The Sabres are in the playoffs! The Sabres are in the playoffs! The Sabres are in the playoffs! Yes, that’s my Paul Revere impression of the Sabres are coming. However, it seems to be that the buzz on WGR and the pages of TBN consists of a lack of buzz surrounding the team. Some media members and fans have been asking why the electricity that the city endured from 05′-07′ seasons are now enduring a major power outage.
The logical answer that everyone seems to be giving us is that the fans are too scared or can’t trust the Sabres. As if cheering for the Sabres represents selling your soul to the devil if they lose. They don’t want to get their hopes up and have their little hearts broken for the 100th
time by a Buffalo sports franchise. Are you serious?
Look, I know I haven’t exactly been glowing with esteem optimism when it comes to this team. But the main reason I haven’t exactly gotten behind the squad is because at times, they have reverted back to their old self. Now, I’m a big boy, and I can definitely handle being disappointed. Those of you who can’t deal with the playoff ride, really need to buy a Tony Robbins inspirational tape.
Now, there is still the question of why the buzz appears to be lacking. Actually, let me make one more point on the thought of fans being scared by disappointment. How many games in a row have the fans sold out Ralph Wilson Stadium? Fans keep on going to those games and it always tends to lead to a groundhog day of disappointment.
Yes, I’m allocating that most Bills/Sabres fans are interchangeable. Sure, some only root for one or the other, but the fans pretty much cheer for both teams. If you ask me, I think Sabres fans are more optimistic than Bills fans. What exactly is the problem for someone to get behind your team? If other cities had the “we are too scared to watch” approach, then what the hell would be the point of being a fan?
Now, I may not be the greatest source to speak about the atmosphere in Buffalo for the playoffs; mainly because I don’t live there anymore. However, I’m always talking to friends, reading message boards and pretty much have my eyes and ears open to the pulse of the town. It’s kind of puzzling that it was only three years ago that the Sabres had a season ticket waiting list of almost 14,000 and now they can’t even sell out playoff games.
So, here’s my opinion on why the Sabres buzz has been lacking and how tickets for the playoffs aren’t selling like slug jerseys or Sabre Medallions. I think a lot of it has to do with the Sabres popularity being somewhat of a fad or trend after the lockout, and now they are kind of cool, but it’s just not fresh.
Actually, trend and fad is a little harsh. I’m thinking along the lines of “Yeah, they are good, but we’ve seen this before.” Now, I’m not saying we’ve seen this before as a thought process that they will end up losing. I’m talking about seeing the Sabres win the division and make the playoffs. To me, the reason for the lack of buzz are because of two things:
1) Show me something I haven’t seen before.
2) It was cool…like four years ago.
Now, before you start emailing me comments on how Buffalo is the “new hockey town” and I don’t understand the love affair of the NHL, let me give you an example that has to do with reason number one:
When the Buffalo Bills became a perennial Super Bowl contender in the early 90’s, the love affair for the team swept the city like a tidal wave. No one saw it coming; kind of like the Sabres success after the lockout. Buffalo endured the Bickering Bills era of the 1989 season, and many fans thought the team was ready for an implosion. However, the next year, the Bills went 13-3 and headed to their first of four straight Super Bowl appearances. The town was in a frenzy. The team was selling out their stadium with 80,000 screaming fans. Everyone on the team had their own local TV show. Fans were buying as many zoobas pants as possible. It’s was a crazy time.
However, I can remember during the 1992 season, things started to change. This may be a shock to some Sabres or Bills fans who weren’t born around this time, but the Bills had trouble selling out their games. The famous Bills vs Oilers comeback playoff game wasn’t even seen on TV, because the game didn’t sell out. It seemed as if every home game, the Bills were battling the deadline for a blackout. Hell, I think they extended the blackout for those games until 12:45PM on Sundays. The last two years of the Super Bowl era consisted of two non-sellouts per season.
I think the biggest reason the Bills had issues selling out was that the fan interest was still there, but the actual chase for the prize became played out. The fans had seen the Bills go through the regular season and the first round of the playoffs so many times, that they began to take the team for granted. It was as if to say, “Keep on working and we will see you in January when it really matters.”
Things got even worse for the Bills when their 1994 season resulted in a 7-9 record. The Bills only sold out half of their games that season. The fans passive approach with the Bills reached its climax when the team needed a win in their home finale to keep their playoff hopes alive against the Patriots. You know how many tickets sold for that game? Just over 56,000.
Now, the Bills were able to rebound after the disappointing season and remained very competitive for the rest of the decade. They were even still talked about as being a Super Bowl contender. However, the Bills still had issues selling out their stadium. Think about that for a minute. The Bills of today, and their 10 year playoff drought have produced sellout after sellout at the stadium. Can you imagine if the Bills were actually good? Hell, Buffalo fans would go to Toronto to see a game because of tickets not being available in OP.
To me, the Bills success of the 90’s is kind of a equivalent to what we are seeing with the Sabres today. Yes, the Bills were more successful during that period, but the issues of fan support seem to be the same. The fans still loved the Bills and Sabres during their respective time periods, but when you were seeing the same results within a short period of time, fans developed a state of content. Eh, wake me up when we get to the second round of the playoffs.
In a lot of fans eyes, it’s a big difference going from five years without a playoff game to just two years. The hunger just isn’t there as much as it was before. I’m sure if the Sabres make it to the EC Finals, the fans will regain their appetite.
As for the trend setter idea, lets not forget there were a ton of “alleged” hockey fans that came out of the woodwork to clam they were “Blue and Yellow” through thick and thin. Come on. Admit it; you had at least 2 or 3 friends come up to you and talk about their love for the Sabres, when you knew deep down inside they were just cheering so they could fit in. Hell, before the Sabres became good, the only times these fans had uttered the words “1st period” was when they were discussing why their girlfriends were pissed off at them.
Yes, I’m sure some of those fans are still rooting today for the Sabres, which is always good. But you can’t ignore people who routinely show up whenever something new and exciting takes place in any sort of trendy period. That’s what happens when a trend happens, everyone wants to be a part of it and whenever it cools down, they find something else to do.
Remember, the Sabres were almost as successful during the late 90’s as they are today. However, the big difference was those teams were giving away free tickets at the Arena. Four years ago, the team was able to steal the city’s heart because Buffalo was so hungry for a winner with the Bills/Sabres struggles. Hell, if the Buffalo Destroyers were still in town and won the Arena Bowl, there would have been a huge party. Plan and simple, winning brings out fans from different walks of life. Especially when it’s been so long.
I’ll be honest, if there is an ounce of distrust between the Sabres and their fan base, I’m sure it’s with the die hards
who don’t want to get hurt. But I really do think that the “been there, done that” approach, along with the following the trend idea has to do with lack of buzz. I mean, whatever happened to the Sabres having a season ticket wait list and six of the top ten jerseys being sold on NHL.com?
I seriously doubt all of those fans decided to turn away because they couldn’t bare the thought of having their hearts broken again.