ATTENDANCE / FAN INTEREST IN SPORTS
On Rod Pedersen’s website, he wrote a thought provoking commentary on Thursday that touched on fan interest/attendance and so I felt the need to offer my perspective on things. As a reminder, it’s just MY perspective and shouldn’t be passed off as the gospel.
One thing we were told early on is that by enacting vaccine passports at sporting events, sure there would be a few people that would no longer attend but because of how highly dangerous it is to watch football even more people were staying away because of how loose the rules are and therefore numerous people claimed that ‘for every one person not going because of this policy, there will be six others stepping up to go because they’ll feel much more safe’. Well that simply hasn’t been the case. At all.
In places like Saskatchewan where the majority of the population is conservative, there has been a big miscalculation by those in charge. Scott Moe’s popularity hasn’t dropped 25 points because people aren’t safe. It’s dropped because he’s double crossed his supporters. I haven’t met a single person who has become a SaskParty supporter ever since further measures were announced but I have met quite a few who have become the opposite. The same can be said for the Roughriders. All these people on social media screaming for enhanced measures in order to feel safer at games aren’t regular fans who spend money. They didn’t go before the pandemic, they weren’t going at the start of the year when the province was wide open, and they aren’t going now either. Yet, here we have professional sports organizations and a very popular provincial government ignoring those who support them and trying to win over those who never will and it’s damaged everybody except for those screaming. Perhaps beyond repair.
What wasn’t taken into consideration with this policy was the fact there are a large number of people (I fall into this category myself) who are qualified to go watch the Roughriders, Jets, etc. but simply have decided not to attend because they feel there is something fundamentally wrong with excluding folks from society. You can call me whatever hateful name you want for taking this stance but the reality is this - I’ve done my part but I don’t despise those who haven’t and respect whatever reasons they may have for not getting vaccinated. The only qualifier here is that when I become aware of an unvaccinated person getting sick with Covid and ending up in the hospital (or worse) I still view it as a tragedy but I don’t have a lot of sympathy.
Even though I’m staying home, I’m still watching on television and what I’ve discovered is that the TV experience is quite good when it comes to the game play aspects of the production. Financially, money isn’t as easy to save as it was a few years ago so I don’t feel as though I’m missing much by watching on TV and getting value out of the money I’m spending on cable every month. Even if I order in some food from a local restaurant, I’m spending less than if I went to the game and the overall experience is satisfying enough.
No passport, no mask, no Karens. Covid free for however long I want to be because I’m the one in control of the viewing experience when I’m home.
I have a difficult time explaining my emotions every time I’m asked for this passport. I want to share a couple of examples. I was in London, Ontario last week and entered a Tim Horton’s and wanted to sit and drink a coffee. The worker said, “I’m sorry but we have to ask you for your proof of vaccination.” I showed her my Saskatchewan app on my phone. She couldn’t get it to work with her scanner but said, “Obviously you are good, enjoy your coffee.” I had no issue with that. Later I went to the mall and they’ve got the entire food court area roped off so you can’t get in. The food vendors give you your lunch in a bag (no trays) and then you have to go stand in line and deal with security to get permission to eat. When it was my turn, the screener told me she couldn’t accept my app as proof and I’d be turned away. I replied that this is, in fact, proof and I will be sitting down to eat and encouraged her to have a nice day and if they want to make a scene about it, come get me. She didn’t take me up on the offer, thankfully. What takes the cake was supper with my son at Montana’s. Just to get admitted, I needed to: produce proof on my app, produce more proof in the form of that business card they give you with the dates of your shots, show my driver’s license to further prove I’m not scamming them, and then I had to use my phone to scan another QR code for contact tracing and finally before I sit down, the greeter had to verify I didn’t just type in ‘Mickey Mouse’ or something hokey for contact tracing. Because I’m visiting my son, I did everything required but if I lived there, there’s no chance I’d ever go out to a restaurant having to jump through that many hoops. To close, I think it’s all in the approach. If you aren’t power tripping about your ability to accept or deny someone the privilege of eating food, I don’t get upset.
When it comes to sports, I don’t mind showing the passport but then don’t treat me like I’m unvaccinated after I do. Here’s the other thing for me and I’m only speaking for myself. I have to work and there are some things I really can’t avoid in life and so I need to show my proof of vaccination. I don’t like it, but I accept it. However, when it comes to entertainment dollars, I am in no rush to fork over $150 for a Jets ticket only to be examined for qualifications on whether or not I am allowed to watch the game and then get ordered to wear a mask should I be so privileged to be accepted into the venue. These sports organizations need to show me they appreciate my business and until they do, I’m not going. Maybe the only person losing out is myself but I’ve found that watching on television and saving the $150 hasn’t been so bad. If these sports teams need my money bad enough, they will find a way to get me to come back. That’s on them. Not me. I’m the customer. Do something to get me to come back. Don’t try to make me feel like you are doing me a favor when I’m the one spending good money and then jumping through cumbersome and, at times, humiliating hoops.
I know some of you who read my columns hate it when I compare Canada to the United States when it comes to how things are done during the pandemic, but the reality is that American stadiums are full in places where covid rules are most lax. They don’t have the attendance issues we are having in Canada. Their country also isn’t on virus fire despite having more people per square mile than we do (it’s actually about 10x the number as Canada) and in places where cases are higher than normal, sports and other large events don’t seem to be the culprit.
But, forget the virus. While I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the politics down there, the fact remains that American people are not taxed to death the way we are up here and Canadians simply don’t have the same amount of disposable income as they used to. We can complain about it all day long, but we just had a federal election and gave the Prime Minister a mandate to continue crushing us with higher taxes and less economic freedom. So that’s on the citizens of this country, not the Prime Minister. As far as he’s concerned we are perfectly good with what he’s doing. The election proves it. For me to go to Regina for a Rider game, I’m $20 more just in fuel than I was a couple of years ago. Take into account tickets cost more, food costs more, everything costs more and then because I don’t work in the public sector my income has been affected...it’s hard to justify going.
I also think when attending sports was taken away, people found other things to do and they realized that, perhaps, they aren’t as big of a fan as they thought and they didn’t exactly miss it all that much. Someone asked me a couple of days ago what team Corey Perry plays for now. I have no idea. Just a few years ago I would have been able to tell you the roster of every NHL team.
For hockey, especially in the junior ranks, dwindling attendance has been an issue for a number of years so it can’t be solely blamed on Covid rules. The value of tickets versus the value of entertainment returned is a factor. Watching human bowling in the second intermission doesn’t make a ticket worth $20 as opposed to $10. I was once asked why Saskatoon fills the joint to watch the Rush. My answer is because lacrosse is fast, rough, has tons of offense, and the games are intense. Then when you fill the place, the atmosphere is second to none. How do we get that in hockey? Well, my first suggestion would be to form a group of people who have no interest whatsoever in winning (because winning and entertaining conflict with each other) and getting them to come up with ideas that make it more enjoyable for the spectator. You see the CFL falling into this trap now as using analytics may give you a competitive advantage, but it makes games a lot less fun to watch. Baseball has made the stud starting pitcher all but extinct in the name of winning, but buying a ticket because someone like Roy Halladay is pitching is no longer an option.
Hockey is a safer game to play today than it was twenty years ago. There is less fighting, in fact fighting is all but gone from the game. There is less physical play and some nights almost none at all. And, there is almost no suspense leading up to games in the form of rivalries. You never hear a coach on the radio firing up the fans about an upcoming game saying there is a score to settle. You don’t see cowboy boots thrown on the ice (Don Chesney) anymore. Imagine the suspension a coach would get if he pretended to be blind (Jamie Fiesel) upon getting ejected. Who is responsible for all of these rule changes? If you talk privately with hockey people, the majority of them will tell you hockey isn’t better off but someone somewhere thought the game needed to be safer. But enrollments are down, fan engagement is down, overall interest is down. So, what was accomplished? Those who are playing are at less risk and that can’t be a bad thing but then you can’t belly ache about it if less people want to watch and play. If it’s ‘not as fun’ but ‘costs more’ to watch and play….I think you have your answer.