The following also appears at The Checking Line.
The past two free agent signing periods made Blues fans feel like the kids who got lumps of coal at Christmas time. But John Davidson and Larry Pleau put on their Blue Santa Claus suits, came down the Scottrade Center Chimney and delivered a shiny new Paul Kariya to Blues fans everywhere.
Aside from the on-ice upgrade, Davidson achieved an even more important coup. People about town were talking about the Blues again.
With a rapidly dwindling fan base, Dave Checketts, Davidson and Blues management are being aggressive in winning fans back. Fans were invited to the Paul Kariya press conference in the Scottrade Center atrium. As a bonus, any fan who bought season tickets got themselves a new Paul Kariya signed Blues sweater. There have been lots of promotions to entice people to buy season tickets. Personal calls from team Alumni, coaches and current players… autographed memorabilia and the like. Great moves to capture new Season ticket holders. More fans in the seats means good times for everyone involved. Who doesn’t love a full building?
However, there is a sense of curiosity from the "Die-Hard"fans (the ones who never cancelled their accounts after the lockout) about how their loyalty through some very lean times is recognized. While they hate to sound like they’re complaining in the face of prosperity, more than one person who had season tickets during the past two years quietly wondered “That’s great… but what about me? I can’t renew, because I never cancelled.”
On the first Opening Day after the lockout in all 30 NHL arenas, fans were presented with a miniature replica Stanley Cup as a token of appreciation for their undying support through the darkest hour in professional sports. Unfortunately, the Laurie regime rewarded their loyal core of fans by destroying the team. While Mr. Checketts wasn’t responsible for the demolition, it was these same fans that continued to show up last year – and until Andy Murray was hired, there wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about. It’s my experience that most of these people are working-class “Average Joes” that don’t have bundles of disposable cash lying around. They came because they loved hockey, and loved the Blues for worse instead of for better, in sickness as well as in health.
It would be neat if the Blues would come up with a way to recognize these folks. They treat their season-ticket holders well, with Scottrade skating parties, gift certificates, and a yearly Christmas card and gift. But these Die-Hards could be better recognized. Perhaps take any surplus 2006-2007 sweaters (since the new Reebok sweaters will be used this coming season), add a special “Die-Hard Fan” patch, and present it to those who maintained their accounts. There could be autographed or game-used giveaways, or even a program where each fan gets to attend a game in a party room or suite.
The Blues are not alone in this, mind you. The NHL as a whole is currently suffering from an identity crisis. The balance between luring new fans without alienating the loyal ones is a tenuous one to say the least. But there is a relatively small but gallant core who stuck with our Blues -- at a time when there was no real reason to do so other than pure loyalty. Hopefully these fans aren’t forgotten in the public relations and marketing battle that lay ahead.