In any good newspaper you will find a mix of fact based news worthy articles and opinion. If you are the type of person who reads the front page news to keep in tune with the goings on of the world, you know that the stories that grace the A section are generally pretty dry, but they are also factually correct, and hopefully contain as little bias as possible. To find the opinions in the A section, you must turn to the back pages, a section usually titled something along the line of the "Opinion Exchange," or the Op-Ed page.
However, turn to the sports page, and it seems that the opinion of a handful of bloviated know-it-alls fit right in with the actual accounting of the day's sports action. Their opinion is not subject to the same rigorous fact checking as the rest of the news, because this is these particular people's opinions. It isn't news, I am told. It is their opinion, and they are being paid to write down that opinion.
Make the jump, and let's discuss the "opinion makers."
To be clear, I like the opinion guys. Most of the time. I am not supposed to like them all the time. If I agreed with all of them all the time, I would be a follower. I am not a follower. I have my opinions, and share them freely. That's what people in this country do, sometimes very loudly. In particular, sports fans love to share their opinions, to debate back and forth the merits of any argument.
I have found myself chuckling a few times at the likes of Patrick Reusse, Jim Souhan, Tom Powers and others. I can laugh with them, but more often I find myself laughing at them.
Our friend David Shoalts, from just a couple days ago, is a "columnist." That is the defense I was sent, anyway. He is a columnist. He writes his opinion, and the people eat it up. Regardless of if he bothered to check his sources and press for the truth is unimportant. All we should care about is his opinion.
Generally, even in hockey mad Minnesota, the local columnists tend to stay away from the Wild. A handful of times each season they chime in from the peanut gallery to regale us with their vast knowledge of all things hockey, and attempt to relate their opinion in terms of baseball, football, or basketball, so as to include the "casual fan" every knows is so important.
We get opinion articles, such as today, that belittle the fans and the team that 18,568 people continue to buy tickets to watch play. Today, we get this from Patrick Reusse:
You wonder how the Vikings' zealots would react if the Purple were to finish 13th in the NFC playoff race in 2010. You wonder how the Twins' fan base would react if the Twins had failed to sign Joe Mauer, then offered a Molina brother as a replacement in 2011.
Those are precisely the scenarios that have occurred with the Wild in its ninth season, and you wonder how much longer the customers are going to put up with this. And then you walk around West Seventh Street a couple of hours before the puck gets dropped and you get a hint:
They are willing to take it for much longer.
What would happen if the Vikings finished 13th? I am guessing they would struggle to sell out 60,000+ tickets every game, wouldn't they? What would happen if the Twins did the same? I would be fairly certain that they would struggle to sell out the 40,000+ seats they had to fill in the Dome. The Twins had a pretty good run last year and struggled to sell tickets.
That said, who cares? The Twins play 81 home games every year. There is no scarcity of seats. If I want to go to a game, I drive downtown, buy a ticket and walk in. Though the Vikings play only 8 home games, there are more than 60,000 places to park my butt should I choose to do so. Again, very little scarcity. Save for playoff games, or extremely popular matchups or events, getting into a Twins game or Vikings game is not all that difficult.
The Vikings have been in town since 1960. The Twins since 1961. 50 years for both franchises. The Wild? Next season will be their tenth. Ever tried to go online and find a decent ticket to a Wild game for sale direct from the team? Not easy to come by save for the really key matchups like the Florida Panthers.
Reusse went on to question if one family shouldn't spend 41 nights a year at Chuck E Cheese so as to save their money, since they enjoyed the "family atmosphere" of the X. Yes, because they meant that they enjoy spending the evenings with 400 screaming children all asking for more money for old arcade games and the smell of vomit in the ball crawl.
The capper for this article? At the end when (I assume) a young woman says she is done with the Wild because of a comment Derek Boogaard made about puking if the US won the gold in the Olympics. First off, to that woman, you are an idiot. Back to Reusse, though. He goes on to explain that this woman is so upset she is going to have her Wild logo tattoo removed, and then shows it to him. From that we get this:
Herges tugged slightly on her jeans and showed the doomed tattoo. The interest some younger males in the vicinity took in this might have provided a partial answer for the ongoing interest in Wild games.
To be honest, I don't even know what he means by that. That the young men like hockey games because they make women get tattoos in areas that are obviously just below the belt line on a pair of women's jeans? Because men enjoy looking at tattoos on young women, that explains why the Wild continue to be popular? If someone can explain what this sentence means, please post it in the comment section, because I don't get it.
Before I get to why I think the Wild continue to be popular, and share my opinion on the matter, let's look across the river to the Pioneer Press. Tom Powers joins Mr. Reusse in his disdain for the fact that Wild fans continue to buy tickets, and seconding the notion that if people stopped buying tickets, the on ice product would get better.
Fortunately, Wild fans likely could look past a typical mistake-filled performance and spend their evening cheering for Mike Modano, in what likely was his last NHL game.
Because the fans haven't been booing the team off the ice and letting them have it on every message board and blog about the team? They aren't over looking anything. The are completely aware of where the team is at, and what they are doing wrong. Trust me.
Keep in mind that Mr. Powers shows more knowledge about the team in this one article than his co-worker Bruce Brothers did all season, which scares the bejebus out of me. That said, we get this:
Mulligan granted. But if the Wild shank that first tee shot next October, they don't deserve to be cut any slack. Not even one little bit. All the excuses have been used up.
Yes, because if they don't win the first game, the season is lost.
Then, he shows a bit of hockey ineptitude with the following comments:
But Kim Johnsson and No. 1 pick Nick Leddy for Cam Barker? I'd heard Barker was a good player. He looked good in his first couple of Wild games and then disappeared. Now that trade doesn't look so good. Neither does the trade that sent Alexander Fallstrom and Craig Weller to Boston for Chuck Kobasew. Weller was just a plugger, but Fallstrom, out of Shattuck-St. Mary's, is a heck of a prospect.
The second reason for the misery is more tangible. The Wild still remain paper thin at the center position. After Koivu, there isn't a center on the roster who can anchor a decent a line. And if you're banking on Cody Almond and Casey Wellman, who is a center by trade, good luck.That's quite a leap of faith after just a handful of games. Both are young and skinny. They shouldn't be learning their craft on the Wild's second line next season.
So, you can assess the Cam Barker trade in a handful of games, but not Almond and Wellman? By the way, did you watch Wellman play? Sure, the kid is young and skinny. Who wasn't at 22? The kid has a talent that has not been seen on this roster in a long while. He gets open and shoots the puck. Is he the answer at the #2 spot? No way. But he will be.
Where does all this get us? This gets us two local columnists who wait until the end of the season to offer thier opinion about a loyal fanbase who they think are stupid. Why do fans continue to buy tickets to Wild games, despite the fact that they really are not very good?It comes down to only a few things.
1. The fans are loyal. They are not bandwagon fans who only attend games when the team is hot. The Twins and Vikings know these fans well. Watch how many people jump on board now that the Vikings don't suck. Hell, the Timberwolves only exist because of bandwagon fans. Wild fans are fans of the team, win, lose, or shootout loss.
2. Minnesota is a hockey state. For as much success as the Viking have had (ahem, none), and as much success as the Twins have had, as soon as those teams falter for more than two games, their "fans" abandon them. Ten game losing streak for the Twinks? - 50,000 fans. It's not that Wild fans don't care, it's that they love watching hockey, and watching NHL hockey.
3. Wild fans understand what is at stake. The NHL screwed us once before due to "lack of fan support." It isn't going to happen again.
4. There is a waiting list for season tickets. A waiting list, people. If I give up my season tickets this year, I don't just get them back when I decide I want them back. I have to wait for them. So, let's say the Wild pull a Phoenix and next year have a great run, but I gave up my tickets because they sucked this year. Now what? Now I can't go, that's what. If I want Vikes season tickets, I just buy them. Same with the Twins. Or... you know... walk up to the box office and buy a single game seat.
I could go on and on with this. The point is, Wild fans love hockey. The love their team, and they want to show that love no matter the circumstances. Ever been at a Vikings game and they are down by 7 in the fourth? Half the Dome leaves. Ever been to a Wild game when they are down by 3 with 10:00 to go in the third? It is still full. Anyone leaving the X is met with a chorus of "See ya later Vikings fans."
Wild fans are not stupid. They are not shelling out money just because they have nothing better to spend it on. Wild fans want to go to the game. NHL hockey is an amazing experience, with or without a victory. Wild fans love that experience, and will continue to pay to enjoy it. Should they choose not to, there is a long line of people waiting to get the chance.
Maybe in forty years, if the the Wild hit a skid, we'll think about giving up those seats. But I wouldn't count on it.
Columnists are not journalists. That is the lesson I was given over the past couple of days. They are not expected to rely on such things as fact, or for that matter, sentences that make sense. They can pretty much write whatever they want, whenever they want, and present it as fact. That is what they are paid to do. Call an entire fan base stupid or poke fun at them for buying tickets to watch the game they love, put out articles with so much dripping disdain that the paper is stained, or write about issues that have already been addressed by the fan base you claim is so stupid they didn't notice.
But hey, it's their opinion, so it's OK.