Complaints & Grievances: Preseason deserves effort too

I really, really, really wanted to write this immediately after getting back from the bar after the game. But I decided that, in the interest of a more reasonable perspective, it’d be best to sleep on it and wait a day to speak my peace. So, I’m going to do my best to refrain from using profanities like I usually would so this doesn’t seem like a rant, but I have something I need to say as a season ticket holder and not a blogger.

I’m absolutely disgusted by how the game presentation was handled on Monday night.

Disgusted.

I’ve been going to games at FNC, HSBC, Marine Midland Arena, whatever you want to call it, regularly for well over a decade. I’m a proud season ticket holder. I will support the team in perpetuity. They’re my team. But I’m getting to the point where I’m losing interest in going to home games.

It’s not a new thing for me to complain about it on this site. And it’s definitely not something I’m ready to quit complaining about.

The Sabres organization has done a phenomenal job improving as a whole since February. I can’t understate that. I’m incredibly appreciative of the upgrades to the arena and the customer service. Ted Black and Terry Pegula, don’t ever change.

But, as a paying customer, I’m absolutely appalled with the half-assed job by the people running the experience inside the seating bowl.

And before I get a single comment about how “It’s just preseason,” that’s absolute crap. That excuse went the way of the dodo the moment season ticket holders got billed for both preseason games.

Personally, I was very happy that both preseason games were included in the package, unlike recent years where we’ve been given the non-Toronto game so the team can make an extra few bucks. I cherish the opportunity to see the players further down the depth chart in action. Unfortunately, for most of the fans at the game (I’m guessing the majority based on the large number of times I overheard someone say “Who is that?”) they showed up and left without ever having a clue as to who those players were.

The one time of year people show up and don’t know who the guys on the ice are is the one time somebody decided it wasn’t important enough to do game notes, hand out rosters, programs, anything. Forget having any clue who’s on the ice for the Hurricanes. Someone should have taken an exit poll and asked fans leaving what number Derek Whitmore was wearing (#71). Or what team he was on. Odds are no one would’ve known. Or cared.

(Sidebar: The guy pictured above is Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk. He was on Team USA for the World Juniors here in Buffalo. How many people would’ve known that? Not nearly enough.)

Overall, it’s an absolute insult to people who paid money to go to watch a hockey game. Sure, the families who bring their toddlers who don’t pay attention and climb on their seats and fight with their siblings the whole game don’t care. They’re just going to a Sabres game. For the people who find more joy in the action of “going to a game” than “watching a game,” it doesn’t matter. They’ll walk out of there and say they had fun. But they aren’t your loyal customers. They don’t mind hearing the Cha-Cha Slide for the third time of the night (exaggeration), or when they show the stupid blooper reel during a TV timeout, because they won’t be there the other 40-plus home games when the whole thing repeats itself.

But, it’s just preseason, so they didn’t do anything normal like a real game.

Like they didn’t seem to bother having anyone organize the pregame. So the Hurricanes came out with about two minutes on the clock. No one felt it was necessary to turn the lights off and get people excited. The Sabres came on to the ice as Sabretooth was getting introduced. Sabretooth repelled down and almost took out a couple players as they skated onto the ice. Nothing like a mascot swinging on a rope flying right at your head as you come onto the ice for your big chance to impress the coaches, right?

I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if Sabretooth would’ve swung a bit further and knocked a guy out. That’s a good thing for your team to have on the injury report. Out with a concussion from a mascot accident. That makes your organization look good.

With the bright lights on and no one really knowing what was going on, they broke right into the tribute video the NHL did for all the hockey players lost this offseason. It was a nice touch to show it, but it would’ve have exponentially more impact if the lights were off. The player introductions were rushed in between the anthems and opening faceoff, ruining what was a memorable moment for all the young players on the ice for the start of the game. Who cares if these guys worked their whole lives to hear their name announced in front of 18,000 people in an NHL arena. Just fit it in there and get the game going, right? Not like the fans can mark the starters on the rosters in their programs. It’s just preseason.

It’s just an embarassing mess. Again, if you’re not going to treat these games like they matter, and put in at least a little effort, you shouldn’t be asking the season ticket holders to put down money for it. Hell, it’s an insult to all the families who can’t afford to go to regular season games that the one game they can catch at the arena isn’t worth giving attention to.

The atmosphere was terrible all night, and I can’t imagine the players would’ve been able to feed off the non-existent energy. The only time the crowd felt like cheering for the first couple periods, save for one “Let’s go Buffalo!” chant in the first, is when they decided to throw shirts into the crowd. The music choices were awful. Every television timeout was spent showing people jumping around in the crowd to bad music.

Oh, except for the ones where they showed the same blooper clips as usual. You know, the ones with idiots hurting themselves. Nothing to do with hockey. You know who I saw at the game that I didn’t see any good shots of during a timeout? The 20 guys wearing Sabres jerseys who happened to be playing. But nobody wants to see more of them, right? Especially the guys who you don’t know. No need to draw attention to them.

I’m not gonna really delve deep into the arena music here, because that’s always subjective, and deserves a whole argument on its own. To be brief, my perspective is that the purpose of arena music isn’t to entertain the crowd, it’s a tool to create the atmosphere you want. If you want a fun atmosphere, go play your tunes at a local Chuck E. Cheese, not an NHL arena. You need to create energy in the crowd. Get adrenaline flowing, get people alert. You need to think about what the players are going to react positively to. That’s who it is all about: the players. You know, the guys who are playing the game that people are paying good money to watch.

(Sidebar: “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire is one of my favorite songs. It’s a great song. But it doesn’t work as a goal song. I’ll call it a better option than that “Give me a hell, give me a yeah” crap, though.)

When you’re making a lackadaisical effort in creating a good atmosphere, you’re going to get lackadaisical interest.

You’re not going to cultivate passionate fans by treating a game like this. You’re creating passive fans who show up when the team is exciting and alienate the hardcore fans who care about the environment they’re in multiple times a year.

It’s deplorable as a fan and as someone is interested in a career working in sports that you’re supposed to assume that this is the best that they can do. This is the effort the organization is going to put into making you care? It’s just preseason, right?

To quote our head coach, “That is the definition of a joke.”

The organization can always fix it. They can always do better. These problems existed before the team moved to Pegulaville. But the staff running much of the operation from before is still in place. How much of a change can you get when you don’t make any changes? Hard to tell. They have the opportunity to remedy it. They have the resources. They should have the sense.

If not, I look forward to spending this season watching the Sabres in person. Mostly in other NHL arenas.

(I told you I wouldn’t curse!)

Posted on September 21, 2011, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. My initial reaction after all this is just “Hmm”.

    I wasn’t at the game (unfortunately, that whole grad school thing got in the way this year) and I’m a little disappointed to know they didn’t dim the lights or do anything like a regular season or playoff game. I would have expected it to be just as exciting. I find it insulting actually that there weren’t dimmed lights for the tribute video.

    The good thing about the new organization is that they do seem to be taking opinions into account all the time. Preseason is only so long each season, but I don’t think anything you have to say is outrageous by any means. If you haven’t already, send it to the suggestion box.

    It is important to know who the prospects are considering they’ll potentially be up here before anyone really gets to know who they are beforehand. And for those people who do only attend preseason games because that’s all they can afford, showing this as the way games are presented won’t make them want to come back for a game when it does count.

    I definitely missed the Sabretooth accident though. I hope somebody has that on YouTube.

  2. I’m with you on the programs and the pregame presentation stuff. But fans should not need to rely on the organization to “create energy” in order for them to cheer for their team. Who cares about the kiss cams and the blooper reels and all that stuff, the Sabres do it because everyone else does it because some casual fans probably do actually like that stuff. But the real hockey fan should not need some crunk music or a Carubba Collision highlight video to get up for their team. You want to complain about the music and stuff fine, but don’t start asking the organization to tell people when to cheer, that’s for expansion teams.

  3. Sidebar: The guy pictured above is Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk. He was on Team USA for the World Juniors here in Buffalo. How many people would’ve known that? Not nearly enough.)….
    who was the off-his-meds cretin next to him in the picture? the loser in the slug jersey. did arena security know HIS name?

  4. PS what would Brendan Shanahan do to punish Sabretooth for a head shot?
    Can you be suspended for gooning one of your own guys?

  5. I agree with everything you said. Especially about the arena music situation.

    I’m a firm believer that the best music to pump people up (players and fans) at a game is metal. They don’t play nearly enough of it at the F’N Center, or whatever you choose to call it. On the occasion that they do, it’s your standard Metallica or other band that they assume everyone will know and won’t find offensive; which is likely why they never play any. I’ll continue to suggest “Gods of War Arise” by Amon Amarth as one of the fan suggestions until they play it.

    I think they assume that most fans have no clue who the prospects are, and that most people don’t care. They’re probably correct, at least for the most part. But there are the fans that really enjoy seeing them, especially the prospects that will likely be headed back to the junior teams. Perhaps someone should mention this to Ted Black the next time he has a chat on Twitter with fans. I am, of course, in the group of prospect geeks.

  6. Not that this really even matters, but I was talking about this post last night. A friend of mine has been working on the hvac and lighting this summer for the arena/center. He told us about how the lights weren’t properly working (something about somebody connecting to the same network and it shutting down) at the game and they were unable to do anything with the lights they wanted to do in the beginning of the game.

    Ah well, better to have it fail in a preseason game than a home opening regular season game?

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