I guess I see it differently. When I go to a Thrashers game and see 5,000 empty seats, my first thought isn’t, “Why don’t more people come to these games?” It is, on the contrary: “Why do so many people come to these games?”
Let’s face it: In a decade of operation, the Thrashers haven’t given their constituency much. They’ve committed the two glaring sins of professional sports: They took too long to build something and then couldn’t sustain it. They’ve had two winning seasons. They’ve made the playoffs once (and were swept in Round 1).
I mention this because it has come to my attention that Derek Felska has, on the blog Most Valuable Network, decided the Thrashers have the worst fan base in the NHL. I present his “justification” in its entirety:
“I am going to share a little story with you which will might explain why the Atlanta Thrashers are deserving of being called the league’s worst fans. Just this spring, I went down [to] Georgia as part of an Educators Tour to Ft. Benning. On our way back, we were given the day to enjoy downtown Atlanta. While there I went into a sports apparel shop, which was filled with all sorts of Atlanta sports team clothing; Braves jerseys, Falcons jerseys, and some college football jerseys yet nowhere to be found was anything pertaining to the Thrashers. I asked the attendant, ‘Do you have any Atlanta Thrashers stuff’ and I was met with a confused look and then a quick question to her co-worker, ‘Do we have any Thrashers stuff?’ A few seconds later they pointed me to the only two items they had pertaining to the the Thrashers along with an explanation of how extremely rare it is anyone is looking for their merchandise.
“Now does that mean that there are almost no Thrashers fans out there? No, but in the larger scheme of things there does not appear to be too many. In a Southern city where it’s almost a challenge to find someone with a southern drawl, it might surprise people just how many Atlanta residents used to live in areas quite familiar with snow and ice. The Thrashers’ online presence is very small and that does little to help a team that many in Atlanta seem to struggle to remember is even there. That sound you just heard was Ilya Kovalchuk screaming over the fact he has at least one more season with the team.”
I think even Mr. Felska would concede there might be a hole or two in his scientific method. But the greater point, at least to me, would seem to be this: The Thrashers are lucky to have any fans at all, and the ones they have — it’s a smallish group, but it’s a group nonetheless — are passionate in a way Hawks fans, say, only wish they could be.
The line about a “very small” online presence particularly struck me as odd. Because I consider Thrashers fans the equivalent of Velvet Underground followers. The time-honored line: “Only 10,000 people bought their records, but everyone who did started a band.”
If the Thrashers have 10,000 hardcore fans, I’m thinking all 10,000 have started a blog. Here’s Bird Watchers Anonymous, and here’s Whazzupwitchu?, and here’s The Thrashers 411. And here’s The Blueland Chronicle, and here’s Blueland Outsider.
I haven’t traveled extensively in hockey circles, so there might be an even greater local passion for, say, the Florida Panthers or the Phoenix Coyotes or the Nashville Predators. But somehow I doubt it. See, I’ve always thought what fans the Thrashers have are great fans. Truth to tell, I think they’re the best fans in Atlanta. Because they’ve been given so little and care so much. Because they care even though caring isn’t cool.