The “Beat the Traffic” crowd at PPG Paints Arena is strangling the Pittsburgh Penguins fan base. Embarrassing it. And, those who are bailing too early are sucking the life out of the arena.
It started small a few years ago. A few hundred people would head for the exits midway through the third period. As the passionate Penguins fanbase created ticket demand, they put upward pressure on ticket prices. As ticket prices climbed, less interested folks filled the vacated seats.
A few hundred left. Then it grew. By last year, several thousand went home regardless of the score.
Saturday night, the Penguins were beating the Buffalo Sabres, 3-1 in the third period but the exits were full. When Phil Kessel scored with seven minutes remaining, the goal celebration was not 18,000 fans cheering–it was 8,000 fans cheering and 6,000 fans grabbing their coats.
3,000-4,000 had already left.
Before Andrew WK’s party got started, the aisles were full. The apathy and laziness are spreading like a wild fire.
The 12-year-old hockey loving boy in me raged. The part of me who cares about the Penguins fan base growing and flourishing cringed.
The picture above was taken with six minutes remaining in a game the Pittsburgh Penguins were winning, their fourth straight and playing some of their best hockey of the season. Maybe half of the house remained.
It was a Saturday night. The “it’s a school night” or “I have to work tomorrow” excuse doesn’t apply to very many.
Some fans defend the action with reasoning such as–“I paid, I have the right to leave when I want.” That is certainly true. You’re also able to pick your nose in Starbucks. We don’t recommend either.
If you have to beat the traffic…just stay home. Simple. You won’t have to worry about parking. $12 beers. And you won’t be taking seats from faithful and enthusiastic Penguins fans who used to shake the arena to its foundation.
Yes, Penguins fans were once one of the loudest, boisterous fanbases in the league. It was impossible to attend a Penguins game and not have a good time. It was impossible for the hair on your arms to not stand up when the crowd roared through TV timeouts.
So, stay home. Or, find an activity you enjoy. Go for dinner and drinks. The Pittsburgh Opera has a couple of lovely resident sopranos. The Marriage of Figaro last month was fantastic.
But, everyone who attends the opera, symphony or show stays to the end, so maybe the cultural district is not for the “Beat the Traffic” crowd, either.
Imagine leaving a show or a movie with 15 minutes left. You wouldn’t do it! So many selfishly drain the life from the hockey crowd by doing so. It becomes part of the culture here, hundreds have become thousands, and Saturday it bordered on 10,000.
Is It a Problem?
Pittsburgh Hockey Now reached out to members of the Penguins organization, off-the-record, to inquire if the issue was a problem, internally. It doesn’t sound like it is.
So, why does it matter to me? Someday, the Penguins will not have the best player of the generation. For 33 years, from Mario Lemieux to Jaromir Jagr, to Lemieux again and Sidney Crosby, Penguins fans have been given gifts that no fan base has ever received.
I feel bad for the kids in the crowd who don’t know the fantastic experience of hockey games that I experienced, as a young man. I worry they won’t love the game or going to games.
Instead of growing the fan base, raising the bar regarding knowledge and creating an attractive culture, it seems things are going the other way.
Toronto or Montreal wouldn’t empty the barn midway through the third period of a contested game. Certainly not a win. Nor would other hockey towns like Minneapolis or Boston. Direct competitors like Washington and Columbus do not empty the arena during a Saturday night win leaving only the sounds of skate blades cutting the ice.
One of the great moments last season was courtesy of a corner section. As fans began to head for the exits, the section started chanting “Beat the Traffic!”
Some folks still left but much more stayed. The trend, if only for a moment, was reversed because there was no momentum to disappear.
Fans need to reclaim the culture and atmosphere inside the arena. Until then, the best way to beat the traffic, is, ironically, to stay until the final horn…