Everyone Jump on the Bandwagon
As I watch the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and cheer for Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas and the Fab Five, my thoughts wander to what it’s like to be a new fan. A fan who doesn’t know very much about a sport and one who might lose interest quickly. Most of us will leave these Olympics the way we always have, with great memories but ready for our regular sports to take over our lives again. This makes me reflect on how I became a hockey fan.
In 2009, my oldest son decided that he wanted to learn to skate — just like his new friend. The skating lessons turned into hockey lessons over the span of three months. When October arrived, my wife and I decided that we should watch some professional hockey to see what he was getting into. I don’t even mean the physical aspect — he was only five — but rather we needed to see what the game was all about. Also, we thought he might really enjoy it and learn a few things. He sat still for five minutes and was off playing with toys while we sat on the edge of our sofa, riveted to the action before us as the Capitals handily disposed of the Boston Bruins 4-1. We were hooked.
It didn’t occur to us until months later that we had fallen for a sport and a team at the height of their regular season play after years of less-than-stellar performances. We had had only the slightest awareness that the Washington Capitals had been getting better and more popular steadily since the play off return in the 2007-08 season. We were only aware that a sport that we had previously ignored was now our primetime viewing choice from October to April (or later should they take it that far!) and that our son was steadily getting closer to playing it. We became die-hard hockey fans. Die-hard hockey fans of the best team to not win a Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals. Though I’m defending the bandwagon here, we were not bandwagon fans. We sure must have looked like them.
We went out and bought Caps gear: shirts, stickers, magnets, PJ pants and jerseys. We attended the regular, free practices at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. We bought tickets to see games, but not too many, as fan interest had driven up the price. We watched nearly every game from what we now call our “season ticket” sofa. And, we “watched” on Twitter when we were away from a hockey-friendly TV. And yes, we learned everything we possibly could about the rules, the players and other teams.
My point is that we had no history with hockey. Neither of us played. Neither of us watched, except in 1998 when Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Calle Johansson and Olie Kolzig led the Caps to the Stanley Cup finals. But that was only even a few games that didn’t end very well. We looked a lot like bandwagon fans. And what’s wrong with that? I’m certain the Capitals organization was thrilled to see their home attendance — arguably the best measure of how many people are paying attention — rise from an average of 13,931 in 2006-07 to 15,473 in 2007-08 to 18,097 in 2008-09. And by 2009-10 home games sold out every night and Alex Ovechkin’s jersey had risen to number one on the NHL store’s list of top selling player jerseys.
It’s not just about the money to be found in increasing the fan base, but it’s also about the advantage for the die-hard, loyal fan. The advantage comes in the form of wide-spread recognition of the team you cheer for. It comes in the even greater sense of community when fans can be found around the globe — on Twitter and Facebook.
One of the things that all fans share is that they were new fans at some point. For some, it may feel as though they were born fans because their families have always been fans. Even those fans had a decision to make at some point. Whether you’re a new fan who feels like you’re riding on the bandwagon or you’re a die-hard fan, you’re all a part of the same community. Whether you know very little or you know it all, you have opportunities to teach and to learn. All fans can become die-hard fans — even those on the bandwagon.
Disclosure: I design and sell t-shirts for fans — all fans.