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Denver is Hockeytown, at least to some of us…

I just thought this was going to be a normal day on Twitter.  Regular news from all the great people I follow…nothing more, nothing less.  I’m cool with Twitter like that.  Then I saw the rumblings and knew something was up.  These were the types of tweets that I had seen before.  All the tweets were the result of this article written by Mark Kiszla and promoted by Adrian Dater in his latest blog post.  There is a lot going on here.  I just wanted to give my random thoughts and perspective because that’s what blogs are for.

Let’s start with Dater and Kiszla.  I really do try and see their perspective as best I can without being in their shoes.  It is somewhat of a conflict of interest if they begin to smash the Avalanche organization for not promoting this team in a more productive way.  They have access to and interact with the team and its employees on a very different level than the rest of us.  They don’t want to throw anyone under the bus that may get them in deep water or worse.  This makes sense, but only to a point.

What doesn’t make sense is whenever the Avs play a game like they did last night, the fans, or lack of them, automatically become an issue.  The crowds are too small and those that are there aren’t making enough noise.  Blah, blah, blah.  What was there to cheer about for the first 48 minutes of hockey anyways, besides Kevin Shattenkirk’s first NHL goal during a first period power play?

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I was there last night.  It was quiet and boring for a perfectly good reason.  The Avs were being outplayed by a Sharks team that was playing well.  What are the fans that were there, including myself, supposed to do?

Let’s  move the focus to Denver as a sports town to maybe help explain the small Avs crowds.  There is a lot of competition for the sports fan’s dollar within literally miles of downtown.  We have the Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets, Avalanche, Rapids, D.U. Pioneers, and plenty of other affordable, yet very enjoyable teams to watch.  Fans have to make a choice concerning what they’d like to see and how much they’d like to pay for it.  It has been made very clear over the years that the Denver Broncos rule this city.  No matter how they play, they lead the news stories of that particular night.  Invesco Field at Mile High and Mile High Stadium have been sold out for years and that’s never going to change.  When fans only have to pay for a few pre-season games and eight regular season games that makes any ticket price seem like a fairly decent deal.  Ticket-holders have had the seats in their families for literally generations and that’s not going to change any time soon.  If anyone tells you that Denver isn’t “Bronco-town” they are fooling themselves.  It is and always will be.  As far as playing football, take a football, Nerf or leather, go out in the yard and throw it around and you’re “playing” football.  Every fan has done that.

The Colorado Rockies play 81 home games a season.  Their tickets are way more affordable than basketball or hockey.  They also went to the World Series three seasons ago.  They have two Gold Glove and Silver Slugger players in Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.  They also have one of the best young pitchers in baseball, Ubaldo Jimenez, that just finished third the the NL’s Cy Young voting.  People love America’s pastime.  The team also, with a few exceptions, plays outside when it’s warm.  Who wouldn’t want to watch sports in this atmosphere?  On the other hand, people aren’t that excited by how many star free agents the organization goes after and pays, but they go to the games anyway.  The Rockies had the 10th largest per game average in attendance in the Major Leagues last season.  That was the largest average attendance for the team since 2001.  People go to Rockies games in Denver.  It’s what they do.  People have played baseball as well.  It’s easy to.  Go to any park with a couple gloves, a baseball or two, and a bat and “play” baseball.

The Nuggets have one huge thing going for them, which the Avs used to have plenty of and more, and that’s star power.  People aren’t very pleased with Carmelo Anthony not signing his offer of a contract extension from the Nuggets, but they still go to the games to watch him because the guy can flat play the game.  People go to Pepsi Center to watch hometown hero Chauncey Billups as well.  We are proud of who he is, what he has accomplished, and couldn’t be happier that he’s back home where he belongs.  The Nuggets tickets are expensive as well, but they put on a heck of a show.  Nuggets games are fun and entertaining, there’s no doubt about that.  Rocky, one of the best in the mascot business in all of sports makes a difference for the kids and the adults as well.  He is awesome.  And as for playing basketball, go to the majority of parks and/or schools with a basketball and “play” basketball.  That’s simple.

And now we get to the Avs.  The last of the true Hall of Fame quality, get you on your feet talent, left last season when Joe Sakic announced his retirement.  Names like Forsberg, Roy, Bourque, Blake, etc. are now gone and have been replaced by the next generation of Avalanche greats.  It’s hard to tell if any of the current Avalanche players will ever be Hall of Fame caliber type or legendary players.  They don’t come around that often at all.  Along those lines, small star power equals small crowds.  That’s the way it goes with pro sports in many cities with plenty of choices with pro sports teams.  High ticket prices are an issue as well.  When the team charges the same price, or actually more than they did in the “star power” days, that’s an issue in today’s economic environment.  And who, at least regarding the generation who can buy tickets on a regular basis, has played hockey?  I grew up in Denver and played hockey growing up.  I had one other good friend that played as well.  Back then (the early to mid eighties) there were maybe four or five sheets of ice to play on within the city and we needed a ride to get there because hockey gear is heavy.  This isn’t like football, basketball, or baseball.  Going down the block and playing just isn’t an option.  Ice time is at a premium.  Hockey equipment is expensive.  There’s no doubt that things are growing, though.  Hockey is very popular and still growing here, but this is a process.  It’s going to take some time to really get things going.

Here’s my issue with Dater’s and Kiszla’s points of view:  Why are they scolding the fans and what good, if any, is this going to do?  Are readers supposed to read the perspective they provide and say, “You know what?  They’re right.  I need to drop a couple hundred dollars and take my family of four to a game a little more often because we’re not doing our part to support the Avs.  I’m going to be a “better fan” because you guys told me so.”  That makes no sense at all.  I have been going to hockey games here in Denver with my Dad for over 25 years.  We go back to the original Colorado Rockies, Colorado Flames, Denver Rangers, and finally the Avs.  Dad and I go as often as we can to games and are the type of fans that don’t need a whole lot of entertainment to really enjoy what’s going on out there.  Our entertainment has always been good hockey (and the “Kiss Cam” too.  That’s always been a favorite ever since Scott Mellanby kissed Doug Weight when the Blues were in town many years ago.)  When it comes to entertainment though, we’re in the minority.  People who aren’t hardcore hockey fans need something fresh.  They need to be entertained by something other than hockey to feel like they got their money’s worth when they leave the arena.  It’s no secret that the Avs struggle with their in-game entertainment.  It always seems like the same old shtick.  Useless promotions that serve as crummy commercials, (shout out to all my “A Christmas Story” fans out there with that reference), the same music during stoppages in play no matter how the game is progressing, and a constant barrage of “Make some noise!” and “Get on your feet!” and “If you came to scream your head off you may proceed” gets really old after a while.  I’ll get on my feet and scream my head off when my team deserves it, not just because the scoreboard told me to do it.  And in the words of Steve Harvey, “I paid $62 dollars for this seat (which my Dad and I do).  You get up and scream.”  (or something to that effect.)

Dater and Kiszla have gotten almost too good at blaming the fans for not showing up to hockey games in Denver.  They wrongly assume they’re going to guilt people into going to Pepsi Center for hockey games.  I suggest a focus on letting the fans know what they’re missing.  Make potential fans want to go watch hockey for all of the right reasons.  There’s plenty of blame and finger-pointing to go around when it comes to the small crowds for Avs games, but focusing on all of that is a waste of energy and won’t do anyone any good anyway.  Let’s get people excited about this young team.  Let’s get people to appreciate the game for what it is.  Let’s all work together to create passionate hockey fans, rather than fickle home-team fans who live and die with every win and loss.  Sure, it takes time and effort, but in the end everyone will be better for it.  That, in a nutshell, is why I make my podcast.

And as far as Kiszla’s “How does the Winnipeg Avalanche sound to you?” comment that he closed with, it’s plain ridiculous.  Comments like that won’t put people in the seats either.  Why even go there?  What’s the point?  Comments like that make it sound like media members have control to spare when it comes to the team staying in Denver when that’s nowhere near the truth.

And maybe, just maybe, the reason many people choose to stay away from Avs games in general is the overwhelmingly negative and pessimistic attitude that’s portrayed by Dater in his Twitter feed and Kiszla with pieces of writing like today’s article in the Post.  Using the word “fans” with quotations around it is a total swipe at anyone that roots for the Avs.  It was unnecessary and something that needed to be addressed by real Avalanche fans, and has been all day long.

And to close, articles like these bother the real fans that will be there no matter how bad things get.  The tone of the article makes it sound like there aren’t any of us around at all.  I’ve been at this for over 25 years and I still look forward to every game I go to, just like I did when I was a kid.  And I still add Avs jerseys to my collection whenever I get the chance.  Now I can’t wait to experience this game with my daughter.  She’s too young for it now, but I’m very much looking forward to sharing the game and all its beauty with her when she’s old enough to wrap her head around it.  (And if she doesn’t like the game, that’s totally alright too.)  And as I said on my Facebook fan page for my partner’s and my podcast, there are plenty of people in this city and throughout the world that really do bleed Avalanche burgundy and blue.  Over 140,000 fans on the Avalanche’s official Facebook fan page don’t lie.
Dater and Kiszla, please don’t scold us whenever you get the chance.  Just because you see a half empty Pepsi Center doesn’t mean that people aren’t out there supporting the Avs.  To those of us that were there last night, those that watched at home, those that followed each and every move on Twitter, those that listened to the radio feed, as well as those that simply make it to Pepsi center each and every chance they get, The Mile High City really is our Hockeytown whether Pepsi Center is full or not.

2 Comments

  1. Emily says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Angelique C. Murray, Don Gafford, Chris Collision, Katie Martinez, Jay Vean and others. Jay Vean said: My response to Mark Kiszla's column, defending #Avs fans everywhere. Enjoy. http://bit.ly/9w9iVa […]

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