I’m going to do everybody a favour, and take a break from rumour talk, CBA negotiations, and all things pertaining to the over-hyped offseason we have every year.
I live in southern Ontario, and therefore come across a good number of Toronto Maple Leafs fans. Also, I’ve grown up in a large family, all of which are Montreal Canadiens fans.
Somebody asked me the other day, “why the Buffalo Sabres”? It struck me that I had never really given much thought to the question. When I was eight, although I’m ashamed to admit it, I was an Ottawa Senators fan. I attended a Buffalo Sabres-Ottawa Senators game that year. The Sabres won 4-1 and I haven’t looked back since.
That is the background as to why I chose the Buffalo Sabres 11 years ago. But what is it about the team that causes me to sing along, with hand on heart, to the American national anthem at games even though I’m a Canadian Citizen? Why do I not miss a single minute of any of the 82 regular season, and corresponding playoff games? What is it about this team that entices me to spend hundreds of dollars every year driving down to Buffalo for home games? Why do I beam with pride when speaking of the Buffalo Sabres? And it hit me, the Buffalo Sabres have the best fans in the world, and I get to be a part of that.
In my primary years as a Buffalo Sabres fan from 2001 until the lockout in 2004, Buffalo’s fanbase was suspect. And why would they not be? They were (and still are) in the same division with a handful of Canadian teams, in the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Ottawa Senators. Not to mention original six powerhouse, Boston Bruins. I remember one game against the Montreal Canadiens, where there were so few seats taken, one could sit wherever they pleased.
The games I attended in my formative years were rarely packed to capacity, and it was even more rare to read anything about the team in any form of mainstream media. I remember how anytime there was any kind of an article regarding the team, I would read it over and over again until I was sick of it because it was so difficult to come about any type of news involving the team, living in Southern Ontario.
Since the first season back after the lockout in 2005, Buffalo has become Hockey Heaven. They sell out almost every game each season, there is more coverage and information available through the media than I ever remember there being, and it seems like there is more hype about the Buffalo Sabres, outside Western New York than before the lockout. Why the overwhelming support for the team? I am not saying there should not be a reason, you can ask anybody close to me, I have personally never been more excited about this team. I guess I am just curious to figure out why and how the small market team I have been loyal to and cheered for in the good times and bad, have suddenly become a popular team to cheer for outside of the area?
I considered the fact they went to the 2006 and 2007 Eastern Conference Finals as a possible x-factor in the growth of the fanbase. But, they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999, and it did not accomplish much in terms of fandom compared to what they have post-lockout. Buffalo has also missed the playoffs three out of five years since the trips to the Conference finals, and fan support has not taken a hit. So clearly, success does not have a bearing on the team’s popularity. Look at the amount of criticism regarding the team’s off-season acquisitions last year, there so-called “lack of toughness”, and inability to make the playoff.
I also considered Terry Pegula as a likely source for the increased support of the team, and although he has impacted the strength of the on-ice product, the team was selling out, and garnering much more recognition and hype prior to his arrival.
Reflecting upon this subject now, and I still don’t have the answer, why has everything changed? And when I say everything I mean the level of hype surrounding the Buffalo Sabres? Do people agree/disagree with me? What do you think has contributed to the Sabres becoming a much more popular team?
I will post your answers to this question in my next blog. Thank you for reading, and thanks for your feedback.