Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hot seat

As a partial season ticket holder for the local NHL franchise, I was invited to attend a private question and answer session with the new head coach, the general manager, and team president. The season ticket holders in attendance had the opportunity to direct questions to these guys. While I thought the event was unlikely to yield much in the way of information I didn't know, I thought it might be interesting to check out once.

One thing you need to understand is that the team has had very little success on the ice in its ten years. They've made the playoffs only once and followed that achievement last season with a large amount of backsliding and the fourth worst record in the league. The team has made it known that it is losing millions every year, something due in part to the way their arena deal is structured. (Voters rejected issues to build an arena, so one was constructed with private money.) Neither free agency nor trades have been used to address a couple of roster holes that have been present for years.

Needless to say, the fan base isn't exactly thrilled with how things are going, and boy did some of those people let these three guys hear it at this season ticket holder Q&A. To be fair, some of them have sunk thousands of dollars into tickets over the years, so I can understand where their pent-up frustration comes from. Their pointed remarks and questions were angry but basically civil, but I couldn't help but feel for the guys on the platform, especially the coach hired within the last month. At times they might as well have been facing a firing squad.

I don't know what the questioners expected to hear. Did they really think the front office executives would shift from answers given repeatedly to reporters? Did they really think that their opinions on contracts and player performance would make a bit of difference? It was, for a time, like a newspaper comment section or fan message board brought to life, with the lone exception being that some of the people being knocked about were there to accept the verbal lashes. (Actually, it was similar to what you'll see at school board and city council meetings when there's an issue that has an impassioned group up in arms.)

I'm a serious sports fan and want the teams I support to do well, but I can't imagine being so worked up to vent face-to-face to team officials or to think they'll be weighing my advice on personnel decisions. Maybe it's just reading what is written online, but sports fans in general seem disproportionately mad when things don't go the way they think they should, as though games and management are conducted by computer calculations that always match projections. I suspect fantasy sports has distorted perspectives and depersonalized what is already a great divide between those in the stands and those on the playing surfaces.

Not all of those asking questions were as accusatory or upset as the initial folks, and things eventually simmered down during the ninety-minute session. I have to give a lot of credit to the team's representatives for being unflappable under the circumstances and facing another round of season ticket holders the following evening. In the end, I did learn a few things about what's going on with the team that hadn't yet appeared in the newspaper, so it was worth the drive downtown.

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