Tuesday, September 23, 2008

(Insert "got what they paid for" joke here)

Really, this is too easy. MLSE tries to give away tickets to an exhibition game (that is taking place two--TWO!--days after training camp started) and a good quarter of the people don't bother to show up.

You can almost hear the snickering in Moose Jaw from here. Leafs fans are so bad...

Richard Peddie claimed that the empty seats were because the free seats "devalued" the product. That people don't prioritize going to something they didn't pay for. He's probably partly right. A lot of folks likely grabbed free seats back in the summer with the idea that they would wait and see what was going on in their life on game day. If they didn't go, it wasn't as if they were out any coin.

But, you have to wonder. Are the empty seats not also an ever so slight example of how the mighty, mighty Leafs hold on T.O. is slipping just a little bit. It's mostly anecdotal evidence, but you don't get the feeling that the city is living and dying with this hockey club anymore. Sure, it's still the most popular team in the city, but it's not the default choice of the new generation, or of new Canadians living in Toronto.

You wouldn’t necessarily notice any change if you looked at media coverage of T.O's teams. The city's hockey writers and broadcasters still obsessed over every (non) move of Mats Sundin this summer and Leafs talk is still choice one, two and three on the Fan590 and AM640. It's just not clear if as many people care. Is it possible that the entirety of Leafs Nation wasn't desperately seeking the latest David Shoalts offering to read with their morning coffee? Perhaps the cafes on College weren't alive with debates over Nick Kypreos' latest "scoop."

Just last month Peddie was quoted as saying that internal research is showing that the amount of season ticket holders that consider themselves "diehard" fans has slipped to 51 per cent from about two-thirds. And, that's the season ticket holders.

Bay Street will ensure that the seats are full for every game for some time, but Bay Street can't make Cabbagetown (or Newmarket, or Oakville, or Markham, or Ajax, or...) care. An entire generation has grown up to only know the Leafs as losers. The Raptors are a 416 fixture now and even soccer has made inroads. MLSE has said that it needs to do more to ensure that the Leafs are still the Leafs in 20 years. Outreaches such as yesterday's free game are part of that effort. So, as much as he wants to spin it otherwise, Peddie has to be just a little bit worried about those 4,000 empty seats.


Mike said...

There are many people in the Toronto area seriously wishing that the Hamilton-KW tandem landed a team so they'd have someone else to cheer for - it's not that they don't still like the Leafs but feel that MLSE doesn't care, and do want to punish them for putting out a less than mediocre product. In Montreal when things got bad the fans stopped showing up, that's a direct signal to the mgmt.

In Toronto, due to all the corporate seats, season ticket holders, and those desperate for Leafs tickets that when they do land them once every couple seasons they go regardless - the stands stay filled. Many though are interesting in telling the MLSE how they really feel, and maybe this game was an little example of that?

There's no sense of urgency within the top brass so I'm hoping they don't dismiss this one game and actually take it as a serious warning to their franchise.

Jeff Dertinger said...

I don't know if it's necessarily a sign of how many diehard Leafs fans there are out there or not.

Point One: It's preseason hockey in September. The most profitable sporting organization in North America, the NFL, can't sell out a preseason game. Not even the first game to ever feature Brett Favre in a Jets uniform. Fans are smart, and they know preseason doesn't mean a thing. It's not just a waste of money (you still have to spend 10-20 bucks at the concession stand, another 10-20 parking and gas no matter how free the ticket is), it's a waste of time and energy.

Point Two: Many diehard Leafs fans are still diehard fans of the team, but have given up on attending games at Air Canada Centre and giving MLSE their money. I set a goal of catching one or two games live every year - and I ALWAYS go to Buffalo or Detroit. It's cheaper, the atmosphere is better (more actual Leafs hockey fans at a Buffalo game than a Toronto one) and I can actually get to Buffalo and back faster even though its further away (traffic).

Perhaps there are fans out there who are giving up on the Leafs. More than likely this is true. But some empty seats at the suckiest suck of a game the NHL has to offer isn't exactly overwhelming and undeniable proof.

sager said...

yeah, remember Peter King calling out Jets fans for not filling the place to see Favre play 2 series?

Gotta go. My damn wieners kids are lisening.

Duane Rollins said...

I'm not drawing a straight line between attendance at the game last night and a decline in interest in the team. I am suggesting that the Leafs' grip on the city is slipping (although less in the 905/705 than in the 416). Losing is the biggest issue--a long playoff run would get many revved up again, I'm sure. But changing demographics play a role as well. If you are under 40 in T.O. and a sports fan, you are probably a sports fan. Those over 40 are still primarily Leafs fans. Don't get me wrong, the Leafs still have twice as many fans as all the other Toronto teams combined. But, 15 years ago they had 10X.

sager said...

We know who really has the hearts and minds of the discerning Toronto sports fan. They last made the playoffs 15 years ago, but that's the risk of playing a real sport.

Duane Rollins said...

Last point: I'd also suggest that the amount of diehard Leafs fans is now almost the same as diehard Raptors fans (I'm not sure about the Jays). The difference is in the casual fan base--those that kinda only sorta pay attention to sports only "follow" the Leafs.

sager said...

Not to steer this into Chuck Klosterman territory, but sometimes it's as if many people who say the Leafs are their team really have no team. It's the same with the Argos in the CFL.

In the NFL, it's been the case with the Patriots since January 2002 until two days ago.

Duane Rollins said...

But, is it ever really a bad time to steer things into Chuck Klosterman territory?

I've said before that I'm more of a fan of Leafs fans than I am of the team itself. I love how the city feels when the team is going well and I love how stupidly optimistic the diehards are.

I so want to write the gamer the day they win the Cup. (of course I'll be 80, but...). Hell, when I experience writer's block I sometimes try to write the lede of such a story to break me out.

But am I truly a Leafs fan? Sometimes. Maybe.

Jeff Dertinger said...

I understand your hypothesis, Duane, and I don't necessarily disagree with it.

I simply felt the need to refute the only "hard" evidence you had in your original post backing your hypothesis up.

That's all I's sayin'.