I think Blue Jackets fans confuse "great hockey town" with "We have 2000 really, really loyal fans." A hockey town means your town appreciates hockey. Your town loves hockey. Hockey is one of the things your town does well. A hockey town means you can name the high school head coaches like you can the second line center in Springfield. Columbus is a great football town. Want to know how I know? I have to schedule my TRAVEL HOCKEY practices around house league pee-wee football in September and October. Half my team plays football. Football is what this town lives, eats, and sleeps.
But, don't let my observations be the only guide. Let's look at some metrics. The metro area population of Columbus is 1.8 million people. I believe that is the 32nd largest metro area in the US.
Of those 1.8 million people,
- less than 0.001% of the population is registered to play youth hockey (per CAHA, CCYHA, and EYHA). Wow, not even 2,000 kids. 2,000 kids play football in Marysville alone.
- less than 0.01% of the population would pay to see 41 home games of the Columbus Blue Jackets in a single season. (Respectable, but Edmonton, Toronto, and about 8 other teams have 4 and 5 digit wait lists for season tickets and they suck too.)
- less than 0.004% of the population is registered with an adult league hockey on 9 sheets of ice at 6 rinks. You can figure this out sitting in the upper bowl halfway through the first.
However, for me, the most eye opening moment was on December 4th, 2010. It was on this night where the Columbus Blue Jackets played the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nationwide Arena. Since I started coaching travel hockey, most of my discretionary time is spent at the rink coaching. But, my father was going to be in town and I was able to score seats in section 102 from a friend, the boys only had one game that day, so we went to the Blue Jackets game that night.
My father and I are students of the game. We don't say much to each other besides, "nice hit" "great pass" "I thought he had that" "When is Nash going to get help" "he'll get him back later in the game." We talk between whistles, stand for fights, cheer when the Blue Jackets score goals, and grab drinks during the intermissions. We're there to watch the game of hockey in the venue of a team we like. Seldom do we engage other fans or partake in fandom, except for my obligatory explanation to a CBJ fan within earshot that a 1-2-2 is not 'The Trap.' This night in December, we were really looking forward to seeing Malkin and Crosby, and were hoping the Jackets would win 5-4 with Crosby getting a hat trick. Alas, Malkin was hurt, but Crosby was sans concussion.
We had our dinner and headed to "the rink." We still call it 'the rink' or 'the ballfield' no matter who's playing or where it's being played. When we got the rink on this night, things seemed a little strange. We couldn't quite figure out what it was at first, but we soon figured it out. There were about 12,000 Penguins fans at Nationwide Arena that night. Now, the Leafs travel well, the Wings have fans everywhere, but Penguins are creepy.
|December 4th, 2010|
Being raised by, in, and around professional athletics it was the "professional" part that I was taught and understood. Professional like you're at a job interview, always honing your craft, learning, and asking questions. Not professional as in "I can do what the hell I want, people idolize me." My father who taught me that was sitting next to me when we took or seats along the isle in section 102 surrounded by mouth-breathing Penguins fans. If you've read any of my posts, you know my loathing of blindly loyal fandom. My father and I were completely surrounded by stereo-typical Penguins fans. He is a bazillion times more tolerant of belligerent fandom than me, he's actually had to exercise grace and compassion to fans.
|4th of December 2010|
The two guys seated directly behind my father and I were the biggest of #Pens superfans. Before the puck dropped, they were making fun of the arena. the parking, the cannon, then Boomer came out. They were even making fun of the Jumbotron. Well, I've seen about a dozen games in the dump formerly known as the Civic Arena. How quickly the Pens fans forget their past after only two months in a new arena (built by a rigged selection). I find nothing wrong with passionate fans, I have nothing wrong with zealous fans. But when you travel to a great venue like Nationwide and start making fun of it after you've watched games in a dump for 40 years you've got something wrong with you mentally (and are probably single for life).
It just wasn't my father and I surrounded by Pens fans. It was the whole arena. The laughter that erupted when Boomer was on the ice was embarrassing. There were penguins fans EVERYWHERE . The cheers when the Pens scored were loud! The handful of CBJ goals were even more embarrassing when the Cannon and AC/DC blared to the din of scattered fanbase cheer. The guys behind me figured out they were getting to me when I laughed aloud every time they called D to D passing "the cycle." They kept making fun of players, using Pens players nicknames, and razzing goalies when the score got to 4-0 and Mason got pulled. To stop the chatter behind me, I turned to the mouth breathers and said, "until this moment I thought the Flyers has the worst fans in pro sports. Please be respectful and let me enjoy watching the game of hockey." They capitulated, felt shame, and ate Nachos like they cured fatness.
|4.12.10 (WTF Germany??)|
So please Columbus, don't call yourself a hockey town until your season ticket wait list gets in the neighborhood of at least Edmonton's. I'm pretty sure the Leaf don't schedule Saturday broadcasts around Argonaut's games either. Again, there is a commendable small core of fans that are fantastic, but you're not a hockey town until 51% of the people in attendance (not bogus paid attendance) are there to root, root, root for the home team 41 games a year.
|I put this on for a game against the Blue Jackets? Really? Can someone bring me a flannel oxford and a fleece hoodie?|