The Perils of Fandom: A Lament

DISCLAIMER: This post is a rant. There are almost no stats. If you're looking for stats, you best keep looking...

The Thrashers fan sitting in front of me at this evening's Carolina Hurricanes - Atlanta Thrashers, uhm, "game," was wearing a Ronald Petrovicky sweater.

I felt like I was watching the Thrashers circa Ronald Petrovicky.

As a self-proclaimed "stats guy," I wish there were something I could do to explain the team's sudden collapse. After two very strong games coming out of the Olympic break, the Thrashers have posted back-to-back stinkers. Front two? 5 goals/game. Back two? 1 goal/game. How about goals allowed/game? 2.5 versus 5. What could possibly explain this?

Honestly, I'm not all that interested. As a fan, things are always better than they seem when things are going badly and never as good as they seem when things are going well. There is nothing so distorting as being a sports fan.Take Canes fans, for example: tonight, they probably think their team is great. 8 wins in 9 games? A shutout on the road against a playoff bubble team? They must be feeling pretty high.

This rant continues after the jump...

As a guy who comes from Buffalo, I know a bit about crushing disappointment. Buffalo's a city that has never won a major sports championship. Never. The Buffalo Sabres have gotten close a few times... (NO GOAL!!!!) So have the Buffalo Bills... (I'm thinking of you, Kicker Who Shall Not Be Named.) Despite the constant failure, the unending disaster that is Buffalo Professional Sports, you won't find many fans as passionate as Bills or Sabres fans. Heck, they drive down to Atlanta en masse to make Thrashers fans look like chumps a couple times a year.

We all know that sports in Atlanta are different. This is a city of transplants. This is a city that demands winning. With winning comes fans and passion and sellouts and all of the things that make sporting events great. With losing and mediocrity comes, well, tonight's game.

The announced attendance was 15,306. There were, eventually, a fair number of people in the stands. Clearly, several thousand couldn't be troubled to make the game on time... and on a Sunday, well, traffic is no excuse. Thousands more didn't bother to show up at all. Heck, I didn't even use all my tickets... I tried to give them away, but only succeeded in giving away 4 of my 6 extras. It's a sad state of affairs when you can't GIVE AWAY tickets to a professional sporting event.

I'm glad I couldn't find people for those other two seats. I tell friends all the time, "Come to a hockey game some time. It's the best live sport in the world. You'll be an instant fan if you come to a game."

I could barely sit through it myself and I schedule my life around hockey. My friends, had they decided to join me, would think I'm nuts. [They may already think that, but this certainly wouldn't have helped.]

It wasn't just the team that was flat: it was the fans too. Discount tickets bring in discount fans. Or, at least, free kids tickets with adult tickets seems like a backfiring strategy. Not that there was much to cheer about... Blueland Bandit even left early. (You know the guy: he's dressed up like a cowboy.) It was like watching a bunch of kids playing a hockey video game: a mess of turnovers, a complete lack of strategy. It simply wasn't a fun game to attend.

Sometimes I feel like the "relationship" fans have with this team is a bad one. We're there for the team when they are doing well, but when they lose, it's like they've cheated on us. We're constantly fighting nowadays. I don't know where things went so wrong... "Against the Hurricanes? How could you!? We had such a great thing going and you went out there and ruined it!"

"Well," the team responds, "in a city of millions of people, you can't find 18,545 to come to a weekend game?" Okay, that one hurt. "And worse, our television audience is somewhere in the thousands. Not tens of thousands. Just thousands. You realize that we need those revenues, right?"

"But but but," we counter, "that has to be a problem with the Nielsen system, at least in part. Plus, if you didn't turn out stinkers like tonight, folks might actually watch the games. And if more people watched the games, SportSouth might be willing to broadcast more of them in HD, bringing in an even wider audience."

"So you agree," says the team, "that part of the problem is not enough fans watching us on TV?"

And the argument goes on and on and on...

Even worse, these collapses fuel the fires of the "Make it Seven" train. Clearly, because the Thrashers have now lost TWO GAMES IN A ROW, they'll be moved to Winnipeg. They want a team so badly, they don't care if it's playing like garbage. The magical healing powers of Almighty Canada will fix it!! Excuse me while I puke up my pretzel dog and turn on the Oilers game... or the Leafs game...

As a blogger, it's easy to handle losses. It's easy to write about a bad team. That may be part of the reason why there are so many Thrashers bloggers, in fact. (Of course, there's also the large number of computer-savvy folks in Atlanta, the easy access to tickets to games, and the gap of a strong traditional media...)

As a fan, losses are tough. Losses are a kick to the gut. We were in the playoffs: we had two great wins coming out of the break. What happened? Are the old Thrashers back? The ones that couldn't get a lead, that couldn't hold a lead, that could lose all the games they were supposed to win?

After two games like we've played against Carolina and Tampa, it's hard to justify fighting traffic, paying for parking, and devoting my Tuesday evening to this team for the Nashville game. But I'll be there, ready to cheer, ready to support this team...

...if they'll just show up and give me something to cheer about.

Feel free to use the comments below to vent about the turn our team has taken. As Coach Anderson said in the post-game press conference, it's time to lick our wounds and move on. Tuesday's a new game and our team is still in it. Though we've fallen to 10th...

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