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Kingerski: Bandwagon Fans Deserting Penguins, Good Riddance

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Pittsburgh Penguins, evgeni malkin, sidney crosby

The Pittsburgh Penguins are pushing hard to sell out their home opener on Saturday against Marc-Andre Fleury and the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s more than 600 games since the Penguins didn’t sell out a game, but that streak is hanging by a thread as some fans can’t be bothered for a home opener against a franchise legend on a Saturday night.

Ladies and gentlemen, bandwagon fans have left the building.

Good riddance.

Perhaps the perceived lack of a chance to say, “We won the Cup” or just “We won,” has shoved the passive masses away. Perhaps babysitters won’t work for less than $15 an hour, either?

I hope this isn’t the beginning of trouble for a franchise that has seen the inside of a bankruptcy courtroom several times since its Ecuadorian Penguin-killing inaugural season in 1967.

I hope Pittsburgh has enough HOCKEY fans.

I think so. I hope so.

Penguins & the Past

You know, this keyboard didn’t always belong to an irritable media type who rooted for stories instead of teams. This keyboard once belonged to an ardent fan of the Pittsburgh sports teams, especially the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As kids, we had Mario Lemieux. Every Christmas, we waited anxiously for Penguins tickets in our stocking–always on the giveaway night, too (That was long before sports teams began giving away knickknacks for every game). We played street hockey because of Lemieux and practiced our backhand dekes and top-shelf breakaway moves.

I was a young adult away at college in 1997. I was nearly overwhelmed when Lemieux scored a breakaway goal, then signaled “one more” to an adoring Civic Arena crowd. That was one game before the Philadelphia Flyers ended the Penguins season and we thought Lemieux’s career was over. It broke my heart.

I suffered through a room full of Flyers fans to watch that game. Tell me that’s not dedication.

I came out of my seat in 1998 when Jaromir Jagr, on one good leg, saved the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise with a Game 6 goal against the New Jersey Devils in 1999, and the Penguins upset vaunted New Jersey to collect the critical second-round playoff revenues. That extra round of playoff money made the difference between having the Penguins…and not.

Thanks, Jags. Thanks for everything.

The memory of Jagr’s goals in those playoffs and the sheer will to win despite a debilitating leg injury shall forever be the most heroic performance in Pittsburgh sports history.

The hairs on my arm still stand.

The 1997 Penguins team, the 1998 teams, and the following years weren’t truly Stanley Cup contenders. Fans trickled away as the band became players like Milan Kraft, Alexei Morozov, the last go-round of Robby Brown, Dan Focht, and lead guitarist Rico Fata.

After Lemieux and Jagr, the Penguins embarked on a Next Generation or Generation Next campaign that featured more players who were infamous for their lack of talent than known for having it.

(Yes, Lemieux was a part of those teams but was often injured and suffering through the pains of a new-arena fight).

The Student Rush plan was born, and while it didn’t pack the house, it let a few thousand rowdy, fun-loving, enjoyable fans into the building.

Those smaller crowds were FUN. They were what hockey crowds should be–loud, energetic, supportive, and there for a good time. They more closely resembled a Canadian crowd’s enthusiasm than the detached, demanding seat buyers who departed.

Pro tip: Put down your phone and enjoy the people around you. Double pro tip: Enjoy the hockey. If you can learn to enjoy a smoked bourbon that smells like a tire fire and burns like kerosene, hockey should be no problem, eh?

Winning Arrived, AGAIN

Eventually, Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Max Talbot, and Jordan Staal arrived. Those students who “rushed” to the Civic Arena found themselves part of the party on the Southside, too. A few of the boys had keys to the backdoor of Mario’s, and things were fun.

Then, winning happened. Those students and young adults were priced out of the building as corporate types, bandwagon fans, and reflected glory specialists (the people there not for hockey but for the feeling of winning), returned.

Arrive late. Leave early. Cheer when Sidney Crosby pleases you.

Remember when Thomas Greiss compared the Pittsburgh crowd to a mausoleum?

Overall, the fanbase remains the strongest in the United States. Last season, the Penguins TV ratings beat every other NHL AND NBA team, but the crowd…meh. Could you imagine thousands of Montreal Canadiens fans leaving a tie game or a one-goal game with six minutes left?

Beating traffic is a life goal to non-hockey fans, apparently.

Well, the Pittsburgh Penguins are pushing hard to sell tickets this season. I hope they get every last one sold, and I hope thousands of new fans pack the place to be rowdy, loud, energetic, and fun.

The organization deserves the support, too. It spent money despite the COVID pandemic, which created massive business losses. Few organizations treat their fans better than the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Perhaps Pittsburgh fans were never forced to love a team without a superstar. Instead, they are a gritty team that skates its collective butt off, chases every loose puck, and competes to the end. It is certainly a departure from the dynamic offense, which is part of the Penguins organization’s DNA.

“I said to the guys after the game that we just love their compete right now,” Penguins head coach Sullivan said after the Thursday OT loss. “You know we’re competing hard, we’re battling, and it’s not perfect by any stretch out there. But I love our attitude. I love our compete.”

Entertaining Penguins

The Penguins took three of four points in Florida. Their first two games have been impressive, just as they were last season when missing a myriad of players. And the season before when the same was true.

Even without Crosby, or Malkin, the Penguins are an entertaining hockey team. These aren’t the Pittsburgh Pirates who abused your trust, squashed a great game for decades, and peddle fireworks.

No, the Penguins are still legit. They have an excellent coach who has helped define this era of NHL hockey and routinely walks the tightrope of a structured system and turning players loose.

It’s not always about the Stanley Cup. It’s also about the journey, the game.

If you can’t root for Bryan Rust or Kasperi Kapanen, appreciate the comeback stories of Mike Matheson or Brian Boyle, or be entertained by an energetic, good hockey team that generally plays well, then…good riddance.

Reflected glory specialists will point to three straight Round One losses. OK. That simply means a fan was there for winning the Stanley Cup and not the hockey or even the greatness of Crosby and Malkin.

Here’s the challenge: it’s time Pittsburgh showed up for hockey, not star players. Superstars are a rare commodity, and yours will soon be antiques.

If hockey doesn’t appeal to you, save the money on tickets. Don’t worry about traffic or an $11 beer. Stay home.

Stay home when the Penguins are a hot ticket, again, too.

To bandwagoners who drive up ticket prices in good times then bounce after the peak (and will probably be outraged, OUTRAGED! by this bit of honesty), goodbye!

Maybe a few more starry-eyed kids who think of the arena as a magical palace, like I once did, will get into the arena.

Perhaps those diehards who have been relegated to watching TV can return. The student rush is also back, and I hope it works just as well for the Pittsburgh Penguins as it did when they introduced it over 15 years ago. And I hope Penguins hockey fans pack the place and enjoy the greatest game on the planet.

If you’re here, you probably deserve it.

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Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
1 month ago

Biggest challenge for this franchise will be to find the next star. People will still come for the core and their remaining years. In order to keep momentum in a positive light, need someone down the road that will provide enough interest to keep those fringy folks coming through the gate. That player isnt on the roster currently. As good as 59 and 42 are, they wont push ticket sells.

Dave Heyl
Dave Heyl
1 month ago

Bravo, well said!!!!

Cal
Cal
1 month ago

I have driven 6 and 8 hours oneway numerous times to watch the Penguins play. I would love the opportunity to watch more games regardless of what players are on the team. I’m with you Dan, your in or your out.

James Bagley
James Bagley (@harley81)
1 month ago

Amen

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher (@the-scrivener)
1 month ago

Not one of your best articles. Too early for this in the covid era. Baseball attendance dropped 23 million the past two years. NFL teams, including the Stillerz, have thousands of empty seats. I think I’ll wait until society is back to “normal” before I draw any firm conclusions.

DaGama
DaGama (@dagama)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

Yes, and a fair number of fans are struggling money wise. Those folks will still be fans whether or not they can afford to be in the building. Go Pens!

Big B
Big B
1 month ago

I have been a fan of thid team living 1500 hundred miles away for 38 years plus.I buy jerseys hats etc and in the last few months i have bought six hats so believe me when i tell ya the fans in Pittsburgh are the most soiled ungrateful and entitled fans in hockey.If you need to win the cup to spend your cash on a team no teams would have fans. Ask Toronto,Philly,Montreal,Calgary,Vancouver,Winnipeg,Nashville.Nyr,Boston,Ottawa,Buffalo,San Jose or any of the 12 teams who have never won the cup if they would like three cups in 12 years or the longest playoff streak… Read more »

jackw
jackw (@jackw)
1 month ago
Reply to  Big B

That’s exactly right. I don’t live in Pittsburgh, but I’ve followed the team for decades and watched every single one of the moments mentioned above. The “problem” isn’t people who leave a game early. It’s the people who don’t appreciate the amazing talent that Pittsburgh has been blessed with, or who somehow feel that others “owe” a certain loyalty to the team while at the same time regarding generational superstars as nothing more than cogs that can easily be discarded, shifted around or replaced. As though somehow it’s a coach, not the players, who actually wins a game. Or that… Read more »

Michael Hanczar
Michael Hanczar
1 month ago

Amen, brother Dan, Amen!

Michael Hanczar
Michael Hanczar
1 month ago

Cheer the front of the jersey, not necessary the name in the back.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Overwhelmingly those reading anything about the team on here are committed hockey fans, so I understand your feelings Dan but . . .. I think the impact of Covid is substantial. Not so much because of fear of being infected at a game (although that is part of it) but rather I think many fans . . . sports fans in general . ..experienced life without attending the venue . . . and found that it was not all that bad. So if you are a fan . . . but a casual one . . .staying home and keeping… Read more »

Jaye Cantagallo
Jaye Cantagallo (@jaye6687)
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Frank, I completely understand what you are saying and agree with part of it… I am a diehard fan, but have been priced out of in arena seats. I still support the Pens in every other way I can. But if I had the money, I would be there as much as I could.

Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Pretty simple. Would love to go. Priced out.

Mark
Mark
1 month ago

What metrics or data do you have to support the premise that ticket sales are down because of “bandwagon fans”? Sales would not be down if the “diehards” were snagging up the available seats… There are many reasons why ticket sales are down (across most teams/leagues). It is well documented that this was a trend before the recent craziness but is even more true today. You correctly mentioned that the Penguins spent money despite COVID (forgivable payroll loans helped). Unfortunately, our state, nation, and the world reacted to COVID in a way that crushed the economy and put a lot… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Mark
Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

Absolutely Mark.

B L
B L
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

I was a season ticket holder for several years but got priced out after the cup wins. People tend to forget that it’s not just the price if the ticket. It’s the price of parking, the gas to get there, heck, even the time investment of making the hour and a half drive to Pittsburgh (I wondered how many of those people were making a similar drive but didn’t want to get home after 11 like did). It’s also the sunken cost of eating the price of a game you can’t go to because you have to work but can’t… Read more »

longdongsilver
longdongsilver
1 month ago

I think this is a little harsh given the COVID situation… not all fans are ready or able to come back yet. Personally, I participated in the early 00’s student rush, drove to away playoff games in other states and attended practices. With the current supply chain issues I’ve been putting in horrendously long days at work, so attending live Penguin games has been on the back burner. Believe me, the games have been on (but muted) during after hours web meetings but that doesn’t make me or some of the folks like me any less of a fan. I… Read more »

Michelle Maroda
Michelle Maroda
1 month ago

I was considering going to the home opener this weekend but ticket prices were ridiculous. Might have kept others away.

FWIW though, my husband and I are going to the game against the Wild, so that might not count as much.

William Maloni
William Maloni (@boysdad)
1 month ago

So, what’s really on your mind????

Harry B.
Harry B.
1 month ago

Attendance will continue to drop…but don’t blame the long time ticket purchasing public from years past. Ownership and the league have gone out of their way to target a new audience, while the game itself has gone from a physical, body on body hard hitting game to nothing more than a stick-on-stick approach. I walked away from attending games 5 years ago, from a once proud season ticket holder of 16 years. It’s a mistake that so many businesses make, that being, forget about current clientele and cater to the casual or possible new clients. I will not consider attending… Read more »

Rick
Rick
1 month ago

I was there in 1967 watching Bathgate, Boivin, and Binkley. I was there at there in 74-75 watching the team blow a 3 games to 0 lead against the Islanders. I attended 20-30 games a year thru the lean years of the 80s leading up to Mario. I have seen the Highs and Lows. I am not going anywhere, even as the rebuild draws near. I contend I have earned the right to say Dan, I have a problem with anyone taking pot shots at the fans, any fans, die hard fans like me or fair weather fans. There are… Read more »

Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

Absolutely. Fan since 88. Love the Pens. But just expecting fans to keep paying more, and more and then whining when they don’t, is unrealistic. No Fans, no league and no ridiculous amount of $$ to play a game.

Russell Ridenbaugh
Russell Ridenbaugh
1 month ago

Just gave up my great location season tickets in 104 that I have had since 1991, partial season before that, primarily because of health reasons. My ticket, even with season ticket discount, are over $125 plus each, plus $30 for parking and higher gas prices come close to $300 for one game. I lost money that last full year selling week day games and made a few dollars on weekend games to virtually break even. Tickets are too expensive for the average working family today with rising inflation. Still a rabid and devoted Pens fan but can’t afford to loose… Read more »

Gavin Baldwin
1 month ago

Nice article and a good read cheers

KEITH KRAMER
KEITH KRAMER
1 month ago

If tickets were $25 I would go to A LOT more games! They need to stop gouging people.

Dorothy Tecklenburg
Dorothy Tecklenburg (@dtecklenburg)
1 month ago

Nice article, well written. I am a STH and also over 65. Went to games last season when there were so few fans and strict rules and felt safe. We’ll be there Saturday night but I switched my tickets to the last row of the section so no one will be breathing or shouting on me from behind. I am planning on wearing a Penguins mask even though it’s not required. People I used to invite to games won’t go. They have grandchildren and until the kids get vaccines they won’t go anywhere in a crowd. They can’t risk giving… Read more »

Jaye Cantagallo
Jaye Cantagallo (@jaye6687)
1 month ago

Dan, I am so glad you wrote this column. I have been saying the same thing for years. I had season tickets when the Pens were, to say the least, not good. I never left early, even sat through a 10-0 drubbing by the Devils. During the epic Jagr one legged win, a yuppie couple sat in front of me and before Jagr’s heroics, the female of the yuppie couple turned to me and said, “I hope your voice goes away” and they left! I got the last laugh when Jagr scored to tie and win in OT. Btw, I’m… Read more »

landerson
landerson (@landerson)
1 month ago

I think you are underestimating the effect Covid has had on people’s desire to be packed into indoor spaces together. Indoor entertainment is not coming back as much as outdoor events like football and concerts.

Ryan
Ryan
1 month ago

U want to complain about not selling a game out? Don’t jack prices so much. I can go Tuesday for $25/ticket but you want me to pay $80/each for the opener? What do you take us fans for?

Kill Phessel
Kill Phessel
1 month ago

I just bought a ticket. I can’t make the game, I live in Ontario. If someone wants to go I just need a name and email to transfer the ticket

John Hennessy
John Hennessy (@johnh127)
1 month ago

Way too early to come this conclusion. Been a fan since 1970, consistently, but absolutely would hesitate to go in this environment—with relatives all around who are vulnerable. For many, it’s not a questions of passion, but of wisdom. Right now, we need more wisdom than passion in this world.

Last edited 1 month ago by John Hennessy
Big B
Big B
1 month ago

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality

Drew
Drew
1 month ago

Have you looked at the voting on the comments? COVID is the concern.

Rod
Rod
1 month ago

I remember my Dad saying “generally, sports fans are idiots” when I was a kid. He was right.

M Glez
M Glez
1 month ago

Nice article that probably applied to most professional teams.. I hope the diehard fans show up (if they can afford it) and support this team and franchise, I love our star players but the rest of the players make this team exciting. I wish I lived in Pittsburgh, I support as much as I can from San Diego. Let’s be honest, if Crosby and Malkin were playing there would be no tickets available for 1st game of season. The problem with bandwagon fans is that they make it more expensive and hard to attend for some fans, and at the… Read more »

R Monahan
R Monahan
1 month ago

Very well said, I’m old enough to remember the days before Mario, the Boys of Winter, and Gary Risling. Being able to afford seats at mid-ice with my friends, looking right over the glass. Not a better seat in the house in the old igloo. I remember security letting us play improvised street hockey in an empty area of the concourse with little sticks and an orange plastic ball. Knowing full well that we were going to get drubbed by Edmonton and not caring because it was fun. Now I’m old, I live in Virginia, and I make it back… Read more »

Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
1 month ago

You said it.
Fans are priced out by corporate.
That is on Pens corporate also.

Kobayahia Naru
Kobayahia Naru
1 month ago

By their own admission they say it is a business. That would make me a consumer. As a consumer I have the freedom to purchase a product based on quality, need, and desire. Why is it I have to be denigrated if I am not fully loyal to the Penguins. How many players left for money over team? Plus the Pens are not fully loyal to me! Loyalty is only of value if it exists in a egalitarian relationship. 400-500 % mark up on food and drink is NOT loyalty. They don’t come and help me move or bring a… Read more »

MrNails
MrNails (@mrnails)
1 month ago

Great article, Dan.

Jason
1 month ago

Great article Dan! I just love hockey no matter how good or bad the pens might be like you said there so many story lines to follow guys to root for and the game it’s self is just magical the paint can is gives me goose bumps every time I go and have been there a lot brings a smile to my face always! True fan win and enjoy the wins the pens give you and you take the losses on the chin but you buck up for a better performance the next game. True fans are louder and more… Read more »

Longtime Pens Supporter
Longtime Pens Supporter
1 month ago

1. Still pandemic (2,000 deaths/day….still)
2. Cheapest seat $75 / hour of hockey (in addition to the ‘overpaid’ babysitters one might have to shell out for as you mentioned)

Take another stab at this article when pandemic is over and folks are getting paid a living wage.

Longtime Pens Supporter
Longtime Pens Supporter
1 month ago

Jeez a downvote? They still play indoors, right?

JR Turner
JR Turner
1 month ago

No bandwagoner here, but my health takes precedence over attending games in person. Some of us have health issues that makes us too vulnerable. I’ve been going to games every year since the Hornets and throughout Penguins history, but I want to live to see another Cup run down the road… Hopefully this year!!

Last edited 1 month ago by JR Turner
Jman712
Jman712 (@jman712)
1 month ago

As a die-hard fan from the late 60s through today, with a hundred stories to tell, there’s nothing like being there and I hope the true fans and the next generation of fans really get behind the team and support it. Great article!

Ward
Ward
1 month ago

Easy for you to bash fans but many folks just can’t afford the trip and tickets.

Keith Thomas
Keith Thomas (@kthomas)
1 month ago

Really? Scolding fans and calling them “fair-weather” fans after three seasons where they stuck with them after repeated abysmal play-off series! WOWZER!!! Well in my view when the Mgmt refused to go out and get some players and/or make some bold decisions in the off season and stick with what they have and they essentially endorsed the failures of the past 3-4 seasons they brought this on themselves. I don’t blame the fans one bit. Surprised at your take Dan!

C.Denniston
1 month ago

Just reading on a FB ‘fan page’ all the outrage of the team going ticket-less and cashless. These are the bandwagon fans.
They are refusing to go because,*gasp*, its inconvenient.
BUH-BYE.

Lou Leonzio
Lou Leonzio
1 month ago

Great story I have been following the Pen before they ever won a division title or Stanley cup ….brought my youngest son home during the 91 playoff run…..family sat outside to watch on big screen for last 2 Stanley cups since then we have had to move south and continue to watch Penguins hockey until I no longer can
Thanks for the great memories!

Mark Kopsack
Mark Kopsack
1 month ago

When we had seasons tickets from 1994-2013 our family owned a small business, and we used the tickets to enjoy as well as a giveaway perk to our hard working team. The last year in the Igloo we had four tickets in C7 (center ice). Tickets for the entire year we’re just over $10000 (approximately $66 a seat). When the new arena came along, those same tickets went to $21000. They doubled in price and playoff tickets cost about the same as the regular season if the boys made a deep run, which we never complained about, but cost a… Read more »

Rusty Shackleford
Rusty Shackleford
1 month ago

Maybe it has something to do with a pandemic and not bandwagon fans abandoning the team. Also could be the fact ticket prices are through the roof and only the corporate crowd can afford tickets for a night out. I havnt been to a game in years doesn’t mean I dont want to go, and it certainly doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the team. I stream every game on my hacked game center and not just pens games, hockey every night for me. Just a thought but you might be a genius.

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