August 28, 2008
I make no secret the fact that I am a New Jersey Devils fan, which means I've fought many an Internet-muscle filled battle defending my team's honor over the last 15 years. Boring hockey, apathetic fans, parades in parking lots, yadda yadda yadda ... I'm just happy we've all moved past the 1995 championship being referred to as "half a Cup." That really bugged me.
So when blogger Derek Felska decided to use some statistic and observational data to rank all 30 fan bases in the NHL, I was hoping the Devils might avoid the basement. Instead ... well, somewhere David Puddy quietly weeps this morning.
Felska is a blogger on The State of Hockey News, a Minnesota Wild blog. His fan rankings run from 30-21, 20-11 and yesterday's publication of the Top 10. The Wild are fourth, trailing behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and your fan base champions, the Montreal Canadiens.
Before every Wings-basher screams in unison about empty seats at the Joe during the Stanley Cup playoffs, here's Felska's criteria:
1. Attendance average for last 3 seasons, 2. Observations of fan activity during games, 3. Observations of fan activity on message boards and blogs. Each component will be graded on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being outstanding or perfect and 0 being very poor. A portion of this grade will take into account the team's average finish during that span of time.
Overall, it's a rather fair ranking if you're using the last three years as a snapshot. There are some serious quibbles, of course. The Edmonton Oilers' Oilogosphere gets a six for online activity, and the Wild receive a 10? The Tampa Bay Lightning (12) have better fans than the Pittsburgh Penguins (14)? The Boston Bruins (22) are behind the Los Angeles Kings (19)? In what, household income?
For our purposes, let's find out why the Devils stink, the Habs rule and the Wings are ranked head of the Leafs, shall we?
The Devils, ranked No. 30 overall, were 24th in attendance, received a 1 out of 10 in "fan activity" and a 3 out of 10 for fan activity online (which will no doubt come as a shock to the Ookies and 2MA.) Felska's justification:
The New Jersey Devils moved to Newark last year to their new home at Prudential Arena and this resulted in a modest spike in attendance. Yet despite the new state of the art arena the team still struggled to sellout games even though the rail system makes it easy to attend games. At times the excuses has been the poor neighborhood, but on the ice year after year the New Jersey Devils are among the top teams in the league but that does not seem to be enough of a draw to fill the stands most nights. Others might point to the defensive system the Devils employ but true fans care more about wins than being entertained but considering the success the team has had its a shame the fans in New Jersey have not been more active and filling the seats on a nightly basis. Online the Devils have a small presence but still a far cry from what you'd expect from such a successful organization.
Meh. This shows a rather slim understanding of the myriad of issues Devils fans face. No mention of the other 12 professional sports franchises in their market vying for the same entertainment dollars? No mention of the fact that the team was in a dilapidated building inaccessible to mass transit every season, save for the last? Well, at least he didn't mention the parking lot parades.
There's never going to be a way to quantify how many Devils fans there are, but I've always felt there are more than attend the games. And I'd certainly encourage a reevaluation of the team's presence online, with no less than two independent fan communities thriving along with several rather entertaining blogs.
I could go on forever on this topic ... maybe I'll take it up in the comments.
Meanwhile, Montreal sits atop the fan rankings with 10's in both ratings and No. 1 in attendance. Felska writes that, "For many of them, their fanaticism for their team takes on a true cultural identity for which they are immensely proud almost in the same way their language does." Anyone that's been to Montreal, even in the off-season, gets that.
More interesting, however, was his justification for placing the Red Wings ahead of the Leafs, the Wild and the Vancouver Canucks in second place overall. From Felska:
Even though it somewhat pains me to say this, if "America's team" for the NFL is the Dallas Cowboys then "America's team" for the NHL is clearly the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings have had tremendous support and perhaps have the best traveled fans in the entire league. Wherever the Red Wings play in the United States there will always be a very noticeable contingent of Red Wings fans in attendance. At Joe Louis Arena Red Wings fans are loud and very knowledgeable and have enjoyed considerable success for the last 10 years that in some ways offsets the not so good years of much of the 1980's and 1970's. At the beginning of the 2007-08 season it was a shock to hear that the Red Wings failed to sellout its home opener; but few places in the United States have had their economy hit as hard as it has been in the Motor City. With the major U.S. auto makers in critical condition, and slashing jobs many of whom are die-hard Red Wings fans it was only a matter of time before those cuts were going to be reflected in the attendance of the United States' leader in Stanley Cup victories. The tossing of the octopus is a fan tradition that no other NHL team can match as it has become a part of the lore of the Red Wings. Online Red Wings fans debate their team in numerous blogs and message boards and are amongst the most savvy fans on the web. It will be interesting to see if the sagging economy will mute the effect of a Stanley Cup championship; but I have no doubt the place will be sold out as they haul up yet another banner to the rafters.
I've always been a little weary about the economy being used as a ready defense for the Red Wings' attendance issues. Looking at their trend at the gate for the last 15 years, it's hard not to suspect it's had an enormous impact. But it still doesn't explain the stunning availability of playoff tickets last postseason.
Take a gander at these interesting lists. Any arguments to be made? Who has the best fans in hockey? And do the Devils have the worst?