Friday, March 14, 2008

Responding to Ted; what it means to be a fan

Ted Leonsis mused in his latest blog:

Whenever I am in the building and see a fan wearing another team's jersey, I always ask "Where do you live?" It amazes me how many fans of competitive teams live in our area and don’t come to games except when we play that specific team. Probably that is what I dislike, that people don’t come for the love of the game. They just come to one, two or four games per year to cheer against us and for their team. This article is well done and addresses the issue. It has a strong point of view. What do you think?

This is a complex issue because we as a team have lots of long distance fans as well. And I would expect when my children fly the coop, they will take their passion for the Caps with them as my son has on the campus at UPenn in Philadelphia. I see both sides of the issue. I have empathy but don’t hate on me because I want everyone to be a Caps fan that lives in the area. I am an evangelist for Caps hockey. It is who I am now.
The editor of this blog is Leonsis' perfect case study: I live and work in Arlington, Virginia (right across the river from DC, if you didn't know). My house is within walking distance of the Caps practice facility. I am not a Capitals fan.

Leonsis mentioned that he's switched allegiances three times in his lifetime (first a Rangers fan, then his beloved Bruins and then finally the Caps). May we refer him to the Will Leitch school of thought:

"...essentially I argue that when you are a sports fan, you are a fan of a team year round, no matter whether they're playing or not. When, exactly, am I supposed to suddenly switch my loyalty, and start caring about THESE guys rather than THESE guys?

...There's a certain lack of logic about being a sports fan, and bringing that kind of emotional, civic betrayal to the situation just betrays that. I stuck with the Arizona Cardinals because I started cheering for them and couldn't suddenly pretend I liked another team more just because they moved closer to me. I can't exactly talk: *I* don't exactly live in St. Louis anymore either. [ed. Note: Leitch is a HUGE Stl Cardinals fan]

Personally, I've never lived in Pittsburgh. My parents did and much of my extended family lives there, so I've visited often. My parents encouraged me to choose my own sports affiliations. However give a kid access to Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and the bunch and it's easy to see why I'm a Penguins fan.

What Leonsis doesn't seem to grasp is: why isn't someone like me, an inhabitant of Caps land, still hanging on to my original team and not switching allegiances to my new hometown team like he did several times.

The simple answer would be loyalty. Not at all to say Ted isn't a loyal guy or anything, but I couldn't imagine myself being anything but a Penguins fan until the day I die. Perhaps a good analogy might even be marriage; I don't think a good husband would leave their wife just because they've gone away on a business trip or have to deal with a distance issue. For me, and many other fans, who you cheer for is very much ingrained on you. And once the choice is made, there's no turning back, no switching horses in the middle of the stream.

But luckily I'm not the type of fan Leonsis doesn't like; I do support the Caps, I've got nothing against them. I've been to at least 10 games this season, more than just when they play Pittsburgh. I've gone out to functions to meet players like Mike Green and Brooks Laich and found them to be pretty cool. But there's nothing that can be done to ever convert me over. While I do love the game, the main reason I love the game is watching my team play.

So what canTed do for his problem? Not too much, I'm afraid. With so many transplants to the area that there will be a heavy contingent for the opposition for a long time. But kids in this area, where organized hockey is continuing to grow, will no doubt be looking up to Alex Ovechkin as I did Lemieux. That's where you hook fans, that's how you get them for life. The Caps are fortunate to have a sensational player, it will take time but he'll keep on reeling in supporters.


Doc Nagel said...

In the old media environment, it made sense to expect people, in the main, to follow a home-town team, since that would be the team you'd have had most access to. Not anymore. My fandom from the very late 1970s until now spans that change of media. Now anyone can watch any team, follow any team.

Until moving to Pittsburgh, I was a hockey fan first, a team fan second. My natural affinities were (chronologically) for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, simultaneously (growing up in Toledo, watching Hockey Night in Canada from the Windsor CBC station - you see how little sense it made!); the Capitals (growing up a little more in Greensboro, NC, watching the Caps on a DC cable station we randomly received); then to Pittsburgh. I carried my adoration of the Pens with me to California, became a fan of the Sharks as well, and here I am.

Hooks Orpik said...

Doc, I think you're spot on.

With advancements in technology (namely satellite television and the internet) supply for any game a consumer wants has never been better. It's "Web 2.0" mentality and it's ironically what made Ted Leonsis into a billionare mogul.

Both my parents grew up in Pittsburgh, my Pops got a job in the Richmond (VA) Fire Department in the early '80s and relocated. That's why I'm "displaced". Neither of my parents even liked the Penguins; after all they were barely an afterthough in that "City of Champions" during the '70s when they grew up. But I chose them as a young kid. I loved hockey (and played collegiately) but I had access to the Penguins for tickets (through cousins and Grandma) and they had Mario Lemieux. Game, set and match. Right then my allegiance as a fan was set in stone. Just because I wasn't in the nearest geographical area didn't mean much, with the advent of technology like the internet (much like the airplane a while earlier) the boundaries of time and space have been obliterated that much further.

As I said, a tech savvy mogul like Leonsis should be able to understand this. But again, if I owned an NHL team that was routinely composed of opposing fans I'd probably be upset too.

By the way Doc, I've kept half an eye on your Sharks; them and Edmonton have been my Western Conference teams for as long as I can remember. San Jose probably has the quietest current 10 game winning streak in the NHL this year.

rodlang said...

People are free to support whatever team they want but I still don't understand why you are a Pens fan. You live and work in Northern Virginia and you never lived in Pittsburgh. You do have extended family from Pittsburgh but we all have extended family from some other area. So what? I have extended family from New York state but I don't support the NY teams. I support the team from the area where I live and work. For sure, the Pens have owned the Caps over the years so I guess you picked the right team. But I still don't get it.

Hooks Orpik said...


I grew up in Richmond, about 100 miles from DC and only recently moved to the Northern VA area...In my formative years I probably attended more games in Pittsburgh than DC.

With the internet and satellite TV, it's just as easy for me to get information and watch the Penguins than it is the Caps.

Why would I stop cheering for the team that I've loved for as long as my memory has lasted?