“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the ONLY thing.”
When I was growing up in the 1970’s, I had a vested interest in victory for my favorite sports teams. At least, I thought I did. There was no cable or satellite TV. We couldn’t get a daily newspaper. The internet and the idea that I would someday watch a hockey game on my phone…well, that’s just Jetson’s stuff. It was network TV and Sports Illustrated. That’s it. And if my team wasn’t on TV or wasn’t good enough to be featured in SI, then it was very difficult to follow them. Especially since two of my childhood favorite teams were/are on the west coast. I cheered intensely for my teams because it meant I’d get to see them more: I’d get to see them play on TV. I’d get information about the players and games from the network pre-game shows. They’d be on the cover of Sports Illustrated!
Obviously, things are different now. You can follow any team in the world, and see the games live on satellite or cable. Or, purchase their internet feed and watch on your phone or tablet. Even minor league teams are easy to follow–there are internet subscriptions to be had and local TV stations covering the games. There are local and out-of-town newspapers to read online. There are blogs–such as this one–dedicated to the information necessary for maximum enjoyment and knowledge of these teams. For major-league-level teams, there are even more outlets: you can follow your favorite beat writer on Twitter and read the newspaper columns online. You can communicate with your fellow fans from all over the world. It’s a wonderful time to be a fan! And winning isn’t required.
Since 2008, I’ve gone from a guy who attends 3-5 live professional sporting events per year to a guy who attends over 100. Then I spend more of my free time generating this drivel for fun and catharsis. And I want to win more than ever. There’s nothing like the feeling of walking out of the stadium or arena after a big win. But, we get plenty of that. There are many regular season wins per year for the Phantoms and IronPigs. So is that all I’m craving? Or, are there other reasons I want those W’s? The reasons are differing: Differing from days gone by, and differing from each other:
Unlike some of our previous experience, for our newest team, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms AHL hockey team, winning seems to be a priority. From day one, the organization, the coaches, and the players have spoken about winning–about victory and playoffs and success on the ice. Heck, they even made me pay for playoff tickets before the arena was even built! The last two nights notwithstanding, we’ve been able to leave hockey games basking in the “thrill of victory” vastly more often then not. So what’s the big deal with the Phantoms? Why is it so important to me that they make the playoffs? Or, conversely, that they seem to be squandering that chance, currently? Here’s why: Playoff Hockey. Historically speaking, I consider myself a rather casual hockey fan. I usually don’t start paying attention to NHL hockey until May or June–and then only if it’s on after I get home from the IronPigs games. But even I know: There’s a difference with playoff hockey. The play is more intense–and so are the fans. It’s something I’d love to experience at the PPL Center. I’ve met so many passionate and knowledgeable hockey fans already this season. I know the “Phan Nation” would “rise up” for the playoffs!
For the SteelHawks it’s a bit different. Despite having established themselves several years ago in the Lehigh Valley, they’re still building their brand and finding their audience. With only six “openings”–that is, home games–per year, it is more difficult for them. Heck, I can go to six IronPigs games in one week. Add in the amenities–or lack thereof–over at their previous home in Stabler Arena, and you’ve got a team and an organization that is still growing. Now that they’ve moved to the PPL Center, and added a brand new field, I expect their growth to continue. And what could be better than a home playoff game? Yeah, two! In fact, they played two playoff games last season; however, as football goes, they happened to be road games. Home playoff games would add more “openings” and help in terms of additional revenue as well as additional exposure in the community. I’m sure the Clarks and the SteelHawks family, along with the entirety of the Noise Nation, would like nothing better than to make a deep playoff run at home in their first year in downtown Allentown!
The IronPigs are a somewhat different story. From the beginning, the lovable losers told us that it’s not even about winning. The organization itself rarely even mentions the athletes or the action on the field, and the parent organization in Philadelphia doesn’t ever seem to worry about wins and losses which don’t occur at Broad and Pattison. After 72 home dates per season, staff and management alike at Coca Cola Park are ready to head down the shore in September, rather than put on more games without the benefit of the summer help, who’ve all returned to school. Playoff baseball in the Minor Leagues is notorious for poor attendance and general apathy. But just like a lot of other things, the IronPigs are not your everyday Minor League franchise. And their fans aren’t, either. Those home playoff games in 2011 were magical. Despite a somewhat diminished crowd, the enthusiasm was unrivaled–for every pitch and every out, for every hit and every run. Perhaps it was because it was the height of the Phillies’ powers as well, but I’d really like to see it again. And this time I’d like to see a championship trophy presented to US on our field–and a banner the next spring in the outfield. If the IronPigs could just go sailing into the post-season, the staff and organization would be prepared to put on the games.
So you see, I guess all in all it’s not as different from yesteryear as I first thought. There are different factors at work for these teams, but at the end of the day: I want to win because I want to see more. More hockey, more indoor football, and more baseball:
“Just Win, Baby.”
See you at the arena and at the park,