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Wings’ Foul-Out Endemic Of An Arrogant Organization

By George Malik: from the Detroit News:
A promotion in which fans could snag the right to buy two World Series tickets by purchasing a Detroit Red Wings ticket package has ended. At noon on Wednesday the offer was made to existing Red Wing season ticket holders and members of the Red Wings World fan club. All of the ticket packages were gone by 9 a.m. today, said Mike Brinich, Red Wings media relations manager. Brinich would not say how many of the packages were sold. Buyers had to purchase 20 single game tickets to be able to buy two of the World Series tickets for either Saturday's or Sunday's games. He said the promotion was a way of saying thanks to season ticket holders and members of the fan club for their support. "We thought it was a fun way for fans of both teams to participate," Brinich said.

How sweet!  “You want World Series tickets?  We’ll sell ‘em to ya for 20 Wings tickets!”  That’s scalping, not “saying thanks.”  The Wings’ front office and PR staff are this arrogant all the time, and that’s why the Red Wings—who’re by and large a good organization—are hated around the NHL. 

The front office is horribly in and downright rude to both the press and fans alike, John Hahn heavily censors what gets out to the general public (ever wonder why Fox Sports Detroit shows the same Red Wings Weekly clips five times over during pre-game shows and intermissions?), and the team is kept at arm’s length from everybody. 

In an age of open practices, free meet-and-greets, goodwill ambassadors, and lush multimedia content on websites, from “glogs” to player blogs, well-produced web feature stories, team-produced videos, highlights, press conference summaries, and lush and lavish in-game productions, what do Wings fans get?

The team makes its players as accessible as one can when you hide them behind a brick wall; no open practices, fan-friendly player availabilities that’re limited to paid autograph signings and lavish charity gallas that the average fan can’t afford, and a virtual blackout in terms of substantial or in-depth media coverage of some very glib and outspoken players. 

The team’s website is horrible, with a few press releases and snippets of photos available on a page designed in 2003, and Red Wings World hasn’t been updated since the lockout—all it consists of is a repository of Inside Hockeytown features and a bulletin board.  The NHL and all sorts of web studies acknowledge that hockey fans are the most web-savvy sports fans around, and yet you wonder if the Wings’ front office even knows that a “podcast” has nothing to do with spitting out sunflower seeds.

And as several KK members have noted, the Red Wings’ in-game production budget includes the music that hasn’t been updated since Brendan Shanahan requested Republica’s “Ready to Go” in 1998, a scoreboard and sound-system boasting cutting-edge, 1990 technology in an age of gigantic LCD screens and rink-wrapping bands, no in-game promotions or exclusive media content to shake up the crowd, and the same old $20 pizza you can buy for $5, $7 beer, and $4 hot dogs.

The Joe used to be an intimidating, rocking rink, and now it’s one of the quieter barns in the NHL.  Clearly, they’re having trouble filling the stands in a terrible Michigan economy—why spend $55 for an upper-bowl seat, $8 for parking, and $30 for food when you can get the same bang for your buck by sitting at home?  Why cough up a pre-lockout prices to bankroll a team that has half the salary, and in the eyes of so many of us Wings fans, half the talent of the mighty, free-spending Red Wings of old?

Even a “Nick Lidstrom bobblehead night” instead of a “free Rock Financial Wings refrigerator magnet” night would show some sort of willingness to bring people into the rink. 

Why get interested in a team whose media and fan access are held under lock and key?  Unless you know somebody who knows a Red Wing, or bump into them at a mall or grocery store, you barely see the players, and the dearth of meaningful, get-to-know-you media content, especially online, renders the team as a corporate monolith.

That inaccessibility is why the Red Wings are hated with a passion by the national media, and it’s why a hockey-mad city has become much more enamored with the Pistons, Tigers, and even the struggling Lions—while the city’s other teams actually make an investment in their fan base, the Wings’ front office sees us as what we are: walking dollar signs who’re generally grateful for any sort of access to the team because we’re so bloody used to getting nothing.

In 94-95, the Wings welcomed fans back from the lockout with an open training camp—here in Detroit, so those of us who can’t afford to go to Traverse City could attend it—as well as a “fan fest” where anybody who attended could get their pictures taken on the Zamboni, see the NHL’s trophies, play bubble hockey with the players, and get autographs—I still have my Scotty Bowman, Dwight Foster, Ben Hankinson, Darren McCarty, Ray Lane, and Keith Primeau sigs, and I’m proud of that Hankinson autograph—and there were open practices.

Last year, the Red Wings held two open practices, opening the doors for the first time since the mid 90s, and you needed to be a member of Red Wings World to get into one of them.  The organization treats opening the rink to their us like a ridiculous expenditure instead of an investment in their rabid fan base.

Can you imagine the number of ticket sales that a dozen open practices, an open prospect camp (the Wings held it at the Joe in July, but locked it down), and maybe a training camp session or two in Detroit would generate?

Ken Holland said it himself:

Holland said the Red Wings found the right fit when they decided in 1997 to move training camp away from Joe Louis Arena.
“The reason you come up here is the atmosphere,” Holland said. “You practice in the Joe, a 25,000-seat building with just 25 scouts there, and there’s no atmosphere.
“You come here, the rink is full. Players leave the rink and all the fans are waiting outside.
“It’s a chance for us to take our players to another part of Michigan. And the fans of northern Michigan, this is their opportunity to get really close to the players.”

There’d be 15,000 fans at a training camp session, and all sorts of smiling moms, dads, and kids waiting to see their favourite players come outside to sign autographs afterwards. 

Teams like the Canes, Stars, and Panthers get innovative and hold barbecues in the summer, have “hockey caravans” to go out and meet their ticket-buying public, and they hold autograph sessions for either no charge or a charitable donation.  Would this ever happen in Metro Detroit?

It was not a typical hockey practice for 11-year-old goalie Nick Potvin.
Potvin, from Corona, was in his goal crease, waiting for the puck to head in his direction when he saw a big guy wearing an Ilya Bryz jersey suddenly walking toward him on the ice.
It turned out that it actually was Bryz.
The Ducks goalie and playoff hero had just completed an autograph-signing session with teammates Ryan Shannon and Shane O’Brien at Riverside IceTown on Monday night. Just before leaving, after speaking with Potvin’s dad, Steve, Bryz hopped over the boards and went out on the ice to offer the young goalie some pointers.
“It was pretty cool,” said Nick, who plays for the Valley Wild in the Pee-Wee A League. “I’m not really good on the breakaways, so my dad asked Bryz if he had any tips. He worked with me, and we picked five people from my team to do a shootout kind of thing. After each shot, he’d tell me something.”

Of course not.

But the Wings can’t conceive of making players so readily available to people who don’t actually pay for the privilege, nor do they realize that if they’d make a tenth of the effort the Maple Leafs do to promote their Original Six team—with Leafs TV generating all sorts of original content, a great website, players who make themselves available to fans, and a decent in-house game presentation, Leaf Nation’s willing to pay $300 to sit on the glass and watch a team that hasn’t won the Cup in 40 years!—Detroit would reclaim its title as “Hockeytown,” and then some. 

The Joe would rock during every home game—even that eighth game against Columbus—and ratings for Wings games would shoot up.  A decent website would generate hundreds of thousands of hits, and would generate big merchandising and ticket revenues.  Red Wings Weekly would become a must-see. 

And you could actually talk to a player without having to pay for his autograph first.  Wouldn’t Jiri Fischer make a perfect “team ambassador?”  Or Dino?  Or Burrsie?

We’d all go ape over such a deluge of actual care and concern for our time and money.

Instead, the Wings hoodwink us into buying 20 Wings tickets to attend a World Series game.  Or they reward the fans who ponied up $40 to join Red Wings World for the single-game ticket presale by hoarding up the few thousand tickets to Steve Yzerman jersey retirement ceremony, and only offering them to those of us who could afford buying a ten-game mini pack. 

The Red Wings’ players, coaches, and training staff are, by and large, good human beings who’re down-to-earth, friendly, and more than willing to have an actual conversation with you or I, but John Hahn and Mike Brinich hold the team at arm’s length from fans, and the Wings’ front office invests so little in its us, in terms of opening the rink and players up to media and fans alike, investing in decent and new content both on-line, at the rink, and on TV (isn’t the commercial where Kris Draper’s at Hockeytown Authentics a little outdated?), actual promotions inside and outside the rink, that “Ready To Go” is indeed an appropriate, ten-year-old theme song…

Because that’s how a lot of fans feel about the team in the post-Yzerman, post-Shanahan era. 

The Red Wings’ front office and PR staff need a serious attitude adjustment towards the fans that bankroll a still-profitable team, because the Wings-hating media are right about one thing: while the claims of the team’s imminent demise have been incorrect for over a decade, the imminent demise of the Red Wings’ paying fan base is already here. 

We can spend what little discretionary funds we have in an age of closing auto plants and massive layoffs to get our sports fix from Detroit teams that treat us like actual human beings instead of walking dollar signs.

When Wings fans “baa” in the crowded corridor that leads to the Joe Louis Arena garage after games, we’re beginning to realize that the organization hears those same bleats when we walk into the rink. 

That’s why a very proud franchise full of very good individuals is slowly fading from the sporting consciousness of a hockey-mad town. 

As a die-hard fan since the time when first-round ousters were signs of progress, I find the whole situation to be disturbing and depressing, but I know that the Wings are unlikely to ever acknowledge that you or I aren’t anything other than walking, talking dollar signs.

Filed in: NHL Talk, George James Malik, Detroit Red Wings, | KK Hockey | Permalink


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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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