About a week ago, the great and all seeing Mike Russo reported that the Wild were close to hiring Anthony LaPanta as the new play by play voice of the team on television broadcasts run by FSN. That post currently has 71 comments, not one of them positive. First Round Bust wrote about the negatively galvanizing effect the decision had for Wild fans, and Nick wrote about the choice being "not acceptable" over at Hitting the Post.
The reaction on the Wild's Facebook page has been equally visceral, and a simple Twitter search for "LaPanta" yields hundreds of comments, 99.9999% of which are negative.
Today, the Wild and FSN made the hire official. Russo posted the news, and a bit of rationale earlier, and a handful of folks have come out of the woodwork supporting the move. However, the main wave of discontent is still strong, and fans are still not happy with the hire.
The reaction can easily be found, so we won't go into a tweet by tweet break down, but we will take a look at the move, and how some of the reaction is simply not going to be reality. Be warned, my take is likely not popular (it usually isn't), but I offer it anyway. Join me and let's discuss "LaPanta-gate."
We asked the Wild for comment on the hiring process, how the decision was made, if the backlash had an impact, or if we could speak with someone involved in the process. We were unable to make that happen. So, please take the following as my own speculation on the process.
If anyone has ever worked in a company, when an opening arises, and a "job search" is initiated, you can almost always count on the fact that the bosses already know who they are going to hire. Job searches are often for show, or to meet a company policy's requirement that outsiders be interviewed. The vast majority of the time, the person who the bosses wanted gets hired, and no one is the wiser.
My bet is that when the Wild decided not to re-up with Dan Terharr, that LaPanta was already the man they had chosen to fill the position. Was the move done on the cheap? That would certainly be (and is) the guess, but without comment, we will never know. Was the decision made long before hand? Most likely.
The backlash caused some delay in the announcement, but did not derail it. Having been behind the scenes in situations like this, my bet is that the deal was already signed, and contracts don't get broken easily. The fans were heard, but it was too late. It was no longer about finding someone else, but finding a way to make this work.
The backlash continued today, with Twitter being lit up once again with fans decrying the move and stating that they will never again watch a Wild game on FSN. I can understand the feeling behind this, but the threat rings hollow. It defies logic that the people who are so passionate about the team that they are this upset about who will call the games are going to stop watching the team.
Will they mute the sound? Maybe. Until they get tired of not having the play-by-play they have been trained to need. Will they sync up radio to TV? Maybe. But the radio is almost always ahead of the TV feed, so I'm not sure that is the answer either.
No, the die hards will watch the games, and they will watch them with LaPanta calling the game. They will complain (and have every right to do so) about it, but I have zero doubt they will still watch.
I want to make it clear here that I believe the fans have every right to be upset. I don't often sit and watch the Wild on TV. I am at home games, and when they are on the road, I have often been working. I watch the road games on DVR, usually muted, while I listen to music and write. This isn't my fight. I couldn't care less about who calls the games.
I understand the frustration, and especially understand the frustration of the team going ahead with the move despite their customer base nearly universally requesting otherwise. Netflix learned that lesson the hard way already, as have many other companies.
For those saying that ratings will tank, I will take that bet everyday of the week and twice on Sunday. As I mentioned on Twitter, the die hards don't make or break ratings. Just like they don't create sellout crowds. The die hards are going to watch no matter what the team does. They could put my four year old in the booth, and skate the Vikings players rather than the Wild, and the die hards would still watch. I know I would.
No, the "casual" fan makes or breaks the ratings, and the crowds, and they don't care who is calling the games. In terms of viewership, this is a no-lose situation for the team and for FSN. Do I think all of the threats are false? Nah. There is always a zealot that will follow through, but my guess is that number is under ten people. Total.
You all watched eight years of Jacques Lemaire, trap hockey, and you're going to stop watching over a play by play guy? That's just plain wrong.
Right or Wrong
Now, here is where things get tricky. Both sides of this have behaved poorly. The Wild are ignoring their fanbase's express wishes, and going forward with a move that received absolutely zero support from the fans. The decision comes off as the team being that buddy of yours that is dating the crazy girl but refuses to listen to you until she stabs him in the neck with a pencil for not putting the toilet seat down in his own house.
Just a week after the survey from the Wild asked us to tell them about how the brand is perceived, this was not exactly a strong play to change the answers to those questions. To then also go into a lock down mode and choose not to speak about it will likely not help the situation. The fans have questions, and silence from the only people with the answers is not going to make those questions go away.
The Wild look bad, sure, yet the fans come off as petulant children, throwing a temper tantrum and screaming about how they will take their ball and go home if they don't get their way. Again, I understand the fans being upset, but some of the things that were written about LaPanta were unnecessary. If you don't like his work, say so, but going after him personally seems petty.
The Wild are not asking you to be his friend, they are asking you to listen to him call a game. If you have a reason you think they shouldn't hire him, state your case. If you just want to call him names like a second grader, stuff it.
I have nothing but support for those who expressed their views respectfully. Hell, I can even hold some respect for those who went over the top with the sheer volume of their responses. However, when you cross into the realm of name calling, you lose respect and your voice.
Have an issue with the Wild's decision? Tell them. Tell them on Twitter, on Facebook, via email, via the Wild message board, via Hockey Wilderness, via Russo's Rants, via phone (they still exist), hold up a sign at the game, send black roses to the front office (no... don't do that)... but don't act like a child. They will listen, I promise. They will read the emails and tweets. They may not respond, but they will read them.
The End Result
While the team may not wish to comment, and the fans are going to continue to complain, the fact of the matter is that Anthony LaPanta is your new vox. Both sides can either move forward, or they can mire down in name calling, empty threats and ignoring one another. Neither side wins in that situation, but it is the likely reality of what will occur.
It is really too bad that something couldn't be done to make the fans happy. The fans here deserve to have the best available, but that isn't always rational. In the end, he is one man and he should not stand in the way of the fans enjoying the games. Act like adults, watch the games, and if you don't like the result, keep the heat on the team.
It really is all you can do, since we both know you aren't going to stop watching.