Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I really wanted to find some way to address Bucky Gleason's latest column that was more organized than taking it on Fire Joe Morgan style. But the column was kind of all over the place so my responses to it are also kind of all over the place. This was the easiest way. Enjoy, because I'm serious about what I said at the end. I don't plan on going anywhere near the Buffalo News for quite a while.

When I was a kid, it was about the action more than the experience. Let's be honest, the Aud wasn't exactly a palace. You walked sideways down the steps of the oranges because it felt as if one misstep would send you down the stairs, over the railing and into the blues. The place was a dump. But it was our dump.

I think this is pretty clearly directed to fans who have said that the reason they keep going to games is because it's fun, because it's a night out, because they enjoy the experience. When Bucky was a kid, it wasn't about that, it was about the game, the ACTION. Except that everything he talks about in this paragraph - the oranges being so steep they gave you vertigo, loving a dump of a building because it was the dump where his team played - has everything to do with the experience of going to a game and nothing to do with what was going on on the ice.

Twenty years ago, when the economy was weak but stronger than today, when the population had decreased but was higher than today, Buffalo fans were tougher and more judicious with their money.

Their voice was stronger. Their backbone was thicker. Their collars were bluer, and they demanded the same from their teams. They wouldn't have tolerated, let alone contributed to, what they're getting these days from their teams. Back in the day, when it was more affordable and absent fears of relocation, it was more charming.

Back when I was emailing Mike Harrington about the interview he did here, one of the things I kept stressing to him was that my problem with the Buffalo News is sometimes not the message but the way in which the message is delivered. I don't know how anyone is supposed to read the two paragraphs above and take anything else Bucky says seriously. He just insulted everyone! He pointed out that the economy today is weaker and the population is smaller but those of us who are still here, probably by choice, we're not as tough or as hard working (blue collar) as the people who were here twenty years ago because we continue to go to sporting events. In addition to being insulting, I don't think it even makes sense. And again, let me stress, Bucky just told his entire audience that fans twenty years ago were way, way better than fans now.

Funny, but usually when I hear fans talk about their undying loyalty, I think they're actually being held hostage. In the good ol' days, when owners complained about money, fans barked back about the product. These days, fans pump more money into weak franchises and thank ownership for staying.

Two things:

One, the reality is that franchises do move willy nilly in today's pro sports market. How do you blame fans for worrying about that? That is in no way, shape or form something you can blame fans for. I don't think wanting your team to stay is a sin and I don't think enjoying it while it's here is a sin either. Yes, it was more charming when it was cheap and teams were eternally tied to cities but it's not like that anymore and that's sure not my fault.

Two, many fans who talk about undying loyalty actually really do just have undying loyalty. And there's nothing wrong with that. Fans are allowed to cheer for whomever and whatever they want and to somehow turn that around and make it a bad thing is ridiculous. John Vogl and Mike Harrington go to places like Atlanta and Florida and they blog about how sparse the crowd is and suggest that those cities shouldn't have hockey teams, completely ignoring that those markets have teams that are either far worse than the Sabres (Atlanta, Tampa Bay) or about the same (Florida). On one hand TBN is berating those markets for not supporting terrible teams. On the other hand they're berating Buffalo for supporting an average team.

The passion for the Bills and Sabres is no weaker, but the landscape has changed. Buffalo fans have lowered their standards and settled for mediocrity.

Oh, jeez, again with this? I'm not going to address the Bills - I hate football and anything I say would be uninformed - but the Sabres have been average for two consecutive years. Two. Before that they were in back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals. Exactly how long are we supposed to give a team before we bail out? A year?

On top of that, Bucky himself has said repeatedly throughout the season that he thinks the team has the potential to be really good in the next couple of years as some of the Portland kids move up. He's shown real excitement about some of the prospects. As recently as last week's chat he said he didn't think the Sabres were that far away from being a much better team. He said the same in the chat before that. So he thinks the team will be fine in a couple of years with some tweaking but fans are soft and undemanding for continuing to watch them? It's okay for him to be at least somewhat optimistic about the team's future but we should be storming out of HSBC by the thousands?

The Bills will likely sell out every game this season. The Sabres' renewals for season tickets were around 80 percent, remarkable given what has happened to the former Stanley Cup contender. Both teams keep failing, and fans keep falling for them.

Falling for them? Yes, that's what fans do. We fall in love with a team sometimes even when they don't deserve it. Seriously, I've never ever heard a sportswriter complain so much about readers loving sports and going to games. What the hell?

But attendance also remains strong because enabling fans feed the beast. There was no real urgency to keep Jason Peters last week. Why would the Bills spend $10 million a year on a left tackle when they've proven they don't need him to fill the stadium? Why make any real changes to the Sabres when it's obvious that fans will keep coming?

And here's the thing about this column. This paragraph here, it contains a valid point. I think Jason Peters is a terrible example of a team being cheap because there's so much other stuff involved in his situation but you could certainly make the argument that Sabres ownership just wants to make a profit and as long as they're doing that, nothing else matters. I don't really agree that I'm accountable for the team's performance but it is my money lining Tom Golisano's pockets. Too bad I was way too offended to even think about whether this was a good point by the time I got to it. Again, it is possible to make a point without insulting the audience. In fact, if Bucky was actually paying attention to fans instead of just looking down his nose at them, he'd realize there is a ton of unrest among fans about the product on the ice this season. Almost everyone's complaining about the team being too soft and too heartless. Almost everyone's complaining that they're too happy to coast on talent and not willing to work hard. Almost everyone's complaining that they no longer represent the proud, hard working city they represent. Almost no one is defending ownership. Almost everyone agrees that, in one way or the other, the Sabres have been badly mismanaged.

I'm not here to tell anyone how they should spend their money.

Seriously? Because this entire column was a lecture about how if I, a fan, am spending my money on anything related to the Buffalo Sabres, I'm throwing my money away. And it's just one more lecture on top of all the lectures we've been getting from the entire hockey beat (plus some others) all season about how we should be behaving. I do not understand this at all. I do not understand why you would be so rude to the people who are reading your work, your customers. I wonder what beat writers in places like Nashville and Dallas, where hockey coverage is being cut back more and more, would do with an audience that supports the hockey team so passionately. I doubt they'd be insulting them on a regular basis.

I don't remember a time quite like this, when fans simultaneously were as disgusted with both teams as they are now. But their dissatisfaction, their misery, doesn't show up at the gate.

Has my hometown grown soft?

I find a lot of TBN's Sabres coverage to be insulting and repetitive and yet I keep reading it, getting upset by it, and blogging about it. So yeah, I guess I am soft. Fortunately Bucky Gleason is here to remind me how stupid that is so I guess I just won't read TBN anymore.


rich said...

Great rebuttal. I write off a lot of what TBN does because it's commentary - it's not meant to inform, it's meant to inflame. That's just what they do, and they're not all that bad at pissing people off. That said, the days of pissing people off and having those people still buy your paper are over.

Caroline said...

I try my best to skip over Bucky's columns and for the most part I'll just read Vogl's and Harrington's write-ups on the Sabres, but every now and then I'll sneak a peek at what Bucky has to say.

I agree with everything you've written here, and it sums up exactly how I feel towards his column. To me it looks like Bucky is running out of people to point fingers at, so he has no choice but to go after the fans. Pretty weak, but understandable for someone like Bucky who writes columns to stir the pot.

It's typical of Bucky, and it just reiterates to me that I shouldn't bother reading his columns and I'll ignore them even more than I have in the past. These days -- thanks to the internet providing us blogs, message boards, news sites, etc. -- you don't really need the sports section in your local paper to get information and opinions on your favorite sports teams anways. No big deal.

Anne M said...

Great response, Heather, especially this: John Vogl and Mike Harrington go to places like Atlanta and Florida and they blog about how sparse the crowd is and suggest that those cities shouldn't have hockey teams, completely ignoring that those markets have teams that are either far worse than the Sabres (Atlanta, Tampa Bay) or about the same (Florida). On one hand TBN is berating those markets for not supporting terrible teams. On the other hand they're berating Buffalo for supporting an average team.That is such an awesome point, I nearly applauded when I read it.

I think Bucky really reveals his ignorance when it comes to his comments about the Bills. He brings up his stupid point about fans rewarding mediocrity all the time, but he consistently ignores that part of the reason (some) fans are buying tickets to Bills games is that they are trying desperately to prove the team belongs in Buffalo. It's not about whether the team is good or not, it's about keeping ANY team in Buffalo. So, either he doesn't realize that, or he doesn't have any good rebuttal for it. My guess is it's the second; he can't say "don't worry if you stop going, the team will just improve to bring you back" because he knows the reality is if fans stop going, it's likely the team will move. The Bills already have one foot out the door.

I haven't been reading TBN sports for weeks now because I find that when the teams are doing poorly (as defined by TBN), the tendency toward unfunny sarcasm spreads from Gleason to the other writers. It's unfortunate because I think there are good writers at TBN, but the editorial position is one I just don't care to read. I would rather read sports news that doesn't insult my intelligence (or my sense of humor), so that's what I do.

At the end of the day, I'm just glad I don't have to be Bucky Gleason (or his wife). It's hard to imagine living my life with so much misery and bitterness.

Erin said...

Good job Heather! I check TBN every morning but I never look forward to it. It's always an article about the Sabres death spiral without any new information. I read and then I feel bad about the team, the team's future and I haven't learned anything new.

Heather B. said...

Caroline, I do think the beat writers provide a service you're not going to get elsewhere since they're actually traveling with the team whereas national talking heads aren't. That said, I'm totally with you on the columnists. I can get all the commentary and opinions I could possibly want or need on the internet.

Anne, I agree that bringing the Bills into it makes things a lot stickier. Of COURSE some people are going to games because they want the team to stay. And some people are going to games because they feel like no matter what, the team is leaving and they want to enjoy it while it's still here. I just don't understand how you can get on to fans for that. Do you really expect fans to say, "The hell with it all!" and stay home on Sundays? Yes, it's different than the way it used to be. But fans have absolutely zero to do with that. Bills fans are the victims here and it's looking like a no-win situation. Like you said, not going to games isn't going to accomplish anything good. Bucky's not a fan anymore. He hasn't been a fan for a long time. So he needs to quit pretending like he knows what we should be doing or feeling.

And I know exactly what you mean about the negativity spreading. Vogl, who I generally like, recently posted something to SE about the playoffs and the sarcasm was so thick you'd thing Sabres fans had gone decades without seeing the playoffs. It's been two years, not two decades. Lighten up.

Erin, that pretty much sums up TBN. It's a death spiral of negativity! :P

Norm said...

Bucky Gleason is an arrogant dipstick who has no idea of the definition of "fan".

Writers like him are why The Buffalo News will be defunct soon.

amy said...

One thing the Buckster doesn't mention is that in the early 80s, Bethlehem Steel shut down, leading to the loss of 7,000+ jobs. It's kind of hard to spend money on hockey and football tickets while you're struggling to put food on the table. You can also extend it further by saying that in today's current economic situation, WNY didn't have as far to fall economy-wise as other areas around the country (we haven't been hit as hard by the housing crisis as places like Cleveland), so Buffalonians do have disposable income to spend on their teams. Not to mention that people have become savvier about how to recoup the investment in their tickets. Sell the tickets for the Montreal/Toronto and other gold games, and your seats have just paid for themselves. It's not like in the old days where ticket resale meant finding a sucker in front of the arena before puck drop.

Bucky did his job on this one. Which is to get people talking, writing in to the News and posting on Sabres Edge. You can't fault him there.

Becky said...

People like Bucky who get all hung up "winning is the only thing" are still immensely bitter about losing 4 Super Bowels and foot-in-the-crease. In the process they have willfully blocked out how much fun it was getting to that point, and what great years they were.

It's their misfortune to cling to negativity. I choose not to.

Tim said...

So I guess it all comes down to this -- we the fans are more concerned with the team staying here in Buffalo than we are with seeing the team improve (I include myself here). Because in order to send a message to ownership that we are unhappy with the product on the ice, we would have to stop spending money on the team, which would almost certainly mean the team would move somewhere else. We live in a world where people throw money at just about anything, and there are plenty of cities where the Sabres could move to and generate revenue for 5-10 years via a population that has never had a hockey team before.

So do we have a right to complain about the product on the ice? If we do, are we being serious about it or is it just part of being a fan (dreaming about what could be)? If it's jut part of being a fan, do we expect others to take our opinions seriously or not?

It's not my blog, but I'd be interested to see what you all thing about this.

(and I'm reeeeealy holding out that Bucky just realy wants the Sabres to win a championship, unlike MH who just wants to write a story about it)

Katebits said...

So do we have a right to complain about the product on the ice?Of course we do! We're PAYING customers! It's SPORTS! We're supposed to complain!

The way I see it, when Buffalonians stop feeling like our teams are a good investment of our time and money, then we'll stop going. If we're still going, it's because we value the experience enough to spend money on it. Choosing to buy a ticket to something doesn't have to be some big old political statement. All it means is that I like hockey enough to spend $40 on the ticket.

If the Sabres stay mediocre, and don't make any changes to the roster, and continue to refuse to change up coaching and management, then I'm sure people will hop off the bandwagon, but so far that hasn't happened. I'm not sure it means we're getting soft- I think it just means that so far we like hockey more than we hate the Sabres. That might change.

The thing I find ironic about all of this is that IT'S ACTUALLY BUCKY'S JOB TO HOLD THE TEAMS ACCOUNTABLE. As in, he's getting PAID to do it. If the job's not getting done, SHAME ON HIM.

Me? I just like hockey.

Becky said...

If we stop complaining that means we've stopped caring about the team totally.

dave in Rocha said...

"On one hand TBN is berating those markets for not supporting terrible teams. On the other hand they're berating Buffalo for supporting an average team."

Excellent, excellent sentence(s).

Heather B. said...

Amy, those are both really good points. I felt like people today still have more disposable income despite the struggling economy but I wasn't sure how to say that with any logic behind it. So thanks for doing that for me :D

So do we have a right to complain about the product on the ice?Tim, I might elaborate on this more at some point but absolutely I think we have the right to complain about it and I think we can complain about it while still spending money on it. In the ownership, management, player fan equation, I think fans are the one group who don't need to ever look at things in a rational, detached way. If a fan wants to think that way, great but by no means are they obligated to do so. That's really what bothers me about journalists pointing at fans and saying, "Hey, you're doing that wrong." You can't do it wrong. There are zero rules about being a fan.

Heather B. said...

Choosing to buy a ticket to something doesn't have to be some big old political statement. All it means is that I like hockey enough to spend $40 on the ticket.Kate, this is SUCH a good point. One of my least favorite things about TBN is how they turn everything into a political statement. Last season Sully wrote a blog entry in which he said that people who boo Drury and Briere are supporting management and Bucky said similar things. That's absolutely ridiculous. There are a million reasons people might boo Drury and Briere - they never liked them, they boo all opposing players, they play for the Rangers/Flyers, they're drunk, they think it's fun to boo. None of those reasons have anything to do with loving Larry Quinn. I doubt very much that the average fan gives Larry Quinn much thought at all.

Lee Andrew said...

I don't think that buying a ticket is the same as settling for mediocrity, which is what I'm getting from the column. The Boston Red Sox didn't win a World Series for 86 years. They didn't suddenly stop getting fans in the stadium, people continued to go to their games. But because they bought tickets doesn't mean they settled for anything. Most fans were pissed that they kept losing.

I don't know a lot of Buffalo fans but that's kind of the same vibe I get. They're loyal, but the fact that they are constantly talking about how displeased with the team they are means they aren't settling for mediocrity.

Oh and not only are you supposed to bail on a team if they are mediocre for one year but their coach should be fired! Fired I say! If you have one losing season you suck as a coach! Because it can't possibly be the players fault.

Vanek's Hair said...

I had a lot to say in response to that column, but I scrapped it. Really nothing interesting, though, why should I start being interesting now?

I agree with the conclusion of Bucky's column, that is, the Aud is a metaphor of sorts for the BUffalo fan base. Though that is where the similarities end. The last event in the Aud was 1996. I said 1996. They began demolition months. Yet there it stands, kind of. People protested its demolition for years. Just about every market with a major sports franchise has built and destroyed an arena or stadium.

What I am saying is too many fans/media in this area cannot let go of the past.