Canucks fans did the right thing showing their displeasure

Vancouver Canucks’ fans are a bunch of finicky hockey illiterates who do not know what’s good for them even if presented with it on a silver platter.

That seems to be the consensus expressed by most Canadian commentators, especially those of talking-head variety.

A fan revolt forced Canucks ownership’s hand. Gone was president and general manager Mike Gillis, in comes new president of hockey operations Trevor Linden, with no general manager in tow for the time being.

How dare the masses of the unwashed force a professional sports club’s hand?

Whether those commentators had this question in mind, hard to tell, but it shone beautifully through their tsk tsking and sundry such comments.

Of course, the Aquilini brothers could have hardly picked a better candidate to perform an emergency patch-up job on the season ticket, luxury suite and corporate sponsorship downward spiral that has reached dangerous proportions.

Yes, Linden has proven beyond any doubt, reasonable or otherwise, that he knows a thing or two about running a business. Whether that means he can run a hockey club longterm, only time will tell.

But the Canucks needed help now, immediately, and they seem to have got it. While they haven’t released any reasonably documented data regarding all those sales, word around town has it season ticket holders who had been ignoring pleas to renew have begun reconsidering their original indignant refusals.

And all that with the background of five relatively successful seasons, making the playoffs in each and everyone of them, winning the President’s Trophy twice and making it all the way to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals. They lost to the Boston Bruins, triggering a show of anger usually seen in Latin America when their favourite football (soccer, for the uninitiated) team loses a game or two. Well, of course, the mayhem has become known only too well to the rest of the country and, indeed, the world, but let’s not forget that, at least, the angry Canucks’ fandom didn’t kill any of their stars.

Surprise, surprise

It was those five relatively successful seasons, confronted with one that looked like a bad soap opera combined with a disaster movie from the times Hollywood knew how to make them that surprised most of the Canadian hockey commentators.

Why, they would ask, are the Vancouverites so livid about one losing season? Just look at the other Canadian NHL clubs: long waiting lists for season tickets no matter that they seem to keep rebuilding with each new season, no significant reduction (if any) in luxury suite and corporate sponsorship sales, sales of jerseys and other paraphernalia still going through the roof. Now, THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is real fandom. Not this fickleness the Vancouverites have shown us.

Really? Are you sure?

Here’s a different way of putting it: Vancouver Canucks’ fans just don’t like it when somebody keeps trying to sell them damaged goods at ever increasing exorbitant prices. Looking at it from this angle, how about asking a different question?

Here it is: are the rest of fans rooting for their teams in times good or bad just a pathetic bunch of morons? After all, they keep swallowing their clubs’ corporate propaganda year after year after year, and see no tangible results year after year after year, either. Is this clinically idiotic or clinically insane? Meaning: do they not know what’s good for them (and their bank accounts)?

We’ll win it all next season: sound familiar? How many times do fans need to hear their club cry wolf? When will they realize the only way to force the team to start doing something that might lead to success is to start showing their displeasure? And start showing it where it hurts the club the most: at the ticket office?

Just look at the Toronto Maple Leafs. Or most other Canadian clubs, for that matter. Ineptitude all over the place, chronic failure to deliver at least a semblance of serious success, losing left, right and centre to teams that come from traditionally non-hockey corners of this continent, and yet: sold out arenas.

Of course, there’s an interesting aside here: many of the Canadian arenas have been sold out simply because season ticket holders and luxury suite owners extended their commitments before the season started. Meaning: when hope still sprung eternal. Except, by season’s second half, you could find alarming numbers of empty seats in those arenas. Sold, yes. Paid for, yes. But empty. Regular snide observations about half-empty arenas, say, in Florida (or other similar places) are slowly but distinctly beginning to sound rather hollow.

What about future?

There are studies saying that the attractiveness of professional sports among general audiences has been eroding the last few years. Some cite the out-of-this-world prices fans have to shell out to attend such games: not only for tickets, but for parking and an occasional bite to eat and sip to drink, too. Others add that it’s so much easier (and cheaper) to watch your favourite team engage in your favourite sport on TV from your couch or, these days, using all kinds of new media, anywhere your life takes you while you watch your club playing.

Sure, nothing beats physical presence – and here comes the catch: oh yeah?

Some of the recent in-depth economic, sociological and demographic studies have been looking at professional sports and their impact on society at large. They have been observing remarkable fan reactions. Here’s the general trend: why should I waste my time (plus money) watching adults playing kids’ games for adult money, when I can engage in that same game with my own kids (or friends), and have much more fun doing it? Time is money, as that old rule has it, after all, so, you’re in fact losing money twice, come to think of it.

Double jeopardy, eh?

Whether Vancouver’s Aquilini brothers are aware of these studies, who knows. But if they don’t, they at least knew instinctively they had to stop the bleeding right here and right now.

Experts will be now engaging in a new blood sport: trying to predict whether Trevor Linden is the answer or not. Why they are not using tea leaves for this exercise remains (and will remain) a sweet mystery. Modern-time precedent shows there is no ready answer. Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy in Denver have been successful. But how about, say, Joe Nieuwendyk in Dallas?

So why is it that so many people think Vancouver Canucks’ fans should know better? Translated: they should not object when professional athletes take them (and their support) for granted. Fans should behave like lambs led to slaughter.

Guess what: if we agree that professional sports have long time ago become an integral part of entertainment business, then we ought to agree that paying customer is the king.

So, Vancouver Canucks’ fans have shown their majesty.

Good for them.

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