Friday, October 22, 2010

Tradition, Tradition! Tradition!

There is a part of me that has always felt very defensive about the non-traditional hockey markets, especially those in the south.  I imagine it's probably because I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama.  While the reality is that I probably never would have fallen in love with hockey had I stayed there - in Birmingham there's zero hockey coverage in the newspaper and no TV broadcasts beyond whatever is on Versus and NBC - I know that if I had found hockey, it would have probably been through the Thrashers or the Hurricanes.

I love, love, love living in a traditional hockey market.  I love that most of Buffalo could identify any Sabre player they saw walking down the street in regular clothes.  I love that there are so many Sabres blogs out there.  Despite my complaints about aspects of their coverage, I love that when I pick up the Buffalo News or load their website, I'm bombarded with Sabres stories and commentary.  But because I didn't grow up in a traditional hockey market, I remember what it's like to be a new fan.  I remember what it's like to look at the ice and just see a swirl of activity, not being able to pick out defensemen from forwards, not understanding what anyone's role was, not knowing the difference between blue lines and red lines (other than, of course, the color).  Some of you probably don't realize this because you've been watching hockey from the womb, but it takes some getting used to if you want to watch it in more than a casual way.

But, and I say this with love, traditional markets can be total assholes.  Really, we can.  Just because you don't need diagrams of the ice and the various positions on your team's website and announcements about offside calls and icing doesn't mean some of the rest of us don't.  While I picked up a ton about hockey and how things work on the ice just by paying attention to Jim Lorentz during TV broadcasts - even now I really miss his simple, articulate analysis and break-downs of plays - I also read Hockey for Dummies from cover to cover.  I've always thought that traditional markets indulge in a lot of double talk when it comes to non-traditional markets.  If the fan base is unknowledgeable, they get lambasted.  If they do things to educate themselves about the game, they also get lambasted.  It's stupid.  Every fan has to start somewhere and some of us start a lot later than others.

I've also always felt a little bad for fans in markets where attendance is poor and have been hesitant to be too critical.  Come on, how much would it suck to be one of those fans?  The fact that there are only 11,000 fans in the building doesn't make those 11,000 any less passionate than the fans in the sold out buildings in Toronto or Montreal.  Heck, in some ways it might make them more passionate because they're swimming against the stream in a way that fans in traditional markets will never have to.

That said, this is ridiculous:

Click for larger image.  It's worth it.

This is during the second period of the most recent Coyotes game.  This is halfway through the game! Announced attendance was 6,706 according to Twitter but many people seem to think that was a generous number.  That's TERRIBLE.  Somewhere in that crowd there's probably a little girl in a Coyotes jersey and my heart really and truly breaks for that little girl potentially losing her team, but good grief, how in the world can the NHL justify keeping a franchise there?  Why would they want to keep a franchise there?  How awful would it be to grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL and then end up playing in front of crowds like that?  My high school football team plays in front of bigger crowds than that many weeks.  (Not an exaggeration.)  Is it that bad to admit that hockey in Phoenix (and Atlanta) just isn't working?  I don't see why it is.  Does it matter how bad the arenas in Quebec and Winnipeg are if the arenas are going to be full of people?  How is that not better than this?

Am I crazy?  I wasn't a hockey fan when Winnipeg and Quebec lost their teams and when most of the sun belt expansion took place so maybe I'm missing something but man.  That photo makes me sad.


Katebits said...

Good post, Heather.

I tend to dwell on the poor forgotten fans of these Southern teams, and shy away from the debate about whether hockey actually belongs in some of these markets. As much as we want to pretend it's not true, the Thrashers and the Coyotes DO have some passionate fans, and it's SO sad to imagine how they must feel not only supporting these woebegone franchises but then having to listen to the entire hockey media/blogosphere/twitterverse trash them CONSTANTLY....but seriously, hockey clearly does not belong in some of these markets.

When I was watching the Sabres play the Thrashers the other night in that astonishingly empty arena I was able to explain it (in part) by remembering that the Thrashers have had absolutely NO postseason success, but the Coyotes were in the playoffs LAST YEAR. And they were so chippy and appealing! If they can't draw more people than that....I dunno. They seem like a lost cause. (Sorry diehard Cotoes fan...)

Meg said...

Agreed. I love the idea of non-traditional markets making a go of it, and think that it's fantastic when they're successful, but these aren't new teams anymore. At some point the NHL has to admit that they're just not working in their current locations and allow them to move.

CDR said...

ZOMG you read Hockey for Dummies? N00B! Just kidding, I know how you feel. I moved from Buffalo to Nashville when I was a kid and attended many Preds games, and I find myself getting defensive when some of these 'non-traditional' fan bases get attacked. I once had an argument with a guy in LA who contended Nashville shouldn't have a team because it's too warm there for hockey. I'll let that irony sink in for a the same time, I also find myself getting angry at some of the same fan bases, such as Atlanta and Phoenix, for not going to the games. We've seen hockey establish itself in non-traditional markets before - see the west coast teams - all it takes is some sustained success, but that's tough to accomplish when you're not selling tickets. Hopefully it will work out, I will never root for a team to be moved, but at the same time I would be happy for Winnipeg or Quebec to get a team back.