When it comes to regaining fans’ trust, let’s consider something that no NHL management or ownership has tried yet, using the Calgary Flames as an example.
From franchise owners all the way down to players, it’s tradition in the NHL to talk big about your team at the beginning of each new season. Even coaches and GMs of former last-place teams give the cameras slight variations of the same sound bites.
“This year we’ll turn things around.”
“We’re really excited about this group of guys, and we think we can go far.”
And why not give your fans some reasons for optimism? Hopeful fans are the best kind of fans, the kind that buy tickets and merch. So set your expectations high, and then go on the record expressing confidence that you can reach them. That’s the easy part.
The hard part is how to respond when those expectations aren’t realized. Every season, a handful of team owners and GMs who over-promised and under-delivered have to make tough decisions: hirings, firings, and trades.
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Just for fun, let’s consider something that no NHL management or ownership has tried yet, using the Calgary Flames as an example.
Calgary Flames: Over-promised
The Flames at the beginning of 2017-18 are a prime example of preseason excitement. After a strong regular season the year before, and despite a disappointing exit from the playoffs, this team appeared to be a few pieces away from being a contender. And by acquiring a brand new goaltending tandem in Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, as well as getting Travis Hamonic at the expense of a first round pick, Flames management seemed to be sending a clear message to the fans: We’ve got the right pieces. We’re in win-now mode.
Then the interviews started. Coach Glen Gulutzan boldly predicted the Flames would reach 100 points. GM Brad Treliving expressed high expectations and optimism as well when he got his contract extension. Although not affiliated with the team, NHL analysts like Dan Rosen felt confident that they would make the playoffs.
Calgary Flames: Under-delivered
Calgary’s 2017-18 season began with ups and downs that more or less leveled out to average. But during the home stretch of the season, in what felt like must-win games night after night, they played inexplicably poorly. The season collapse ended with them sitting miles below expectations. 5th place in the Pacific Division and 20th place overall. They were officially eliminated from the playoffs before the end of March.
All the while, Flames fans expressed aloud what players, coaches, and management were likely thinking: There’s no reason a roster this good should be this bad.
What Owners and Managers Haven’t Tried
After getting eliminated, the Flames played five so-called “pointless games.” What if team President Ken King and the rest of Flames ownership put their money where their mouth is by selling tickets to those pointless games at a reduced price?
In the 2018-19 preseason, Flames fans don’t want to hear “We’re confident that we’ll make the playoffs.” They want to hear “We’re so confident we’ll make the playoffs that we’re willing to make less money if we’re wrong.”
Calgary is one of those rare hockey markets that virtually fills the stadium each night, even during “pointless games.” Flames owners and managers should count their lucky stars that fans, with big preseason promises still fresh in their minds, are even buying tickets to those games at all. It doesn’t sit right with fans when Ken King and his buds continue to fill their pockets even after a disastrous season collapse.
Knocking down ticket prices for pointless games would open an opportunity for those who don’t attend games because they can’t afford to. Better yet, it would would earn the confidence of your fans back. It shows that your sound bites are more than empty promises, and that you still put fans first.
While this exact scenario is unlikely to play itself out, it should at least serve as an example of the larger principle behind it: Seeing an NHL team actually back up its confident preseason predictions would be refreshing.
What do you think are the chances that Ken King is reading this?