The problem with Doug Springer is if you say the staging of the OHL all-star game was a spectacular flop, he'll only hear the word spectacular.
So, is it worth wasting a beautiful mind pointing out Wednesday night's gong show at the K-Rock Centre was a "no" vote in a referendum on whether Springer and his organization (loose usage) are fit to continue running the Frontenacs? The announced crowd of 3,206 — reversing the first two digits would put you a lot closer to the actual figure — sends the message loud and clear. Were ours a just world, Springer would be starting negotiations to sell the team to Gregg Rosen, who owns the Kingston Kimco Voyageurs.
Rosen, unlike Springer, has shown he knows something about icing a winning team. Fans can also lean in to embrace the Vees without peeking to look out for the next knife in the back.
There's no equivocation, no hair-split. It was a sad sight. The inflated attendance figure was only 60 per cent of the K-Rock Centre's capacity. Host teams for an OHL all-star game typically fill, at minimum, 85% of their seats. This is from a city which was a Hockeyville finalist not too long ago and has close to the highest attendance in CIS football, outdrawing larger cities.
It also fell short of the original attendance target (3,500 per game) set by Kingston city council when the Frontenacs moved into their taxpayer-provided puck palace two years ago. It's another level of fail when you factor in that it's Feb Fest week in Kingston, which brings people out of their homes and put thems in a civic-minded spirit than they would otherwise be in during the depths of winter. An anchor on Rogers Sportsnet wondered kiddingly if someone had pulled a fire alarm at one end, where the seats were completely empty. Wow, was it ever wise to emphasis this was a test run for hosting the Memorial Cup.
The only solace is knowing people who follow junior hockey closely are aware it is not the market, or the arena. They understand that withdrawal in disgust is not apathy (assist to Michael Stipe). There were sellouts in Kingston for world junior exhibition games in 2008. The town got on the bandwagon for the Queen's Golden Gaels during their Vanier Cup run and for the Junior A Kingston Voyageurs during their post-season run last spring.
This disaster falls squarely on Springer, who rightly got booed before a ceremonial faceoff.
You can't even say the gloves are off, and not because there is no fighting in an all-star game. They've been off for a while. This is an owner whose franchise looks like a serious threat to make it 12 seasons without winning a playoff series, the longest drought in the Ontario Hockey League. (Oh, every team is entitled to a bad decade.) The promised attendance bump from moving from an old hockey barn, the Memorial Centre, to the spiffy K-Rock Centre, has not materialized.
Any regular reader of Fronts Talk is well-aware there is a lot more wrong with the franchise than right. There is a laundry list of deep-seated concerns about the team's all-around lack of accountability with players' conditioning and discipline (on and off-ice), with giving support to billets who agree to be surrogate family to players, with keeping the arena fan-friendly and meeting media obligations.
(On the last count, two weeks ago after a shutout loss in Ottawa coach Doug Gilmour set a land-speed record to get out of the arena. Then again, a former Toronto Maple Leafs captain would not have much experience dealing with a media scrum.)
Through it all, one wonders what is Springer's deal with holding the Frontenacs hostage. Is it like Rogers Communications' deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, just owning it to own it and maybe eventually you buy the arena and make some real coin? One shudders at that possibility, especially since the price tag would be sure to be a lot less than $43 million.
If that's the long-term plan, then Springer should be big enough to write off any criticisms as sticks and stones. He should not be strong-arming the local media into removing commentators who have spoken critically of the team (trust me, it's happened). It is pretty glaring that the local media consistently punts on using its power to draw attention what is so blatantly obvious. Loose Pucks noted "the half-full building was a topic of discussion" during the OHL skills competition, but you could scarcely hear a critical word from any the media outlets in Kingston.
The Whig-Standard should be about 90-95% off the hook, since it has always dealt with the Doug Springer (and Larry Mavety) problem by high-roading it and providing a model sports section, one that has diverse coverage and doesn't overdose on hockey to the exclusion of amateur, high school and university sports. (Go on their website. Today they've managed to cover the all-star game and Ontario men's curling championship in Napanee and also find space for a feature on a St. Lawrence College basketball player. That's more good hyper-local sports content than some of the former Osprey dailies have in a week.)
Getting back to the point, though, it is well past time to point out Doug Springer has yet again embarrassed the city he purports to represent. This oracle (pretentious, much?) has said little since honestly, it's all in syndication at this point.
From this vantage point, one may only write, "The public perception of Springer seems to have cemented. He can't win in Kingston. The only way out of this mess is a change in ownership" (January 7, 2008) and, "At some point Springer has to figure out that he has stop trying to put a Mercedes-Benz façade on a broken-down beater of an OHL franchise" (June 5, 2009) so many times without seeing those who have a larger bullhorn use theirs.
The Frontenacs have become the kings of empty promises and pathetic spin-doctoring. The optics are loud and clear: Springer doesn't give a fat rat's ass about running a class organization, and neither should you. Good on fans for staying home.
That brings it back to the crux of the Doug Springer problem. His organization will not reason or look in the mirror, or wear its many mistakes with player personnel and promotion. They dropped the ball with the all-star game big time and they'll still act like they did the city a friggin' favour by embarrassing it on national television. If past behaviour is any indication, they and their legion of sycophants, the Springer Suckers, will try to shout down anyone who points this out, typing with two fingers and cap lock key on. (Bring it on, he said, typing from his one-bedroom apartment in Ottawa.)
Meantime, the death knell continues for an OHL market. Springer will never run out of excuses or scapegoats, but the fanbase has run out of patience. Cannot blame them.
It has been 835 days since Doug Springer promised to do "whatever it takes" to bring a winner to Kingston.
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