The underlying desperation of Toronto's free ticket giveaway

"This city and the demographics are changing a lot ... Fifty per cent of Toronto was born somewhere else. Every kid didn't grow up playing road hockey like you and I did. Half the kids grow up in places where hockey isn't what it's all about. We worry about the long-term of hockey. We need to be continually investing in the growth of the game and the growth of this team in the hearts and minds of this city." -- Tom Anselmi, MLSE's executive vice-president and chief operating officer.

(Have you ever seen a photo like this, where you want to create a back story for every single person in focus? I could literally spend the rest of the summer building a novel around the bottom three from the right. Anyhoo, moving on ...)

The quote above from Anselmi is a stunner. Not because it addresses demographic shifts in Toronto's hockey fan base, but because it completely fails to address the Leafs' own role in alienating new generations. It's sort of hard to attract new, young fans they have to decide whether to buy Toronto hockey tickets or spend the money on a financially equivalent item ... like a gold-plated Porsche.

Obviously, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to take their shots from gleeful bashers even when they try and give tickets away to fans. And it's not like they don't deserve them, from the utter mismanagement of the franchise to the fact that Leafs games long ago stopped being something a puckhead of humble means could afford to enjoy. Or as From the Center of the Hockey Universe wrote:

Their goal is to get the tickets for that game out of the hands of the corporate season ticket holders that usually fill the ACC and into the hand of true fans, young fans that can't normally get tickets. The atmosphere should be electric as the lower bowl will be filled by people who will actually be cheering as opposed to checking their email on their blackberries.

Reaching out to the masses who aren't fiscally blessed enough to see Bryan McCabe play "defense" live and in person is, obviously, a prime motivation for this stunt. (A stunt underwritten by a major soft drink company, of course.) But blogger Costa Tsiokos had the most interesting take on the Leafs' giveaway, which was to take a deep whiff of the desperation on display; desperation that, in a warm-weather American city, would be hailed as a harbinger of failure.

You see, free ticket drops are the sort of gimmicks typically frowned upon by the Toronto hockey snobbery "as a pretext to yelp for contraction or relocation" when they happen around the American Sun Belt. From Population Statistic:

I can't help but wonder how loud the cries of protest would be if this were happening in Phoenix or St. Louis, or similar American NHL locales. Shouldn't the same standards apply to Canada?{/ysp:bock}

{ysp:block}You could argue that Toronto's cosmopolitanism makes it a given that hockey would lose ground, making such a meet-and-greet necessary. No such concerns in smaller Ontario towns, which unfortunately have no hope of hosting an NHL squad; nor even in smaller "big cities" like Calgary and Edmonton, which are more homogeneous. But it's amusing that Canada's traditional hockey capital (English Canada, anyway - check ya, Montreal!) is resorting to freebies, like some second-tier venue.

Ouch, but the truth hurts: The Toronto Maple Leafs need to buy off fans to earn good will these days. Because even GM Cliff Fletcher is saying things like, "We may be taking a step back to take three steps forward."

It's rather difficult to charm a new generation of hockey fans when your worrying less about the Stanley Cup and more about uniform number John Tavares will wear.

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