There's a recently published report that lists some of the worst sports franchises in North America when it comes to attendance patterns over the last ten years. In the NHL, it's the Carolina Hurricanes that made the list, one that no GM would want to be on. Their inclusion on the list might just reignite some relocation rumors in the NHL, rumors that have surrounded Carolina for quite some time.

Hurricanes have seen better days

The Hurricanes may be in hard times, but they actually won the 2006 Stanley Cup over the Edmonton Oilers. The final game of that close series was played in Raleigh, North Carolina.

That championship certainly helped The Hurricanes ground some popularity in a region where college basketball has often reigned supreme. Maybe ice hockey cut into basketball popularity a tad when the Hurricanes won the cup, but that didn't mean it would last forever.

The Hurricanes, as a franchise, are not the result of expansion. Carolina used to be the Hartford Whalers, an old-school NHL team that played in the small city in Connecticut. The franchise has been in North Carolina for the long term now, having moved there in 1997.

However, 11 years removed from the organization's pinnacle hour in 2006, the franchise is among the have-nots in the NHL and, in fact, in of all sports franchises in North America.

Samuel Stebbins, writing recently at 24/7 Wall St., authored the article mentioned earlier. He lists the Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia Phillies, Hurricanes, and the Chicago White Sox as the teams whose attendance has faced the biggest drops over the last ten years.

Factors vary as to why popularity declines

Factors that cause popularity in a sports team to dip are numerous.

When it comes to the Hurricanes, Stebbins mentions "lackluster performances" recently, but doesn't go in depth. When one looks at them, it might not be their performance so much as the size of Raleigh and just culture extending from climate. The Hurricanes are like a lot of hot-climate teams in the USA. There simply isn't a lot of grassroots support for ice hockey in the arid parts of the country, maybe just because there isn't a lot of ice.

You won't find a lot of hockey rinks in the southern states and that has got to have an effect on building fan bases. While hockey is doing fine in some southern cities, let's not forget how small Raleigh is compared to the greater area of Los Angeles, where the Kings and Ducks are based. Meanwhile, San Jose, where the Sharks play, is in a large tri-cities area that includes San Francisco and Oakland. Phoenix is a huge city in and of itself and the teams based in Florida are in densely populated areas. The franchises in the south are based in pretty large metro areas while Raleigh is not. With a climate that deters participation in hockey and a small population, Raleigh might be a bad fit for NHL hockey.

What comes next? Gary Bettman certainly didn't like the idea of the Arizona Coyotes relocating to Ontario, Canada. It stands to reason that he won't like the idea of Carolina moving north either. But, whether he liked it or not, the city of Atlanta just lost their second NHL franchise earlier this decade when they moved to Winnipeg. Previously the Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames, many years ago now. Change happens and declining attendance, regardless of the reason for the decline, is a big part of that.

Where Carolina could move in Canada is a tough question. There aren't a lot of major cities in Canada with Quebec City, Halifax, and Victoria standing out as ones that don't already have teams.

However, with each city there are problems.

Time will tell if the dipping attendance leads to a relocation. It could be that the Hurricanes might just have to stick it out where they are right now. Certainly, a playoff run would help the Hurricanes, but some strings will likely need to be pulled in order to make that happen anytime soon.