It's difficult to find fault with Aaron Portzline's premise that poor hockey adds up to poor attendance. That's common sense, especially during times when cents are uncommon. But to suggest that it is the only factor in the Blue Jackets attendance woes this season would be selling the efforts of the team's marketing and promotions people short.
When it comes to trying to put butts in seats, the Blue Jackets marketing team is struggling almost as much as the Blue Jackets' special teams. Consider what's happened over the last several weeks.
The Rise and Fall of Boomer
In one of the biggest professional sports mascot debacles in recent memory, the Blue Jackets unveiled a second, "kid-friendly" mascot at the same time they lifted the shroud of secrecy on their new third jerseys. In fact, the details of the jersey launch were so closely guarded by team personnel that no mention of a new mascot was ever uttered. In other words, nobody saw Boomer coming. Billed as a cushy cannon character with a friendly face and a fluffy moustache, Boomer immediately became an internet sensation for all the wrong reasons.
|Boomer was standing tall at the unveiling of the third jersey.|
Things have gotten somewhat prickly in a hurry. Just two weeks in, the Dispatch reported that Blue Jackets executives were saying Boomer's role would be "shrinking" and that the new mascot could be retired completely in the summer. True to their word, Boomer was nowhere to be seen Saturday night during the home game against the Rangers.
John Browne, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales for the Blue Jackets, says nobody ever considered that Boomer looked phallic. Really? Then again, Browne said the only test marketing that was done was with elementary-aged children. That is hard to believe. I mean, testing the mascot with young children is fathomable. But anyone with young kids of their own might find it hard to imagine that some snot-nosed wisenheimer didn't raise his hand and say "Boomer looks like a wiener." Heck, my 5th grade daughter overheard me telling my wife that Boomer was being phased out for looking too phallic. "It does," my daughter offered.
The Hostile Takeover
It was embarrassing enough that Penguins fans essentially took over Nationwide Arena on December 4th and essentially made themselves feel right at home. Given how well the Pens travel and their proximity to Columbus, it wasn't all that shocking. What did shock a lot of Blue Jackets faithful in attendance was the site of two Penguins fans in full regalia being ushered around the Nationwide ice on the Zambonies. Once again, an internet firestorm ensued and the Blue Jackets were quickly forced to take emergency egg/face removal measures.
"To have Penguins fans up there was a mistake," said Larry Hoepfner, the Jackets vice president of business operations. "We are not going to hide from it. It will not happen again."
No plausible explanation for the gaffe was offered. Maybe that's because there isn't one.
Already being shelled by "heavy artillery" from fans, the traditional media, the blogosphere and fifth grade schoolchildren for Boomergate and The Hostile Takeover, the last thing the Blue Jackets marketing and promotions troops needed was a friendly fire incident. But that's exactly what happened last night when the team decided not to wear the new third jerseys against the New York Rangers despite the fact that they were scheduled to do so.
Four times the Blue Jackets had donned their sporty new threads, and four times they had suffered defeat in them, including two disappointing losses to Detroit. Needing a win badly against the Rangers, the team elected to ditch the new jerseys and wear their traditional home uniforms instead. And then they proceeded to win, the first time they had done so at Nationwide on a weekend night all year.
After the game, both the players and coaches were coy in addressing questions about the move. Nobody would say who made the decision, but they weren't apologizing for it.
On Friday, during an interview, Kyle Wilson was asked about the jerseys and whether it was a hot topic in the locker room. "Oh yeah," he replied. "What are we, like 0 and 4 in them? There are a lot of very superstitious people in this locker room. Very superstitious," he explained. When asked what the guys thought should be done to break the jinx, Wilson deadpanned, "Burn 'em." He then said he was joking and that things would take care of themselves once they went out and won a bunch of games in them. That must have been Plan B. It looks like they went with Plan A.
Consider this an evolving situation. The team has removed the third jersey schedule from their website.
Better Find a New Way
Nobody is saying that the marketing and promotions people are to blame for the low attendance figures. Portzline is right. Years of bad hockey and unfulfilled expectations are the root of the problem. As he points out, in 2003-04, before Sydney Crosby descended from the hockey heavens as the second coming of Mario Lemieux, the Penguins finished last in the NHL in attendance with an average of 11,877. Now their fans want to watch the Penguins so badly they invade opposing venues and stage take-overs. People pay to see winners. Plain and simple.
But if there has ever been a time that the Blue Jackets need to put their best foot forward to promote the team and do whatever it takes to draw fans to Nationwide it is now. After complaining in the off-season about their lease and the manner in which it handcuffs them when it comes to making money, the Jackets can ill afford to be firing the cannon at their own feet as they have done on numerous occasions so far this year.
"There ain't no way but the hard way," or so goes the song that plays when the Blue Jackets take the ice. That song might be the new mantra for the players and coaches, but maybe the marketing and promotions people ought to find a different one for themselves.