Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Something to get off my chest...

Now, in the aftermath of the baseless speculation that was the possibility of Toronto being home to a second hockey franchise, opinions were bandied about regarding why Toronto didn't deserve a second team. Because they already have a second pro team, the Marlies, whose attendance has been abysmal lately (hovering under 1500) after a promising start in Toronto.

Now, let's get this straight. 1500 fans in an arena that seats 7500, especially in the playoffs, is a complete travesty. There's no way to really gauge why interest and attendance is so low, but in my mind the concept of "arrogance" on the part of Toronto fans isn't quite accurate, both MLS and the NLL aren't exactly "world class" organizations (though maybe the most professional forms of their sport existing in North America) yet both sell out frequently in the city. I don't mean to belittle those teams, I watch TFC any chance I get, but I can tell you in terms of comparable play, the AHL is about as close to NHL hockey as MLS is to the Premier League.

The real reasons why nobody in the city goes to Marlies games?

Nobody knows who they are

Sad, I know, but true. We're talking about a team fresh from St. John's, Newfoundland that relocated in 2004. They play in Ricoh Coliseum, a venue known better for Fallout Boy concerts. I can't tell you the amount of times I've had to explain to somebody what the AHL is in Toronto.

Ignorance shouldn't be confused with arrogance.When TFC launched it was accompanied with billboards, streetcar wraparounds, banners, and television commercials. The Maple Leafs have started pushing their new "Spirit is Everything" campaign in the same fashion in order to keep interest while the team undergoes it's struggles.

The Marlies have a banner on the side of Ricoh Coliseum, in an area where to see it you need to be driving away from it to get into the city. A search for "Toronto Marlies Ad/Poster" will give you this:

A garbage can. In front of Ricoh, no less. Who sees that unless they're already at the game? What sport is that for anyway? All I can see is Duke the Dog being oddly creepy.

Now, don't get me wrong here, the Marlies get exposure somewhere. I've seen loads of announcements and ads for the Marlies. Every time I'm in the Air Canada Centre to watch a game. What kind of logic is that? One, everyone there can afford to go to a Leaf game. Two, the NHL and AHL schedules are largely concurrent, meaning that to see the Marlies the people who are currently paying outrageously large sums to see the Leafs would have to miss games in order to watch a worse team.

Marlies games are televised, to an extent, on LeafsTV. Whenever they play a home game when the Leafs aren't also on TV. That's not a good way to reach a new audience either. Marlies highlights and postgames are used as filler in newspapers and on news broadcasts occasionally.

The Future of the Leafs?

Now, die-hard fans of the Leafs would love to see exciting talent. They want to be able to point at a kid and say "He'll be on the team next year" The Marlies don't offer that. This is a list on the Marlies website about their graduates. Name somebody that resonates with current fans. Peter Zezel?

Some good young kids on the Leafs have played games there, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jiri Tlusty, and Anton Stralman. Neither of them has played more than half a season on the current incarnation of the Marlies. Probably the most relevant and recent grad who played significant minutes on the minor team was Ian White (in St. Johns), currently a healthy scratch for 5 games.

It's not the Marlies fault that the Leafs have lacked draft picks and organizational depth. It's just too bad that Kris Newbury, Ben Ondrus, and Staffan Kronwall just aren't very big draws. Williams and Earl don't project to be scoring stars in the pros. There's Pogge, but he hasn't held a starting role there until this season, and to be honest goalies are noticed most when they mess up.


People pay to see winning teams. Before last year's trip to the conference finals, the Marlies had one playoff round, a 5 game loss to Grand Rapids. With the Leafs suddenly struggling, a Calder Cup from the Marl would likely help sales greatly. Mark Bell may just tear things up down at that level, which would make things interesting. But this team is too new and faced too much competition from a pro team making breathtaking almost-runs to a playoff bearth to garner a lot of hype, especially with no media exposure.

The onus here is on MLSE to push the Marlies as a viable entertainment option in the city, not an alternative but another outlet for the passion and patriotism of the masses. So far they've dropped the ball, and a perfectly decent team is middling in obscurity in the city.

No comments: