Thursday, October 20, 2011
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Solving the Stars’ Attendance Woes
Tripling the number of Ice Girls would be a start.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we got a little filthy with the Dallas Stars' then-atrocious powerplay; we're happy to report that since then, the powerplay has been upgraded to merely SUBSTANDARD. Huzzah!
This week, despite a 5-1-0 record, Vezina-caliber goaltending and our second line vastly outperforming the alleged megasuperultrastar that left to go lead a 0.0% powerplay elsewhere, all anyone can talk about is the Stars' pathetic home attendance.
Of course, the fact that nearly every Stars tilt was going directly up against a Texas Rangers pennant game doesn't help the stats. But there's plenty of other reasons why the barn was so empty. Namely,
--A Glaring Lack of Postseason Success--
Other than one impressive run in 2008, the playoffs have not been kind to the Stars. After their Finals loss to the Devils and Jason Arnott's illegally-curved stick, the Stars have won exactly four playoff rounds in 10 years ... and two of those were against the Oilers. The other two occurred in that 2008 run.
For comparison's sake, the perennially-mislabeled Emperors of Choke, the San Jose Sharks, have won nine playoff rounds during that time. The Chancellors of the Exchequer of Choke, the Vancouver Canucks? Seven, although three of those occurred just last season.
They say that Texans love a winner, but in reality, Texans will only support a team with some postseason success. Just ask the Rangers, who two months before heading to their first World Series last season couldn't get a sellout crowd to save their lives.
--Bland, Inoffensive Team Play--
Coaches like Dave Tippett and Barry Trotz are excellent at what they do: Take low-salary rosters, preach team defense and win regular season games. At least that's the national media impression. The reality? They keep four guys back at all times, get all their offense from a perimeter-heavy powerplay, take the first two periods out of the game and rely almost entirely on shootouts to pad their point totals.
In other words, it's a style of hockey that aggressively chases away fans. Not to mention the abysmal postseason record that the Five Goalie System has since the lockout: Both coaches have postseason winning percentages a full .200 below their regular-season record. It's hard to watch for even hardcore fans of the sport. I've gone on record before as saying that Nashville should have one of the best fanbases in all of hockey, but cannot, because of their coach's excitement-killing style. For comparison's sake, the Washington Capitals, the #1 team on every Canadian hockey writer's list of "teams to move back to Canada/be contracted" list in 1999, got a couple of exciting players and a coach and owner that could take advantage of those guys ... and is thriving in a nontraditional market. Having a charismatic rockstar like Ovechkin helps, but so does having a coach who's got the balls to take chances and score goals.
--An In-Game Presentation That Has Not Changed Since 1996 Except In A Bad Way--
The between-periods fanfare and having the same serviceable national anthem singer for the last 10 years is the equivalent of Tippett-style hockey: bland, inoffensive fare you will completely forget about two seconds after its over. Which is a damned shame, because, as any entertainer will tell you, having a captive audience of 10,000 people all facing the same direction is a golden opportunity that might never happen even once in a lifetime. No need to go minor league crazy on the second period intermission, but hell, in a city crawling with attention-starved, talented performers, these 20 minute blocks of potential fame are being criminally wasted.
The only real changes to the program have been musically, and not for the better. Back when the Stars were winning President's Trophies and packing stadiums, the music selection ranged from Metallica to Pantera to local rockabilly legend Reverend Horton Heat. High energy, testosterone-laden music that jacked up the crowd and, presumably, the players. All that has since been replaced by emotion-free indie and electronic crap that may please the one or two hipsters in the crowd that are ironically enjoying the game, but absolutely no one else.
As a side note, the Stars actually had a real organist for their home opener. Absolutely everybody I personally know or talked to said it was the best thing to happen to the AAC experience in a decade. Of course, the internet commenters said something different, but who are you going to go by: fans or trolls?
Some cynics will also point out that the team has lost quite a few franchise "name" players in the past few seasons (Modano, Zubov, Turco, Richards), but in reality that's fine: Those players were/are all entering the ends of their careers and were largely ineffective (or in Richards' case, undeniably heading that way) and needed to be replaced. Teams that keep popular vets despite poor performance will be hurting in the stands in a big way sooner or later. GM Joe was unpopular, but ultimately right in jettisoning guys like Modano and Turco to focus on his young and exciting crop of overachievers, like Jamie Benn.
So what can the Stars do about it? The easy answer would be to bring back heavy metal and rockabilly into the in-game presentation: The Stars have the single most energizing theme song in sports history — personally written by Pantera during their hey-day — and in a recent game they didn't play it until the beginning of the shootout. That's not exactly making best use of your resources.
The long answer, of course, is to win, get into the playoffs, and make some noise. I've attended more than one Mavericks game where it was me and about 3,000 other fans sitting on their hands in dead silence while the team got blown out on home court. I've been to Rangers games where the announced attendance was met by open derision by the 5,000 fans actually present. Now that they're proven winners, both teams sell out. Totally easy fix!
It's hard to say what to expect from rookie head coach Glen Gulutzan's team, especially since, so far, they've been nearly unbeatable despite giving up 40 shots a night and having their top line show up exactly once. It could be nothing but smoke and mirrors, but what's promising is that they're learning on the job like a lot of teams with new head coaches ... and getting every single possible point while doing so. It may take a few months for Dallas fans to notice (and having an owner who, y'know, advertises that his team exists might help a little), but if they're still picking up this many points in January or February following the latest Cowboys collapse, you can rest assured that the AAC will return to the immortal glory of 11,000-13,000 fans per game.