TO SELL OR NOT TO SELL: RAISING THE BAR
Where do you set the bar for your favourite hockey team? What constitutes reasonable expectations? At what point has a team done enough to leave you satisfied as a fan and entertainment consumer? These aren’t questions I believe the majority of fans stop to think about. Most of the time the answer is abundantly clear based on instinct alone. Our team does well, we feel good about them – they do poorly… we feel something entirely different. Being a hockey fan is very much about feelings. It’s an emotional game.
With that in mind, I think it’s important to remember that our feelings often closely affiliated with our expectations and goals. When it comes to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, it’s time hockey fans, Canes’ fans, and citizens of Lethbridge stop to ask important questions of themselves – and the team.
Where have you set the bar for this franchise?
THE QUESTION AT HAND
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant spoke often on means and ends. Kant’s work – some of the most brilliant philosophical theory ever contrived – is also some of the of the most challenging. When I talk about means and ends in reference to the Hurricanes, the context is extremely simple. We need to know what the ultimate end is for this club. Of course board members, presidents, general managers, coaches and players all say the goal is to win a Memorial Cup, but what are our expectations as hockey fans? For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, trotting out the Memorial Cup goal seems hollow and naive.
Of course the GM, coach and players’ job is – in its purest form – very simple. Do the best job possible and hope it is enough to win a championship. I don’t for a second believe the GM, coach or players wanted to miss the playoffs as long as they have. To suggest so would be ignorant. No one wants to lose.
In my opinion, it is the fans and shareholders that need to be the ones to properly assess the direction and ‘ends’ of the team. We as hockey fans need to ask ourselves what we want the ‘ends’ for this franchise to be. Only then can we properly assess the effectiveness of the ‘means’ that have been employed to that end. Simply put, it’s hard to hit a target you haven’t identified. Once you know what you are trying to hit, you can start figuring out why you haven’t hit it yet.
The way I see it, is there are two different ‘ends’ hockey fans can approach their team with.
- I am a fan. I am content and satisfied to see a team that tries its hardest every single game. I want my team to be competitive and give me faith that they will have a chance to win every time they play. I don’t expect them to win a championship but it would be really cool if they did. When things are bad, I am satisfied with the team simply getting back to respectability and stability. At the end of the day, I just want to kick back with a beer and watch a WHL hockey game with friends or family and cheer on the local team. Let’s call these people “Little Caesars” pizza eaters. It’s not great pizza but it’s pizza! Mhhhh pizza.
- I am a fan. I am unsatisfied with anything short of the highest standards. I am not unreasonable, but am also not satisfied when I can identify weakness in my favourite team. I don’t expect my team to win a championship every year but I do demand that anything short of a championship is seen as nothing more than a step towards the final goal. I don’t just want a team that has semi-regular success, I want to support a team that can sustain success for the long term through smart hockey hires and creative business strategy. We will call these people “Two Guys and a Pizza Place People.”… only the best.
Whether wittingly or not, I believe most fans subscribe to one of these two views. Are the above descriptions an extreme over-simplification? Of course. But I hope you get the point. I also hope you are able to earnestly identify yourself as one of those two. I think we naturally want to be the second person but often find ourselves as the first. Watching losing hockey season after season is devastatingly frustrating (have I mentioned I’m an Oilers fan?). Often the idea of watching even an average team becomes enticing.
In my opinion, it’s time the people of Lethbridge begin to subscribe to the mindset of the champion – not that of a perennial basement dweller or first round exit. We need to stop seeing success as a deviation from the norm. Looking at the Hurricanes through the lens of a winner is crucial – today more than ever – as big decisions for the future of the club loom in the coming months. May I suggest that as we look at the Lethbridge Hurricanes through the eyes of hockey fans that crave a champion, the picture gets much more clear…
WHAT CAN FANS DO?
Living in the city as long as I have, it has been fascinating to see how the complete and total failure of the hockey club under both Preston and Robson has divided the fan base. This is a hockey city wholly pitted against itself. In my estimation, there are three key people groups in Lethbridge when talking about the Canes’.
The die-hards. These are the folks that are still down at the rink every home game. They own season tickets and are proud supporters of the team. They are not blind – they see the mistakes and bad performances – but generally choose to see the glass half full (there is a top pick coming next year! Things are gonna turn around! Just wait!). These are the people that would be devastated to see the team leave. They might not love management, but above all, they love the players. After all, It’s not the players fault there is drama in the boardroom. These people aren’t dumb, they are just loyal. They are the glue of any good jr. hockey city and I respect them immensely for it. These people also don’t understand how less enthusiastic fans can be so miserable and hopeless. I would suggest that these fans tend to fall into the “Little Caesars” category. Thats not a bad thing. It’s just the different nature of people-types.
The next people group are the angry bunch. They could talk to you at length about the failings of the Board, GM, coach, waterboy, zamboni driver and Sugar Daddy’s donut frier. These are the people that have been calling for heads to roll for years. They are pessimists by nature, and the results since 2009 have spoken for themselves. Most of these people used to own season tickets but couldn’t handle the incompetence any longer. They no longer go to games but are still huge hockey fans, watch the scoreboards, and chime in on the message boards. Some are cheering for the players, others are cheering against them in hope that failure forces change. These people are generally in favour of the team being sold. They aren’t going to the games now anyways, so nothing would change if the team were moved. I would suggest that this people group tends to embody the “Two Guys Pizza” mentality, but some would simply be happy if the off-ice problems weren’t so prevalent.
The final significant people group are the apathetic. They have no clue what is going on with the team beyond some water cooler chat. They have never owned season tickets but would hop on the bandwagon if the team were better. These people have the potential to become great fans down the road, but have never experienced meaningful hockey at the Enmax Centre. They would rather stay in and watch the NHL than check out a losing Hurricanes team that no longer has player names they recognize.
With that in mind, the most ‘important’ (or ‘influential’) are the first two groups. They still care enough to be emotional. The franchise is lucky so many people still care. There is a pulse in Lethbridge – however faint it might seem when there are only 2,000 people in the rink.
Being a fan of the Hurricanes (or any poorly managed team for that matter) is difficult. At least with bad NHL teams you can rest easy knowing that the players are going home as millionaires. With the WHL, it’s hard to keep your heart hardened towards teenagers trying their best with their future careers on the line. The problem is that fans of sport have very little currency or leverage over ownership. If you love the players but hate the management you are forced to either – stop attending games to dry up team revenue (open rebellion) – or attending so you can support the players – but by doing so – giving money to those you believe to be (at least somewhat) incompetent. It’s an awkward position to be in and one Lethbridge fans have had to face for most of a decade.
(The only way of supporting the players and putting ownership on the hot-seat is to go to games, but not buy season tickets. Instead of giving your money up front, you take a ‘show me first’ position and let the chips fall where they may. I am aware a statement like that won’t win me many fans at Lethbridge Hurricanes headquarters, but it’s the truth. Am I advocating it? Not necessarily, but it is an option for those somewhere between “die-hard” and “angry”.)
THE QUESTION AT HAND
The big question at hand here is still whether or not the team should be sold. To quickly review:
- What are our ‘ends’? Being competitive OR being championship contenders (consistently)? These are two very different ‘ends’ and that which is employed will affect how/what decisions are made moving forward.
- There are three types of fans in Lethbridge. Die-hard, Angry, Apathetic. (I’m sure there are more but I simplified things)
- Fans are torn and disagree with one another on how to respond to all of the losing and drama.
I feel strongly that hockey fans in Lethbridge need to unite. People in this city need to realize that Lethbridge deserves so much better. There is a difference between disagreeing with decisions the BOD/GM make and cheering against the team. Not all angry fans hate the players or wish them ill-will. The problem is that frustrated fans have little to no currency with which to show their frustrations – therefore – anger manifests itself through empty seats and verbal tirades (online or elsewhere).
My plea to people in this city is that they don’t lose sight of the big picture. Will you settle for a team that is generally competitive and manages the occasional play-off run – or do you demand more… to establish Lethbridge as a winning WHL institution. I think we need to be careful not to let our desire to avoid (more) embarrassment as hockey fans in Lethbridge get in the way of our desire to support a champion. What I mean by that is if the team improves in the coming three years, but is still only average at best, will you be happy/content? If it does make you happy, is that really what is best for the franchise moving forward?
With so many big decisions looming, decide where you stand so you can make your voice heard. Is it time to raise the bar? Time to up our standards?
(Part III: I will (hopefully) bring it all together as I debate whether the community ownership model is a capable ‘means’ to the ‘ends’ of a champion.)
Honorary wanna-be. Twitter master for @canesdomain. Reader and blog follower. I work in digital design and write when I have something to say. Was a bench warmer for two time U of L hockey intramural champions, the Cal Cluttermucks. Have a degree I will (probably) never use.