Tag Archives: fan support

Sports Enjoyment Heightened by Taking the Fanatic Out of Fan

By Jason Menard,

If you could watch me watch a sporting event, you might be struck at how little passion I display. But I’ll tell you right now that I appreciate and enjoy sports more than I ever did in my youth.

The main reason? I’ve become less of a fanatic and more of a fan.

Despite the fact that the word fan is derived from fanatic, there are significant differences between the two terms. And the clearest distinction is that fanatics live and die with their teams; fans love the sport unconditionally. Continue reading

Oilers’ Move Talk Shows So-Called Canadian ‘Fans’ Slippery Nature

By Jason Menard

It’s amazing how those so-called Canadian hockey ‘fans’ – the very same ones who are generally so vociferous about returning hockey to abandoned Canadian NHL markets – have little to say now that one of their own franchises is allegedly in danger.

It’s only fitting that on a night when the Edmonton Oilers are in la belle province to pay a visit to the Montreal Canadiens, a story has emerged that key senior administration members of the Albertan NHL franchise have met with Quebec City officials to discuss relocation.

Interesting. That regular group of carrion who usually love nothing more than to circle the not-quite-dead corpses of NHL franchises got quiet all of the sudden. I guess it’s OK to wish ill on franchises as long as their south of the border. Continue reading

Is Rooting for Vick Out of Tune?

By Jason Menard

On Nov. 15, 2010, Michael Vick was on top of the world, with thousands of people cheering his name as he led the Philadelphia Eagles to a resounding 59-28 victory on Monday Night Football. Just over three years ago, countless more were hoping to see him locked up for so long that the only football he’d ever play would be for the Mean Machine.

So was anyone uncomfortable watching that spectacle? As fans, how much does a player’s personal life impact your enjoyment of the game? And should it? Continue reading

True Fans Remind Us That Games are Supposed to be Fun

By Jason Menard

In the song Coax Me, iconic Canadian band Sloan sang, “it’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans.” And while I normally feel the same about attending sporting events, last night I had the pleasure of sitting next to two people who reminded me of the joy that being a sports fan can hold. Continue reading

Fortune or Foresight? The NHL’s Winning Formula

By Jason Menard

The NHL not only managed to slip its head out of its self-imposed noose, but the league appears to have found a winning lottery ticket on the way down the ladder.

All the public hand-wringing and doomsday scenarios cooked up by the pundits have been put on ice, as the National Hockey League has rebounded nicely from its lockout to boast improved attendance numbers, a better product, and a future that’s so bright Gary Bettman’s gotta wear shades.

The league released its attendance figures, clocking in a 91.7 per cent capacity over the year, league-wide. Now, some may snicker at that number considering that some of those 20,854,169 reported attendees arrived dressed as empty seats. But regardless of how many fans walked through the turnstiles, a 2.4 per cent increase in tickets sold is nothing to sneeze at – especially in light of the potential damage the lockout could have caused.

Luckily for the NHL, common sense combined with serendipity to provide an exciting, dynamic year that gave the fans a reason to come back.

It’s not surprising that Montreal was able to set a team record for season attendance. They were able to sell out all 41 home games in the cavernous 21,273 Bell Centre. In fact, it’s no surprise that Canadian hockey fans were ready to come back in droves – the surprise was that there was no drop-off in U.S. fan support.

Realizing the precipice upon which they were perched, the league finally listened to its legion of constructive critics and implemented a host of rule and stylistic changes designed to speed up the game, let the skill players display their talents unimpeded by lumbering goons, and add goals to the game. Most importantly, they ensured that each game would end with a winner and a loser.

Part of the joy of being a hockey fan comes from experiencing the highs and lows of the season. However, it’s hard to ride that emotional rollercoaster when it’s stuck in neutral – and that’s what happened in the past as so many teams were playing not to lose and we more than content with a tie and the point it provided. The addition of the shootout, gimmicky as some may think it is, gets the butts out of the seats, brings back the breathless anticipation that hockey is known for, and gives fans back the opportunity to experience the depth of disappointment that accompanies a loss. However, that feeling also allows them enjoy the adrenaline rush that a win brings with even more passion.

That’s what common sense brought: the knowledge that hockey was a game with untapped potential that was being impeded through clutch-and-grab tactics. Desperation is the mother of invention and to reaffirm their place in the professional sporting mosaic, the NHL had to make changes.

The serendipity came with the fact that so many teams from non-traditional markets were in contention for playoffs right down to the wire. How much was fan interest buoyed in Atlanta thanks to the fact that the Ilya Kovalchuk-led Thrashers were in it right down to the final weekend? Did the Carolina Hurricanes’ success have anything to do with their 27 per cent increase in fan support? What about Nashville’s unexpected performance? Do you think that may have helped the team improve attendance by 10 per cent? Did Joe Thornton’s arrival and subsequent sparking of the San Jose Sharks playoff drive matter to the fans? A six per cent increase says yes.

Like the increase in fan support in Montreal, NHL markets are notorious for supporting their teams win or tie. The fact that so many non-traditional market teams were playing games that mattered only gave a bigger stage to display the changes that were made on the ice.

All the talk about fan revolt dissipated when we realized that it wasn’t just the NHL that was back – it was the NHL game of our youth that was resurrected. Just as Wayne Gretzky made his return to rinks behind the Phoenix Coyotes bench, the style of game that he enjoyed in his heyday was back in fashion.

While it’s hard to say that losing a season of one’s favourite sport is ever a worthwhile venture, the bitter pill fans were forced to swallow has gone down much easier with the sweet changes made to the current game. Now fans have to hope that the league has finally cured what ails it and commits to ensuring its long-term health.

Whether it was foresight, serendipity, plain dumb luck, or a combination of all three, the NHL has stumbled across a winning formula – and it’s the fans who are the biggest beneficiaries.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Frozen Passion Stokes Nationalist Flame

By Jason Menard

The Olympics are fast approaching and people all around are working on their calf-strengthening exercises – you know how hard it can be on your legs jumping on and off the bandwagon. But while the alleged thrill of international competition does nothing for more in general, I have to admit that the upcoming Olympic hockey tournament has stoked my nationalistic fires.

I watch the Olympics just like everyone else – how can you not, it’s on pretty much all day every day – but that spark that ignites the rabid sports fan in even the most anti-athlete continues to elude me. As proud as I am of my country, I can’t seem to get stoked about winning a medal in ice dance. Nor am I despondent about a poor showing in skeleton (as cool as that sport is.)

Simply put, these are sports that I don’t care about for the intervening three years of my life, so why should I suddenly live and die with their fortunes once every four years? I find that somewhat hypocritical, but who am I to sit in judgment. If other people care (and they do, judging by the sudden rise in and sheer volume of arm-chair experts who can go on about the inequities in figure skating judging for the Eastern European bloc, despite not knowing the difference between a Salchow from a Lutz) then that’s their prerogative.

If you can gain enjoyment from this type of mercenary sports enthusiasm, then I say more power to you. But it’s really too bad that Olympic fever is such an acute disease. It would be nice if the infection that people get when the stakes are highest would stick around after the Olympic flame is doused. Our athletes, in large part, toil before empty houses dotted only with the odd friend or family member. While 21,000+ will sell out the Bell Centre in Montreal, ski jumpers, bobsledders, and biathletes toil in relative obscurity. Their efforts only mattering – and being unfairly scrutinized – once every four years.

However, before I douse the Olympic flame totally, let me say there is one event that stokes the fires of my competitive heart. One event that prompts me to stand up (OK, sit up forcefully on my couch) and proclaim my pride in my nation. And that sport is hockey. Already, with the various national squads announcing their teams, the thrill of anticipation is rising in me. I scan the rosters, plan out match-ups, and look for potential road blocks on the way to gold. Make no mistake, I’m excited – and I’m not alone.

I grew up in the Canada Cup era. Born slightly after the Canada-Russian Summit Series, I grew up being regaled with the stories of that epic tournament. Those implanted memories stuck with me as I became a hockey fan in my own right. And, growing up during the Cold War, those Canada-Russia games were the epitome of athletic and social competition.

As a proud Canadian, my heart sailed and sunk with the on-ice exploits of our national hockey teams. From the Canada Cup to the World Cup tournament, from the World Juniors to the World Championships (also known as the consolation prize for good players on crappy NHL teams who can’t get to the playoffs), and now to the epitome of competition – the Olympics.

Sure, these aren’t amateurs and, as such, aren’t competing in the spirit of the Olympics. But, come on, this is the best of the best competing at their peak in mid-season form. The world’s best players returning to their home countries to don their national colours and take to the ice with more than just gold, silver, or bronze on the line. They face off with the goal of earning, protecting, or restoring national pride.

What makes this even better is that I care about these people and this sport. I watch hockey in the intervening three years and am familiar with the players. I watch the junior and national programs, so I feel like I have an investment in the program. Try as I might, I couldn’t care who’s representing Canada in curling, and I will feel no joy or pride in winning gold in that event.

But if Canada comes home with gold in hockey, that’s a celebration I can legitimately feel a part of. I’ve supported the program not only in two-week Olympic intervals, so I feel justified that I’ve made enough of an investment to earn a return!

I liken it to an experience I had in high school. I won an award for top German student in grade 10 (ask me if I remember anything now), and I took little pleasure in it. However my friend, who worked his butt off and legitimately strove for this recognition, was legitimately upset when he lost. He cared, I didn’t. How much more would winning that award have meant to him? And that’s the way I feel about most Olympic sports. If I win, fine – but don’t ask me to get excited.

While many will be living vicariously through the exploits of our undeservedly anonymous speed skaters, bobsledders, and lugers, I’ll be saving my enthusiasm for when the puck drops. Winning is good, but winning at something you’ve invested in makes it all the better. If I’m going to live and die with something, it has to be something that I actually care about.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Time for Raptors to Evolve

By Jason Menard

Is it too late to pick up the “loveable losers” tag from the Chicago Cubs because the 2005-2006 edition of the Toronto Raptors certainly need something to hang their hat on?

Alas, following a November that left the team 1-15 on the season is just pitifully bad. The eminently likeable head coach Sam Mitchell appears before the media’s cameras resembling Nero more and more, fiddling while the franchise burns behind him.

There are only so many times you can say your team is playing hard, working hard, learning well, developing in practice, or whatever other excuse Mitchell’s been using to deflect the fans from the hard and fast truth. This is a bad team.

Hope for the future is great and all, but we live in an instant gratification society. It’s easier to appreciate the aging of a fine wine when you’ve been able to taste a couple of batches along the way to test its progress. However, if you make that same wine aficionado abstain until the vintage is ready, chances are you’re going to have some cranky days along the way.

It’s fine and dandy to promise wins that will come one day, but the fans need the odd reminder of what a W looks and feels like.

Compounding this is the natural inferiority we, as Canadians, feel about our professional sports franchises. Whether or not we like to admit it out loud there’s always a feeling that these professional leagues, based south of the border, look at Canadian franchises as nothing more than annoyances better to be relocated to a more favourable environment. And it’s not a fear based on paranoia as NBA fans in Vancouver, MLB fans in Montreal, and NHL fans in Quebec City and Winnipeg will attest to.

Winning is the only way to ensure long-term financial security. The Toronto Blue Jays have started to figure it out, investing money into a franchise that’s not even a contender in its big-money game, but has a little potential for success. Remember, we Canadians support our teams win or tie!

But beyond fan support, the other aspect that we as Canadians have to deal with is American ignorance. Getting players to relocate north of the 49 th is as difficult as pulling teeth at times. So, once they’re here we want them to stay. Make ‘em happy, keep ‘em smiling and maybe more will come. Take a look at the World Series-winning Jays for example – they were a franchise that people wanted to play for, not a destination to be avoided at all costs.

Which brings us to the NBA’s Raptors. Blessed with the rights to a talented cornerstone upon which the franchise can be built in Chris Bosh, already the concerns are starting to rise. Will he stay once his rookie deal’s done? Can we keep him? Do we have the right management to build a contender before he bolts south of the border?

It’s not a lot of fun in Raptorland, either for the players or the fans. Despite the ever-gracious Bosh and fan-favourite Matt Bonner the team hasn’t been able to capture the fans’ imaginations as loveable losers – they’re just losers, and that has to stop.

It’s time for a complete overhaul of the franchise, only a decade into its existence. The team is burdened with a dinosaur-sized weight of past burdens left malcontents like Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, and Vince Carter, dismal seasons, and lost hope. The 2005-2006 Raptors have been crafted with the idea of starting from scratch and building together for a bright new future powered by Bosh and fuelled by rookies like Charlie Villaneuva, Joey Graham, and Jose Calderon. Why hamper their development by fitting them with ill-fitting clothes?

It’s time to finally make the Raptor extinct and create a new attitude and culture of winning. It’s not enough to just rearrange the furniture if the exterior looks the same. Open the concept of a new team name to the fans and let them feel some sort of ownership for the franchise. Choose a colour scheme and logo that kids can be proud to wear. And wipe the slate clean of the history of losing that the Raptors name carries with it.

The team has tried everything else: new managers, new upper management, new ownership, and new players. So why not start a new era with a new attitude and new mentality, prominently displayed by a new logo.

After all, the Toronto Loveable Losers doesn’t sound any worse than what they are now, does it?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved