Ever since the Phoenix Coyotes fiasco began in May 2009, small market hockey fans have been thrust under an unwanted limelight, and become the brunt of a lot of jokes in communities around the League. As you probably know by now, one of the biggest things that annoys me about some hockey fans is their insecurity in being an actual fan. It’s like this select group of people aren’t confident enough in their own enjoyment or involvement of the game, so they go around pointing the all knowing proverbial finger at who is or is not a REAL fan. I don’t think I’ll ever be sure why this strange behavior occurs, but I do theorize that it has something to do with penis envy. That’s another story, though. Psst… they have procedures for that now, you know!
Anyway I don’t want to go off on the wrong tangent here, but I feel like I need to put into words what I think people should already know, but are quick to muck up. A few nights ago I was watching a small market game at a local bar (I had to get one of the bartenders to flip it on in the first place as usual). My friend was checking his tweet-feed on his phone, and started laughing at some of the things being said about the fans in attendance at the game. His laughter was quickly stifled out of what I can only assume was fear because I, on the other hand, was not at all amused by these statements.
Small market fans are what I would call an “easy target” for these types of attacks. Because they happen to be located in cities like Atlanta, Long Island, or Phoenix, they get sucked into the vortex of the mysterious “Other” or “non-fan.” What people seem to forget is that the fans that are filling the seats, however few, are not the actual problem. The problem is the faceless majority that don’t actually like hockey, and therefore don’t show up to the arena, and don’t support the game on any level. Yes, sometimes hockey teams are located in places where hockey just doesn’t thrive, or the team goes through an epic stretch of suck, and the fans turn away as to not have their hearts broken anymore. And, yes, perhaps these teams would be better off relocating to other cities, but the people who support these teams, in spite of it all, should not be forced to bend over and take it like some $10 hooker because they weren’t as fortunate to be living in hockey towns like the rest of us.
It seems like a simple concept to grasp, but for some reason it’s not. I don’t know if people just want to put a face to the non-hockey loving population in some of these markets, and the only faces they see are those of the actual fans. But, again, why they want to play the blame game, I’ll never know. What frustrates me, and what frustrates fans in these markets is the fact that they’ve been painted in an inadequate and inauthentic light over and over again. I know a lot of the Coyotes fans that I have met over the years always complain to me about how people think they aren’t real fans, and that they don’t know anything about hockey. I always say the same thing to these people, “Anyone with half a brain knows you aren’t the problem. We know there are fans in Phoenix, the problem is there aren’t enough fans.”
However, the harsh reality is that (sometimes) I’m not so sure that fans in other markets are actually aware that these fans are not the issue. Sure, Phoenix has to resort to putting up detour information on their website when the major highway into Glendale is not running, so as not to deter people from coming to their next home game, but that’s not to say that all their fans are as finicky! I guess what I want to say is that no matter where a hockey team is located, whether it’s Phoenix or Montreal, there will be fans that have never seen a live game, and there will be fans that have never missed one, there will be casual observers, and there will be die-hard fanatics, there will be people that love the game, and people that hate it. The only thing different between a big market and a small market fan base is, in all honesty, the ratios of these demographics.
And that’s my rant for this Sunday evening.