Hockey franchises – painlessly parting fans from their hard-earned dollars

It is very much a business too and both teams do know their business.

By Allan Hewitson

Christmas isn’t here yet, but my son Craig and I just enjoyed our joint early Christmas present from my wife and his mother, Roz – two row-five, blue-line seats for the NHL game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks.

I have attended some highly-touted mid-season and tension-filled playoff games in the past – in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, at the Bell Centre and the old Forum in Montreal, in Winnipeg, Calgary Saddledome and Rogers Centre, Vancouver – but what I didn’t recognize – or perhaps even remember – was just how much more frantic these events seem to have become in recent years.

The hoopla in the last 20 years has multiplied exponentially, much much more than just the amazing light shows and the sizes of the gigantic video screen scoreboard clocks/advertising centres.

It is all the more so when two contending teams are enjoying some success.

Both the Canucks and the Leafs have extreme and fervent fans, but I fully believe the hype may be getting a bit out of hand.

And, here’s my proviso, and it is not news, so too are the costs! No point in going too deep into it – when the players make millions, revenue becomes an issue.

Now, pro-sports teams are constantly profusely thanking their fans for their loyalty and support – and from past experience and this one, a week or so ago, I know they have much to thank them for.

But it is very much a business too and both teams do know their business.

While hockey and entertainment enter in, the principal business is to painlessly part the fans from their hard-earned dollars.

The clubs are really good at that, but when it is a ‘grudge match’ like it often is when the Leafs hit town, most fans are aware of the cost, but apparently, don’t care.

The hockey gear business as always was front and centre – with blue, white, yellow and multi-colored $200 jerseys to the fore, with the names on the back not necessarily reflecting the age of the wearer – but Matthews, Marner, Rielly, Clark, McDonald and Sittler were prominent among the list of current and past Leafs’ greats and the Sedins, Boesers, Horvats, Bures, Luongo and Mogilny, even a few Williams, reflecting the same enthusiasm for Vancouver rookies and veterans.

The close-checking game was a two-point 2-1 regulation time win for the Canucks, which eventually turned the contesting “Go Leafs Go” and “Go Canucks Go” chants into “Go Home Leafs” outside the arena.

We really enjoyed the sports rivalry and saw few signs of conflict all weekend.

All in all it was a great and all too rare father-son weekend, exhausting when combined with some hurried Christmas shopping and some special meals, including a post-game seafood dinner at a noisy Irish pub, co-incidentally playing host to a party of about 25 Santa Clauses.

Our flights were on time and weather was wet, but who’s not used to that?

For my son, it wasn’t the planned Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver trilogy for a couple of frenetic fans – work time-off doesn’t follow the NHL schedule, so it was family first for his friend and an opportunity for me, and we enjoyed our experience.

There have been too few opportunities in the past few years.

What is always a downer, however, in any visit to downtown Vancouver is the state of downtown Granville-Robson hotels-shopping-entertainment area – heavy police and security presence.

Saddening signs of homelessness and joblessness, mental illness, street panhandling and desperate begging as well as the ever-present drug culture.

And the overflow of garbage the city can’t keep up with.

Sales of marijuana and other drugs were brisk, openly, right on the street, with drug kiosks obvious, beside the food trucks, the souvenir hawkers and buskers, by the Robson skating rink and the art gallery.

And all this long before legalization becomes official.

For my part, it has a scary portent. I am not a supporter and I don’t see it as adding any allure to the tourist picture offered by Tourism B.C. and big city Vancouver.

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