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.
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.