Friday, August 29, 2008

Empty Headers?

The Boss takes note of a blog entry at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that is a thinly-veiled slap at Caps fans and their “devotion” to their team. On the matter of the likelihood that Verizon Center will once more, as the line of argument goes, be a “home game” for the Penguins when they visit, blogger Seth Rorabaugh opines that fans of the Penguins will be able to get tickets without having to pay the $15 premium added to the price for that game…

“…getting those tickets might be a little tougher than they have been the past three seasons. But considering how many tickets were available on StubHub and other ticket broker sites for the March 9 game, Capitals season ticket holders will probably be more than willing to help you again in 2008-09.”

Ted chose to take the “high road” in his blog by reminding folks, via photograph, of the sea of red that was the norm as last season was hurtling to its exciting finish. We do not feel so encumbered. So, here’s a tip from your Uncle Peerless, Pens fans…

Get over yourselves, already.

The Capitals, in the throes of the meltdown of a season that was 2003-2004, having underachieved, overpaid, and ultimately cratered as a franchise under the weight of bad contracts and bad play, still managed to average almost 15,000 a game while earning 59 standings points. That attendance figure was good, if such a term could be used, for 25th in the league

Meanwhile, up at the confluence, the Penguins, themselves enduring a season of woe – finishing with 58 standings points – couldn’t manage that. 11,877 fans, on average, trudged their way to Mellon “Arena” to suffer an insufferable season…dead last in the league in attendance. They were 28th in the league in capacity filled (the Caps were 25th).

The Penguins and the Capitals have been teams joined at the hip in a lot of ways over the last two decades, the Penguins enjoying the upper hand on the scoreboard in most years. In one of the ways the Penguins and Capitals have shared a struggle is in the matter of filling seats. The Penguins went to the Eastern Conference finals in the 2000-2001 season, one in which they also drew more than 16,000 fans a game, almost 99 percent of capacity. Not coincidentally, that happened to be the last year in which Jaromir Jagr skated for the Penguins.

And there is something in that. The Penguins, having had the blessings of a Mario Lemieux, a Jagr, and now a Sidney Crosby, might be said to be a “star-dependent” franchise. Truth is, from 2001-2002 through 2003-2004, the Penguins – without a Lemieux (at least the one fans knew from years past), a Jagr, or a Crosby – averaged 14,091 fans a game (including that 30th-in-the-league in 2004). And that included one last hurrah for Lemieux in 2002-2003 when he had 91 points in 67 games. Over those same three years, in two of which the Caps failed to make the playoffs, Washington averaged 15,949 a game, although those years did include the presence of Jagr. Jagr, though, was largely reviled for his lackluster effort as those years wore on.

The point here is that the insufferable look-down-their-noses attitude of Penguin fans toward Capitals fans is largely hollow. Pittsburgh is every bit as much a front-runner, star-dependent town when it comes to hockey as is Washington (and let’s face it Caps fans…Washington is, too). Pittsburgh hockey is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. It has its star into which fans can pour their hopes and dreams, the club is getting a new arena shortly, and the team is winning. In Washington, which seems to have been a year behind Pittsburgh’s curve in their respective rebuilding efforts, fans also have their star. They have a superb arena in which to watch him play. And, most important to the Caps’ success at the gate, the team is winning and showing signs of becoming a perennial contender.

As for this notion of whether the Penguins take over Verizon Center with “40 percent” of the crowd has always, in my mind, been overstated. Sure, the Penguins have enjoyed success at the Caps’ expense in their own building – a sore point among Caps fans, including this one. And that leads to a more enthusiastic response. The Penguins have represented themselves well over the years at Verizon, to their credit. But conversely, who’d want to invest the five hours each way to Pittsburgh and back to watch a game in a decrepit arena such as Mellon?

Pittsburgh is doing well, these days. Good for them. Last year, the Caps gave every indication of following in those footsteps – a marketable star, a talented and successful team being built around him, and full houses in the latter stages of the season that could well carry over into 2008-2009.

Sadly, such things do not generally last for any hockey club not calling Canada its home. Hockey just doesn’t have that kind of foothold in the States. Even in Detroit – “Hockeytown” itself – seats were left empty during last year’s playoffs as Michiganders dealt with a slumping economy.

So enjoy it while it lasts, Penguin fans. And when the Caps host Pittsburgh next February and March, do have a good time watching the game...on TV. Tickets won’t be easy to come by.

24 comments:

Hooks Orpik said...

I tend to agree with you, most markets attendence is relatively cyclical based on many factors (strength of team, local economy, arena, ticket prices, etc). The Caps may have had announced 15,000 on average in 2003-04 but there is no way they were selling that many seats. Most nights they weren't filling that many either.

But that's neither here nor there...Seth's point was a valid one: Capitals fans are going to supply tickets for local Penguin fans like myself. A quick check on stubhub
for the first Pens/Caps game in Washington shows (by my quick count) up to 700+ tickets already on sale...And these are coming from sellers that must be Caps full/partial season ticket holders.

There's no doubt interest in the Caps is up big time in this area, but I have my doubts if tickets will be hard to come by.

Andi said...

The other nice thing about VC is the eats around it. I used to work down that way, and I bet I can find you thirty places to eat within a five-block walk of the VC. Having Chinatown right there sure doesn't hurt, either.

The Peerless said...

Hooks, I don't mean to suggest that Pens fans won't have avenues to tickets at all, but compared to years past, when the Penguins did have a large contingent, if these two teams are in contention in February -- and I believe both will be -- then Penguins fans will be mere splotches of white in a sea of red.

DMG said...

Ironically it's reasons like this that I can't hate the Penguins as much as most Caps fans do. I mean sure, I want the Capitals to beat them more than I want them to beat the Pens more than most teams but, truth be told, that's about frustration over the past and not out of genuine dislike as it is for the Rangers, Flyers or even the Thrashers. Like you said, Peerless, the two organizations have a lot in common: they both crashed and burned several years ago and built themselves up the hard way and both get disrespect from more "traditional" markets for the spikes in attendance when the team performs (ignoring the fact that the same thing has happened in Boston, Chicago and Long Island, among others). The franchises just mirror one another too much for me to not have some measure of both sympathy and respect for the Penguins. Though I still hope they never win another game that has any implications for the Capitals ever again.

Hooks Orpik said...

We'll see. I tend to believe that it's only about 20-25% Penguins fans in the past couple years anyways. But all are more excited, wearing jerseys (and, without intentionally re-opening old wounds) have had more success in the matchups so that number seems inflated.

The primary difference between Penguin fans (along with Detroit and Buffalo fans, I suppose) and other opposition fans is the location. For the most part the Penguin fans at Capital games live in the metro DC area (this one included). It's not like Philly or NY fans making a trip down I-95, it's folks that are in the area and plan on going.

For this reason, despite the best efforts otherwise, I suspect that there will still be a vocal and sizeable group of Penguins fans in the Verizon Center. Maybe not as many as a few years ago but certainly still a notable presence.

b.orr4 said...

As Al Davis famously said, "Just win, baby." There's nothing better than the sight of flightless fowl jersies glumly and quitely making their way out of Verizon Center after their favorite team loses. Once the Caps start regularly beating the Pens at the VC, the hordes from the north will start disappearing. And if Pens fans think that kind of turnaround will never happen, keep in mind that for the better part of a decade, the Devils could never beat the Caps. Then as NJ became an elite team, the exact opposite occured. Face it Pittsburgh, the days of domination are fast coming to an end. But you should be happy. With gas prices high and ticket costs increasing, people on fixed incomes should be looking to save not spend. You should be thanking Teddy Internet from saving you from yourselves.

Hooks Orpik said...

borr, I don't think you understand it only costs me and thousands of other Pittsburgh fans about $2.70 (round trip metro ticket) to get to the games.

The majority of Penguin fans you see in VC are the same ones in places like the Pour House and Bailey's for Steelers games...There are just a lot of fans in this area.

b.orr4 said...

Hooks, first off you're assuming every transplanted Pittsburgher (is that a word?)is also a Pens fan. I know that's hardly true. I've got at least ten friends from Pittsburgh who wouldn't walk across the street to watch the Pens. The Steelers maybe, but not the Pens. Now, I will agree that there are Penguins fans living here, but when you see groups of 30or more people in Penguins jersies sitting together and thirty buses outside Verizon with Pennsylvania plates, it's not hard to do the math. Also, just go on the Pens message boards and see the threads about who's going down to DC for the games. And if you look back over the years, the number of Penguin fans on weekday games is vastly smaller than on the weekends. Now, if there had been a sizeable number of Penguin fans at Verizon when their team stunk, I'd buy your argument. But there weren't. That tells me that people weren't going to spend a lot of money and time to drive down from Pittsburgh to watch a lousy team. The bottom line is that if the vast majority of Penguin fans were local, the Caps wouldn't be making it so tough to buy group tickets.

b80vin said...

I will always hate the Flyers, Penguins and Rangers. Always. At this point it is part of my DNA, like my hatred of the Dallas Cowboys. I will never hate Crosby, because, even given his diving, he is a great player (though there is an element of him being sold over Ovie).

All that being said, the only fans I'll take crap from as far Caps fans being frontrunners is a Flyers fan. Good or bad, they fill their arena. No other team below the 49th parallel can say that. And as a LONG time season ticket holder, I don't know why I have to put up with this argument anyway.

Bob said...

So lets see, $2.70 for the Metro, $35 for a Stubhub ticket, $50 for beer, no food, of course, thats $88.70, still a big chunk of the average Pens fan's welfare check. "let them kids eat at the neighbor's Maude, we got a game to go to!"

jimmypop6996 said...

Given that Pittsburgh has the nation's best hospitals and a leader in medical research, as well as being revitalized culturally... I'm not sure I understand the sweeping generalization that the city is hicks who have to save every penny to take trips to DC. Is it pure ignorance or just clouded hatred because stemming from the people who support the Penguins in VC?

DMG said...

@ b80vin:

The Rangers, Stars and Lightning have all done a pretty good job of filling their buildings in recent years, and Anaheim played to something like 106% capacity last year (though that was a the post-Stanley Cup honeymoon period in part).

Tony said...

I actually agree with Peerless, we're not going to see the massive influx of Pens fans this time around. The Caps' resurgence will take care of that. But I have to disagree with my colleague Hooks on the last game at VC, it had to be close to 40% Pens fans at the "Backstrom goal" game, it was a huge showing.

Personally, I think it's a good thing. It's good for D.C. and good for the NHL.

One thing I'd like to point out though, is that the DC metro area is 4x times larger than the Pittsburgh metro (8 million vs. 2 million). So while some would equate this to strictly a hockey fan issue, the fact is that there are millions more potential fans in the DC area to get those 4,000 more fans in the stands during the slow times.

The other thing is that I'm always amused when talking about Detroit's empty seats and the "economy" excuse. So the economy is only bad in Detroit ??

That said, I'm looking forward to getting a couple of seats to at least one of the games in DC this spring. It's a great atmosphere, for both team's fans. In fact, I made a post on my blog about the fact that I believe the Pens and Caps should be divisional rivals again (http://mvn.com/nhl-penguins/2008/03/08/penguins-capitals-should-be-divisional-rivals-again/).

Tony
The Confluence of the Three Rivers
http://mvn.com/nhl-penguins

Anonymous said...

Pens fan here (wait, here me out!). Just wanted to say you're right about the attendance. Pittsburgh's very much a "what have you done for me lately?" town. I wouldn't necessarily say it's star-driven (for example, this sellout streak of ours only started a season and a half ago; I don't know exact attendance figures but they weren't selling out every game in Crosby's rookie year) but you need to win.

Empty Netters is a bit of a joke if you ask me (he provides "live" updates during games; from his couch. He references sometimes what the TV commentators say.) No blog of a major newspaper should be in the habit of taking shots at other teams or their fan bases (you guys aren't the first he's done that to). He's not a reporter as far as I know and I've never seen his name attached to any Penguins newspaper story in the P-G.

Please don't lump every Penguins fan in with him. I like beating up on you guys as often as possible, but I know at some point it'll turn around and the positions will be switched, as soon as this season (I wanted no part of you guys in the playoffs last year for a variety of reasons). There are sensible and respectable Pens fans out there, believe it or not.

So do what I do with Empty Netters. Take what he says with a grain of salt or just don't take him seriously at all.

Gordy Howitzer said...

"But conversely, who’d want to invest the five hours each way to Pittsburgh and back to watch a game in a decrepit arena such as Mellon?"

Devoted fans?

Oh...

The Peerless said...

Where were those "devoted fans" in 2004?

jimmypop6996 said...

There was an average of 12,000 devoted fans a game. The 5,000 helping sell out Mellon Arena are the ones on board for the bandwagon ride.

arrowcat11 said...

I agree with the Anonymous comment. I have been a devoted Pens fan since 1981(I was all of 8yrs old then)(My grandfather was a hugh Pgh Hornets fan and he passed on his love for hockey to me, took me to my first Pens game). So Please don't lump all Pens fans together. Personally, I miss the old "Patrick Division" day's and wish the NHL would go back to 4 Divisions. Bring back the Wales/Campbell Conf. Bring back the Patrick/Adams/Norris/Smythe Divisions. If you ask a any Bandwagon Pens fan what teams were in the Patrick Division, they look at you like your speaking a foreign language! Again Please do not lump all Pens fans together.

The Peerless said...

arrowcat, you're right, and no one should have a problem with those folks in Pittsburgh (or in Washington) who showed their support when things were going bad on the ice. But there seems to be an attitude among a fair number of fans and media that hockey was discovered at the juncture of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, when in fact losing bred some lean years (in both cities), attendance wise.

arrowcat11 said...

The Peerless, AMEN!! This town is Stillers first, ONLY and ONLY when football is finished does the attention turn to the Pens. I must admit it was nice to see the city so full of Pens talk this year(just about every news cast started off with some sort of Pens news)BUT I hate it when the bandwaggoners try to act like they know everything about the Pens/NHL. My boss is a prime example. I literally wanted to kill her because she went to 1 game and then tried to argue with me about what the Pens were doing wrong. She sat in peanut heaven and I told her that the game get's easier the higher you sit???????? I had to explain to her that what you see, happening on the ice from Sec E row F is not what they see on the ice BUT BUT BUT BUT. IDIOTS I tell ya....LOL!!

Steve said...

As a long-time Penguins fan (yes, even through the lean years of this decade), I must say that the Caps are my 'favorite' rival. Peerless, I'd be willing to say that I've never seen the kind of derision you are alluding to aimed at fans of the Caps. I know that I reserve that for the deplorable souls that root for Philly, NY and NJ. Wait, make that PHI and NY... who roots for Jersey?

We had so many great series (from our POV anyways) back in the 90s and I truly miss having them in the Pens' division. It's great to see things finally turning around in DC, even if it will make it that much tougher to bring the Cup back to the 'burgh.

Anonymous said...

The comments in the rebuttal seemed to be shallow at best. Most franchises need a star player to make a team float, but those star-less teams in Pittsburgh played really, REALLY, boring hockey. It's hard to be a hockey fan and watch boring hockey (read - Devils Fans).

If you were going to be original with your insult, you may have made fun of the fact that so many Penguins faithful have left the city. It's the scathing angle I would have used if I were a Caps fan. Since I'm not... GO PENS!!!!

Ryan said...

On the Steelers -- I have to say that I have been hearing lately that fans are frustrated with them. They make the playoffs and lose. It's the same tease with Cowher and would have continued without the XL miracle run. The comment that follows is, "I honestly just can't wait for hockey to start again."

Devoted all the time? Probably not. Hockey city? Closer than most. Will it compete with Canadian cities? Answer: Are the Blue Jays that much of a draw in Toronto?

As for driving 5 hours to visit the Igloo? Yea... I know people who do it. I once drove 3 for a game...

The Beast said...

Flat attendance numbers can be terribly misleading. Especially when you consider the varying populations of sports towns. DC metro population is over 5 million, while Pittsburgh is around 2.5 million. And taking that into consideration, the fact that the Penguins were able to draw anything over 10,000 a home game during an abysmal stretch, when the leading point getter was defenseman Dick Tarnstrum with 52 points, to me is impressive. All that aside, I was at that game mentioned in the empty netters blog. The thing that stuck with me most about that game was that when Backstrom's blunder occurred, most Caps fans filtered out. This left a nearly half full building of Pens fans. And when Alex Ovechkin was named 2nd star of the game, he was roundly booed in his own building.