Friday, October 17, 2008

Montreal, Toronto, Empty Seats and Empty Shells: You Don't Have a Clue, So Please Shut Up About It

There are a lot of weak, weak writers out there. You expect that in the age of the interwebs because now any twit with a modem and a working knowledge of a language (like the average Bruins fan) can set himself up with a blog and write nonsense. The problem is compounded when the "mainstream media" features its own cabal of weak writers; put all the not-very goods in too close a proximity and you get all sorts of stupidity, made-up arguments, convenient twisting of facts, and (usually from us) some childish name-calling that leads to a very uncomfortable awkwardness at the Blueshirt Bulletin summer cotillion.

Wait, it gets longer.

Last year, one of the weakest of the weak mainstream media, (Howard Berger - no links because he don't deserve it) wrote an item about a (probably mythical) conversation he had with a Montreal cabbie. Said cabbie claimed Torontonians were stupid for supporting the Leafs through thick and thin, and that if they all started to stay away from games like they did in Montreal when the team was struggling, Leafs management would be forced to improve the team. Leafs nation went batshit. Over at the CoxBloc (an excellent site that keeps a very critical eye on the weaker links of the mainstream, with a special emphasis on the above mentioned Berger, as well as the Star's Damien Cox and the Sun's Steve Simmons, among others) they wrote a reply. The reply is well thought out. The comments section is where things get a little iffy, as Toronto fans bend over backwards trying to prove a) that Montrealers didn't voice their opinion on the state of the Habs by staying away from games and b) the same strategy would never, ever work in Toronto. Why is this an issue? Because, based on absolutely nothing, Pension Plan Puppets has dragged this argument back into the light, and the same stupid, misinformed, mind-numbingly wrong facts are being thrown out there again.

Damien Cox wrote this piece. Read it. Read it again. Tell me where he even mentions the "stay away until management gets the hint" argument. He doesn't. He does say this:

"5,000 to 6,000 seats were unsold most nights and the team was in the midst of missing the playoffs four times in five years."

Now, from that line, PPP seems to glean that Cox is advocating staying away until Leafs management gets the message and builds a winner. Wait, what? Let's see ... nope, just read the Cox article again. Doesn't seem to be the gist of the piece at all. Nevertheless, PPP uses that as the jumping off point for a rehashing of the misguided arguments and misconstrued facts he and other Leaf bloggers have to prove that a) no fan revolt ever happened, and b) if there was any fan revolt, it certainly wasn't noticed by Montreal management and had no bearing on management's willingness to change things to get better.

Now, the house of cards basis of proof PPP and the rest of the Barilkosphere (their awesome word, not mine) use to prove that Habs fans didn't vote with their wallets is based on a comparison of average attendance figures and percentage of capacity totals from 1993 to 2007. On first glance, these totals might seem to support the theory, as the Habs average attendance figures are higher than those of the Leafs each year. Now, this conveniently neglects one very important fact. As I wrote in the comments section of the CoxBloc article:

"citing "average attendance" figures to show more Montrealers were showing up versus Torontonians is a little misleading since the Forum had 17,959 seats to MLG's 16,307 and the Bell Centre fits 21,273 to the ACC's 18,819. Going back to 1993-94 on PPP's chart, Toronto's percentage of capacity is higher almost every year, even factoring in the curiosity factor a new building would bring to Montreal's totals."

(Kind of a convenient piece of info to ignore, since it pretty well ruins your argument. Lawyers do that and get disbarred. Bloggers do it and get lauded by anyone who doesn't actually pay attention.)

While PPP and his brethren might claim that 97.5 or 94% capacity doesn't sound like Montreal turned its back on the Habs, but that still translates into over a thousand empty seats each night in a hockey-mad city. It also doesn't tell the story on the streets of Montreal: I lived there from 1997 to 2001, and I remember the Habs being raked over the coals every day. I remember a brand-new arena with hundreds of seats for $15.00 that wasn't selling out. I remember fans booing the Habs off the ice on a regular basis. Maybe to PPP, 1000 empty seats a night doesn't sound like much, but in hockey-crazed places it should never happen. You can bet George Gillett and Pierre Boivin noticed. Was it a full-scale revolt? Were the Habs playing to Atlanta sized crowds? No, but in 2000 I was able to walk to the box office and purchase 4 tickets for Mario Lemieux's first game back in Montreal in almost 4 years a week before it happened. That wouldn't happen now. (Before PPP points out that the Habs were still in the top two for average attendance most of those years, I'll repeat: 21,273 seats. Bigger than any other rink in the league. Almost 1000 seats bigger than the next biggest, in fact. Oh, hey, that's the same amount of seats that were going empty every night!)

Now, PPP makes the point that the real turnaround for the Habs happened when Boivin and Gillett went and hired Bob Gainey, and he gets no argument here on that point. But one wonders, if the rink was packed to capacity every night despite the ineptitude of the front office, despite the putrid performance of team trotting out the Trent McCleary's and Karl Dykhuis' of the world, despite the lack of playoff births, let alone playoff successes, would the impetus to go out and get one of the best in the game have existed? It sure didn't when the Molson's had essentially given up and left Ronald Corey to his devices. It sure wasn't an issue for Harold Ballard to hold onto Floyd Smith or Gerry McNamara. It never seems to bother the owners of the Cubs in baseball or Detroit Lions in football (up until two weeks ago), but it sure seems to have been at least one catalyst for the change in Montreal. To shrug off the idea that 95% capacity is good enough in any of hockey's leading cities, and that 1000's of empty seats and a backseat to the Alouettes as the city's darlings was acceptable to George Gillett is disingenuous, naive, or just being blind to the fact that fans can sway opinion through their actions.

Would it work in Toronto? As PPP points out, the sheer amount of corporate dollars in Toronto and truly massive fanbase (yes, I can admit it ... the Leaf fanbase dwarfs EVERYONE else, and there is no sense denying it) suggests that it won't. That's not the crux of the issue here. The issue is a misinformed pointless retelling of a situation that you weren't in on the ground level for. "The Montreal Myth" isn't the version Pierre Boivin tells you ... it's the one the Leaf Nation tells itself.


HF29 is not here but if he was he would say... said...

hide the women and children, I've got a feeling this comment thread may get ugly.

I still remember getting those Lemieux tix, 10. That still freaks me out.

I liked Karl Dykhuis

HFF33 aka Panger said...

I remember walking down to the Molson Centre and getting Habs tickets after drinks at McGill on Thursday nights during the Houle-Trembly era. That would never happen these days.

Dave said...

I can't tell you guys how many times I bought a pair of reds, low reds, from scalpers for 80$. I did it so often that one scalper became my regular "dealer". I would show up ten minutes before game time, he'd hand over the reds and I'd give him 80$, no words exchanged, no questions asked.

fezworth said...

That was when I lived in Montreal. I remember being surprised at being able to get tickets to the season opener against the Rangers, just a week before the game.

For me, those years were a blessing in disguise, I suppose. I'd never have been able to make it to games nowadays.

Also, I would offer a word or two in defence for Trent McCleary. Any man who almost has his larynx crushed blocking a puck for the CH deserves respect.

Habsfan10 said...

@ fezworth: Respect for the crushed larnyx sure, but he sucked as a hockey player. The fact that he got a regular shift back then ... ugh. Those teams were rife with terrible NHLers.

moeman said...

Use to drive from Ottawa to Montreal, arrive at the Molson Centre around 6ish and still get some reds.

I'll add that even though they now regularly sell-out the Habs' crowd doesn't come near the corporate look & feel and lack of sound that the ACC does.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Panger - I remember going to the Bell Center with you one Thursday night for the student specials, on a total fucking whim!!! We were knocking on the bricks at the top of the Bell Center, drunk off our asses and booing Breezer and almost everyone else every time they touched the puck... good times, good times...

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

Seriously, you liked Karl Dykhuis?

And, Anonymous, thank you for that insightful, wonderfully thought out and articulate comment. It's comments like yours which really push the discussion forward.

This whole thing is nonsense. You guys love your team. We love our team. Fuck the arguing. Sports are cyclical. You guys sucked for a while, now you're back at the top. We sucked for a while, we were competitive for a few years (98-04), and now we're shit again.

Now let's all hug it out and, on three, say: GO LEAFS GO!

Grabovski! He's going to score this weekend.

HF29 is not here but if he was he would say... said...

@ eyebleaf - i think i liked him because he had a Dutch sounding name but was a pure-laine francophone. i always enjoyed that

and you are so reasonable! well done. i think everuyone is in a good mood on friday afternoon...

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

It must be me envisioning the cold adult beverage that will soon be in my hand...

MF37 said...

Anyone that thinks fans are responsible for a team's success or failure is welcome to that opinion, but on-ice success has far more to do with managerial competence than a few empty seats at a rink or a few angry words from fans on the street.

And if the argument is low attendance or angry fans forces ownership to create a winning environment, I'd love to know how many cups we see Florida, Columbus, Phoenix and Atlanta scooping up in the next decade.

I think that we'd all agree that from beer-leagues to the bigs, no Canadian wants to build, manage, run or be in any way responsible for icing a losing hockey team.

Losing hockey teams do not maximize profits. Losing hockey teams do not pad the giant egos of the men who own them. And, unfortunately in the world of pro sports, egos and dollars are what it's really all about.

Down Goes Brown said...

Now, from that line, PPP seems to glean that Cox is advocating staying away until Leafs management gets the message and builds a winner. Wait, what? Let's see ... nope, just read the Cox article again. Doesn't seem to be the gist of the piece at all.

Have you guys read Cox before?

Every article he writes is about how Leaf fans are to blame because they don't stay away. He's beaten that subject into the ground. It's not exactly a big leap to assume that might be what he's getting at here.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

DGB is right about Cox. 100% right about Cox, and that's why PPP took that angle on his post. It's not far fetched at all.

Habsfan10 said...

Look, I live in TO. I read Cox, and I read PPP. I'm well aware of Cox's faults, but you guys are so wound up about him that you'll find any reason to slag him. He's not bringing up the "fans need to stay away" argument at all, and it's a weak, silly reason for PPP to try and drudge up his totally erroneous argument. It was incorrect the first time he posted it, it's still wrong now. You can't blame Cox for that.

Beta169 said...

Yeah yeah, The Leafs aren't very good right now and their fans are trying to think of ways to get management to improve the team, and infighting over certain of these ideas.

Whatever. I think I speak for many fans of the site when I say please, more posts about those things important to us, the current successful incarnation of our Beloved Habitants,and women with low self esteem who get validity by taking off their clothes. Best of both worlds- pictures of strippers in Habs sweaters!

Anonymous said...

the blog is great, and the opinions here and in Drunk Jays Fans are not taken lightly. agree that this argument is sort of stupid now, even though it was enjoyable when Cox Blox first facialed Berger. but a few things...

- you can say you're familiar with Damien Cox all you want, but you're being naive if you think the main point of his comment wasn't to make the point that the leafs should do the same. two classic Cox-isms are present here: a) calling for a boycott, and b)find a successful team, note one thing about them, then blame the leafs for not doing that thing. Cox may even be more repetitive than he is awful, and its naive to think this wasn't his inference.

-from the figures used by PPP, Cox at least seems to be pulling that 5-6k attendance drop number out of his always tight ass. this sort of number WOULD be a significant difference. 1k isn't meaningless, but it isn't enough to support whatever Cox is trying to say

- you make a good point that the situation in montreal was different than toronto. even though attendance was similar, your anecdotes definitely indicate demand wasn't inexhaustible in montreal the way it is in toronto. i agree, this makes a difference. but, either way, i don't buy that this significantly lit a financial fire under montreal's ass where it didn't under toronto's. the facts suggest that demand for both teams, on the whole, is universally strong.

what i see doesn't provide any basis for 'applauding' montreal's fans. rather, it seems at best a small support for chiding the toronto market(not the fanbase, which can be almost as critical of bad leafs the way montreal is of bad canadiens) for supporting their team even more unconditionally than montreal, where the team is also supported quite unconditionally.

let's all agree on the general point that montreal's turnaround probably has a lot to do with good management (which even poorly motivated owners can stumble upon), and very little to do with whether there was a fan boycott. lets also agree that Berger and Cox are awful.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

It's "Damien Cocks"


The Muppet said...

It's interesting that the small drop in attendance is automatically credited to Hab's fans good sense. Nowhere does anybody talk about other variables. For example, Quebecors are the national leaders in living outside of their means. For me, if I was already maxed out on credit and my favourite team wasn't going to make the playoffs, perhaps I would watch it on CBC a few more Saturday nights too?
Of course trying to figure out the Quebec market goes behind hard facts and logic. These are fans who burned down their city and attacked police cars after winning. Twice.

Regardless, of the millions of Leaf fans in Toronto and surrounding area there will always be 19,000 who will go to each game. There is no way even a majority of the fan base could sway the box office. We could I suppose stop watching on TV. Wait, we did that. Toronto Maple Leaf games across the board on TSN and Sportsnet took a hit last season.

Regardless, who gives a shit what Habs fans think? This issue was between Damien Cox and the Leafs fan base. It's our feud. Stay the fuck out of it. (First time posting here, abiding by the profanity rule).

Habsfan10 said...

Actually, PPP brought the Habs fans into it in the first place. You might want to yell at him.

Glad to see you heeded the fucking profanity rule, though.