey competitions.

Youth Hockey

Youth hockey is thriving in Wisconsin, with numerous local organizations and leagues dedicated to developing young talent. These programs help groom future stars of the sport.

Amateur Hockey

In addition to college and high school hockey, Wisconsin has various amateur and recreational leagues for players of all skill levels. These leagues provide opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy the sport.

Ice Rinks

Wisconsin boasts numerous ice rinks and facilities, both indoor and outdoor, that provide venues for hockey practices, games, and public skating.

Hockey Events

The state has hosted various hockey events and tournaments, including NCAA Frozen Four tournaments, international competitions, and youth tournaments.

Hockey Culture

Hockey has a strong presence in Wisconsin’s culture, with fans supporting local teams and showing enthusiasm for the sport. 

The “State of Hockey” is a term often used to describe the passion and commitment to hockey in Wisconsin.

NHL Players

Wisconsin has produced several notable NHL players, including Joe Pavelski, Ryan Suter, Phil Kessel, and others who have had successful careers in the league.

Youth Development

Various programs and initiatives in Wisconsin focus on youth development and promoting diversity in hockey. These efforts aim to make the sport more accessible and inclusive.

Overall, hockey is deeply ingrained in Wisconsin’s sports culture, with a strong presence at both the professional and amateur levels, making it a significant part of the state’s identity.

Why Isn’t There an NHL Team in Wisconsin?

some of the reasons why Wisconsin does not currently have an NHL team. The proximity of two major NHL teams, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild, has played a significant role in preventing the establishment of an NHL franchise in Wisconsin. 

Here are a few key factors:

Market Saturation

Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul are both major metropolitan areas with established NHL teams. 

The presence of the Blackhawks and the Wild in these markets means that there is already a significant hockey fan base and corporate sponsorship support in the region. 

This makes it challenging for a new NHL team in Wisconsin to compete for fans and sponsors.

Geographic Location

Wisconsin is geographically situated between Chicago and Minneapolis, both of which are within a reasonable driving distance for Wisconsin residents who want to attend NHL games. 

This further reduces the potential fan base for a Wisconsin-based NHL team.

Economic Considerations

The NHL is a business, and the league and team owners carefully evaluate potential markets before granting expansion or relocation franchises. 

They take into account factors such as population size, corporate support, and the potential for revenue generation. Wisconsin’s proximity to existing NHL teams makes it less attractive from an economic standpoint.

College Hockey Tradition

Wisconsin has a strong college hockey tradition, with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Badgers being a prominent NCAA Division I team. 

College hockey is highly popular in the state, and it can be challenging for a professional NHL team to compete for attention and support with such a strong college hockey presence.

Ownership and Arena Infrastructure

To establish an NHL team, an ownership group would need to invest in a franchise, secure a suitable arena, and meet various financial requirements set by the league. 

These factors can be significant obstacles for potential team owners in Wisconsin.

While Wisconsin does have a passionate hockey fan base, the factors mentioned above have made it less likely for the state to have its own NHL team. 

Instead, many Wisconsin residents choose to support the nearby NHL teams in Chicago and Minneapolis, which have historical ties to the region and offer NHL-level hockey entertainment.

Impact of the NHL Not Being in Wisconsin

Impact of the NHL Not Being in Wisconsin

The absence of an NHL team in Wisconsin has several impacts on the state’s hockey landscape and sports culture:

  • Limited Local NHL Presence: Wisconsin hockey fans miss out on the experience of having a local NHL team to support, attend games, and create a strong fan base.
  • Support for Neighboring Teams: Many Wisconsin residents are fans of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild due to their proximity. This leads to financial benefits for those teams.
  • Emphasis on College and High School Hockey: The absence of an NHL team places a greater emphasis on college and high school hockey, strengthening these levels of play in the state.
  • Youth Hockey Development: The lack of an NHL team encourages youth players to aspire to play for nearby NHL teams or college programs like the Wisconsin Badgers.
  • Economic Impact: An NHL team can have a significant economic impact on a region, including job creation and increased tourism. This potential benefit is missed in Wisconsin.
  • Sports Identity: Not having an NHL team affects Wisconsin’s sports identity, as hockey is a popular and beloved sport in the state.

While Wisconsin enjoys a vibrant hockey culture despite the absence of an NHL team, there are impacts on fan engagement, the sports economy, and the development pathway for local talent.

Milwaukee Admirals and AHL in Wisconsin

Milwaukee Admirals and AHL in Wisconsin

The Milwaukee Admirals are an American Hockey League (AHL) team based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here’s some information about the Milwaukee Admirals and AHL hockey in Wisconsin:

Milwaukee Admirals

The Milwaukee Admirals are a professional ice hockey team that serves as the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Nashville Predators. 

They were founded in 1970 and have a strong fan base in Milwaukee. The team plays its home games at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

Affiliation with the Nashville Predators

The Admirals have a close working relationship with the Nashville Predators, and many players who start with the Admirals go on to play in the NHL with the Predators. 

This affiliation is common in the AHL, where teams often serve as development teams for NHL organizations.

Success and History

The Admirals have a storied history in the AHL, with numerous playoff appearances and a Calder Cup championship in the 2003-2004 season. They have consistently been competitive in the AHL.

Fan Support

Milwaukee has a dedicated and passionate fan base for the Admirals. The team’s games are known for their energetic atmosphere and strong community support.

Developmental Role

AHL teams like the Admirals play a crucial role in player development. They provide young prospects with the opportunity to gain experience and hone their skills before making the jump to the NHL.

Hockey in Wisconsin

The Admirals are a key part of the hockey landscape in Wisconsin, contributing to the state’s rich hockey tradition alongside college, high school, and youth hockey programs.

The Milwaukee Admirals and AHL hockey in Wisconsin provide an exciting and competitive level of professional hockey for fans in the region while serving as an important developmental pipeline for future NHL talent.

Market and Financial Considerations of Wisconsin for Not Having an NHL Team

Market and Financial Considerations of Wisconsin for Not Having an NHL Team

Several market and financial considerations contribute to Wisconsin not having an NHL team:

Proximity to Established Teams

Wisconsin is situated between two major NHL markets, Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul. 

These cities have well-established NHL teams (the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild), creating intense competition for fans and corporate sponsorship within the state. 

An additional NHL team in Wisconsin could struggle to compete in this saturated market.

Economic Viability

Establishing and operating an NHL team requires substantial financial investment. Ownership groups need to cover player salaries, staff salaries, arena costs, and other operational expenses. 

The economic viability of an NHL team in Wisconsin is a significant consideration, as it may be challenging to generate the necessary revenue and corporate support to sustain a franchise.

Fan Base

While Wisconsin has a passionate hockey fan base, it may not be large enough to support an NHL team on its own, especially when factoring in competition from neighboring markets. 

NHL teams typically draw fans from a broader regional area, and the state’s population might not provide the necessary critical mass for a successful franchise.

Arena Infrastructure

To host an NHL team, a suitable arena with sufficient seating capacity, luxury suites, and modern amenities is essential. Building or renovating an arena to meet NHL standards can be a costly undertaking.

Corporate Sponsorship

NHL teams rely heavily on corporate sponsorship deals to generate revenue. 

Wisconsin might face challenges in securing lucrative sponsorship agreements due to the presence of established NHL teams in nearby markets that have already established corporate partnerships.

Television Market

The size and reach of Wisconsin’s television market compared to larger NHL markets can impact broadcasting revenue, which is a significant revenue stream for NHL teams. Smaller markets may struggle to negotiate favorable television deals.

Franchise Fees

NHL expansion or relocation typically involves significant franchise fees paid to the league. These fees can be substantial and represent an upfront financial barrier to entry for potential ownership groups.

While Wisconsin has a strong hockey culture and tradition, these market and financial considerations have made it challenging for the state to secure its own NHL team. 

Many Wisconsin residents continue to support nearby NHL teams, contributing to the success of those franchises.


Why doesn’t Wisconsin have an NHL team?

Wisconsin’s proximity to established NHL markets like Chicago and Minneapolis makes it challenging to support a new franchise. 

The state’s competitive landscape and economic factors have deterred the establishment of an NHL team in Wisconsin.

Could Wisconsin support an NHL team?

While Wisconsin has a strong hockey tradition, it may struggle to sustain an NHL team due to competition with nearby markets, financial constraints, and potential challenges in building a suitable arena.

Are there plans for an NHL team in Wisconsin in the future?

There were no imminent plans for an NHL team in Wisconsin. However, sports landscapes can change, and future developments are uncertain.

Does the success of the Milwaukee Admirals impact NHL prospects in Wisconsin?

The Milwaukee Admirals serve as the AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators, aiding player development. An NHL team in Wisconsin is not ruled out, but the Admirals’ success doesn’t guarantee it.

How do nearby NHL teams affect Wisconsin’s hockey scene?

The presence of NHL teams in Chicago and Minneapolis attracts Wisconsin fans and corporate support. 

It leads to economic benefits for those teams but makes it challenging for Wisconsin to establish its NHL franchise.

Wrapping Up

While Wisconsin may not currently have an NHL team to call its own, the spirit of hockey continues to thrive in the state. 

The absence of an NHL franchise has not deterred the dedicated fans and players who continue to support the sport at various levels. 

Wisconsin’s strong hockey tradition, exemplified by the Milwaukee Admirals and college programs like the Wisconsin Badgers, remains a source of pride for the state. 

As the hockey world evolves, who knows what the future may hold? 

Perhaps one day, the “State of Hockey” will welcome its own NHL team, adding another exciting chapter to Wisconsin’s storied hockey history. 

Until then, the passion for the sport remains unwavering, reminding us that hockey is not just about the NHL; it’s about the love for the game itself.

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Benjamin Kenyon

With over eight years of experience in higher education, I bring a diverse skill set to the Head Men's Ice Hockey Coach role. My background spans collegiate hockey coaching, recruiting, compliance, budget management, game operations, public and media relations, marketing strategies, content development, social media management, press release distribution, broadcasting, video production, non-linear editing, sports photography, interpersonal communications, sports writing, interviewing, sports analytics, and statistics. My educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Sports Management, further enhancing my qualifications for this position. I am proficient in various software and platforms, including Adobe Creative Suite, social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn), and academic management systems (Salesforce, CAMS, Workday, Banner). My extensive experience and technical proficiency make me a well-rounded candidate for leading the men's ice hockey program.

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