For the Kings, who are now one win away from actually winning the Stanley Cup, you have to wonder if they can sustain this run. And not just on the ice. L.A.'s hockey team has unmistakably carved out its own place in a crowded Southern California sports scene this spring. That's been clear. Television ratings are up. Merchandise sales are up. Ticket prices are most definitely up, too. (It's probably a good time to mention that the cheapest ticket on StubHub for Game 3 last night was listed at $359 and the cheapest for Game 4 on Wednesday is nearly $1,300). The Kings have generated some significant buzz. We like winners ... well, you know that.
But you also remember the Anaheim Ducks, who had a similar run five years ago, becoming the first-ever California team to win the cup. Eventually, though, interest among casual fans faded, which presents the obvious question we're faced with now: Will any of us care about the Kings in, say, six months?
Yes. Though, I should probably word that more carefully.
Yes ... so long as they keep winning.
That's really all that matters, especially in this town -- you probably already knew that, too. It's a simple formula, yet not always an easy one to follow. But one thing that might help: more money.
On Monday, the Kings and Fox Sports announced a new television-rights agreement that essentially doubles the team's annual earnings. Under the deal, Fox Sports West will televise roughly 75 regular season games, paying $250 million through 2024 to do so. In other words, the team will reel in about $21 million each year, compared to the $12 million under the previous contract. (So it's clear: This deal is largely unrelated to the team's recent success, and due in large part to the Lakers' switch from Fox to Time Warner Cable, which has put more pressure on Fox to retain its current teams such as the Kings, as well as the Angels, who inked a new deal recently).
Now, the Kings, well stocked with talent and a bright front office and coach, are already primed to continue their run beyond June and into the coming years. In several respects, this is just the beginning. And that, to a large degree, stems from signing a lucrative TV deal -- a page taken out of the Texas Rangers' playbook, a subject Jonah Keri of Grantland touched on last September. To summarize:
- The Rangers, under their new ownership, signed a television-rights contract valued at $1.6 billion, set to take effect following the 2014 season.
- Even before the deal kicked in, the team's payroll increased dramatically. At the time of Opening Day last season, payroll was at $92.1, a 42 percent hike from 2010. And for what it's worth, the franchise landed in the World Series the last two seasons.
- Don't forget their divisional rivals, the Halos, who reached a deal with Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million) last December in large part to their own newly-minted deal with Fox.
Similarly, that TV money should aid the Kings, who are going to need a fair bit of cash to stay viable moving forward, no matter how seamless their recent playoff run has been with 15 wins over the last 17 games. So yes, this is where money factors in. They're going to have to sign their 26-year-old goalie Jonathan Quick to a long-term contract. Quick is a free agent following the 2012-2013 season. And Quick has unquestionably played a key role in the team's postseason success. Dustin Penner is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Dustin Brown is one as well in two years.
Remember, the core is in place. It's been assembled over the last decade, since 2003 for the most part. And coupled with stability in the front office, there aren't exactly many reasons to suggest some sort of pending free fall -- provided the nucleus does in fact stay in tact. And by hitting the television jackpot, that becomes increasingly likely.
For being in a non-traditional area for hockey, Los Angeles still carries several advantages. For one, its the nation's second-largest market. L.A. county counts 9.8 million residents, including 3.7 million in the city proper. It's also worth noting that Forbes' 2010 hockey valuations ranked the Kings No. 12 among 30 NHL teams, estimated at $215 million, suggesting some financial viability. (Yes, it's fair to assume that figure has risen over the last two years).
Nobody has ever confused Hollywood as hockey-crazed. By and large, it's historically been oriented to, well, whatever's trendy -- be it a sports team or Carly Rae Jepsen. But recent weeks prove testament to the notion that the Kings might very well have some staying power. Even before their magical payoff run, the team announced sellouts in 37 of its 39 regular season games at the Staples Center.
So if you add it all up: A vibrant core of fans, a possible, if not likely, Stanley Cup and a boatload of cash to spend on roster maintenance, it'd be tough for any forecast not to call for sunny skies.
Follow Joey on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.