HOCKEY IS A CULT, NOT A SPORT? BEEN THERE, ALREADY MOCKED THAT.
After the end of the 301 day NHL lockout, how would you guess the local Bay Area media would greet the news? With a calm, dispassionate "just the facts" delivery? Enthusiasm? Fear of having to cover a 0-0 Sharks Minnesota Wild tie?
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News starts off today's tour, with a headline that aptly describes his column: So, now what?
I swear, from some of the responses I get from hockey traditionalists, you'd think they were cloistered monks, protecting an icy religion from the entertainment-addicted infidels.
They don't want to the sport be too popular, if popular means disrupting their odd, low-scoring product and especially if it means encouraging NBA-style individualism. No, never that! If you ask them why hockey needs to be played so turgidly, they'll excommunicate you forever, and I've been excommunicated slightly more than 1,000 times (a record, I hope).
They've created a cult, basically. But sporting cults get lousy TV ratings and are prone to selfish acts of desperation, such as lockouts and absurd over-expansion.
I do not really have a response to that. Although I still think it is kind of funny that after criticizing Julio Cesar Chavez
, Chavez challenged Kawakami to a round of sparring in the ring, and Kawakami declined.
But I digress, I think it is a selfish act of desperation to call out hockey fans as being members of a cult because you do not like to cover the sport. And at least be original with your criticism. Glenn Dickey owns that characterization
Hockey is a cult, not a sport.
Back to Kawakami. Paraphrasing Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; but wait, there's more!
We've seen how many of those there are: About 18,500 per hockey city, which is enough to rock a building but not enough to generate a TV audience to beat "Family Guy" reruns.
Come on Tim, you are not even trying. Regurgitating the patented Gary Radnich comment "There are no more Sharks fans that those that fit inside the tank", and using it for all 30 NHL teams does not make it your own.
Next up on our tour of Bay Area media reaction to the end of the NHL lockout, Mark Purdy, also of the San Jose Mercury News. More prone to stir up a controversy than an actual attempt at analysis, Purdy's ruminations today were mildly amusing.
Sharks unlikely to be handcuffed by agreement
- San Jose Mercury News.
Oh, I have no doubt that come October, the hard-core members of the tribe will be there. Hockey fans are as dementedly loyal as the "Star Wars" people who line up dressed as Darth Vader. Your friendly neighborhood Sharks are rolling back ticket prices 10 percent, to entice stragglers to return.
But in order to thrive, hockey needs more than the Darth Vader geeks. Hockey needs the entire Storm Trooper army. Hockey needs to broaden its appeal. The bottom line is, when the product cranks up again, the product had better be good. That's what brings customers through the doors.
Star Wars geeks? Well, guilty as charged
Now, on to the real Bay Area hockey Cassandra, Ray Ratto. Holding the dubious distinction of spreading doom on ESPN.com as well as the San Francisco Chronicle, Ray seems rather upset that there will in fact be NHL games this year. Ratto delivers a magnificent lede.
Now deal with it
Now comes the fun part -- listening to people who can "fix" hockey.
Actually, the fun part is watching a Ray Ratto column degenerate from coverage of a hockey game, to a food concessions
conspiracy. Ray does not really melt down on ESPN, instead he just takes the "fire Bettman, fire Goodenow line". How controversial. Next he will claim that the last names are too hard to spell. Ratto also posted a column in the SF Chronicle:
Game on -- NHL, players make a deal
Sharks' big challenge: Win back the fan base
- SF Chronic.
Yes, after only a year and change, the Great Hockey Lockout, also known as "You're Kidding, Right?" is all but at an end. The two sides, The Owners and The Roadkill, have apparently come to an accommodation in which The Owners get everything they want short of making the players work for free.
So win back the fans, and fire Bettman and Goodenow? Where is the relentless fan bashing Ratto is known for?
This post was almost all in jest, except for my comments about Ratto and Radnich. But honestly, are there editors at these papers? I could get more insightful, more reasoned, or more inflammatory NHL commentary from Koko the talking gorilla.
On the flip side, there are a number of informative and insightful columnists regularly covering the Sharks. But today it was time to roll out the hacks.
[Update] In keeping with the spirit of the local media taking shots at the NHL and NHL fans, I thought I should mention that there was nearly 400 search requests yesterday where people followed "hockey's desperate housewives" or a similar term to reach this website. I tried to count how many visitors came searching for news of the CBA agreement and compare that to the housewives phenomenon, but it was not even close. Housewives in a landslide. Usually, 90% of the searches are from google. Yesterday, Yahoo
was coming on strong.
[Update2] Berkeley forward Sean Haq has his own website
. I urge all hockey cult members to visit it post haste.
[Update3] I asked the SJ Mercury's Sharks beat writer David Pollak, about many of the statements his fellow scribes made above. He answered today in an online forum
where he took a number of questions about the CBA agreement.
[Q] Kawakami calls Sharks fans a cult with not more than 18500 in the Bay Area. Purdy calls hockey fans Star Wars geeks. Radnich has said that hockey is not worth his time, and only has 17.500 fans in the Bay Area anyways. Dickey also called Sharks fans a cult. What are your thoughts on those statements? A second question if you have time. What did you do during the lockout when there was no NHL to cover?
[A] PJ, Oh man, you want me to rag on my colleagues? For what it's worth, Purdy counts himself as a fan of the sport so don't get too worked up about the Star Wars imagery; Kawakami, well, he's admittedly a basketball guy, though he at least gets the idea of hockey's appeal and only wishes the league ran things more intelligently.
I've talked with Radnich about this -- he thinks it's a bad rap and points to many past times he's had hockey guests from Kevin Constantine to Drew Remenda; that said, Radnich also doesn't see hockey having the wide audience appeal he needs when compared with football or baseball.
Dickey? Dickey? Nope, won't come to his defense. The problem is that anybody who takes the stand that there are only 18,000 hockey fans in the Bay Area can point to the miserable TV ratings for support. We both know the game doesn't translate well on tube and that's an imperfect measuring stick; we both know the same 18,000 people don't show up every night. But it's hard to argue that hockey is carrying it's weight when compared with the Big Three.
What hockey has going for it, however, is the fact that it's fans are more passionate than those of the other sports. And there's something to be said for the media's need to deal with that intensity better than it usually has in the past.
What did I do during the lockout? Well, covering the business side of sports in general meant covering the NHL. Beyond that I kept busy doing stories on everything from a Japanese baseball team touring California to the politics behind the Nationals landing in Washington. And, as you know, PJ, the fine club hockey program at San Jose State.
I actually believe "Star Wars geek" is a compliment.
But I think you need to take anything from Radnich in context, the context with which he has covered the sport the last 15 years. No one, either in print, on television, or over the radio has been consistently more negative about the sport than Radnich. And I do not even have a problem with that. Bash the sport all you want, I will accept it is nowhere close to the big 3, although I will not really take him seriously until he puts some facts behind his opinion. Instead of claiming there is not one more hockey fan in San Jose outside of what fits inside the tank, average out the tv/radio/attendance figures and use that number.
I understand he exaggerates for effect, but he has also consistently bashed the fans. That is where I think his entertaining antagonism changes into clueless bloviating. And for full disclosure, I lasted about 35 seconds on one of his call-in shows many years ago. I guess my sarcasm did not play well on the radio.
And about the fact that hockey fans are more passionate than other fans, I would have to agree. Comments by Radnich, Dickey and others over the years only stoke it furthur.
Thanks for the response, and good luck covering the sport this season. It is easy to bash reporters, but try to get an interview or write a coherent column about a game, and you realize how difficult it is.
[Update4] I was wrong about each team having an equal 1-in-30 chance at winning the top position in the NHL draft lottery. In fact, it will be a weighted lottery. Each team starts with 3 balls and loses 1 ball each playoff appearance [last 3 years], and 1 ball for each first-overall draft pick [last 3 years]. Each team is required to have at least 1 ball in the hopper. San Jose will have 1 ball, a 2.04% shot at Sidney Crosby.
NHL to set the sweepstakes for wonderkid Crosby
- New York Daily News.