There is something about sports fans that makes them want to be included in the fan base, and at the same time held on a pedestal that they alone can look down from and sneer at the masses. They wear the jersey, waive the banner, spout the information, and laugh at others who came along after them. Telling someone they are a bandwagon fan is an efficient way to accomplish this.
The term “bandwagon” is used in a way with sports teams that would seem ludicrous in other places. Imagine Green Day accusing people who bought their American Idiot album who had never bought an album of theirs before as being bandwagon jumpers. Or Apple computers telling new customers who were making the “switch” from a PC that they were just a bunch of Johnny-Come-Latelys. Don’t even bother picking up that Star Trek DVD unless you were there from the get go, sucker. You aren’t worthy.
And still, fans do it all the time. Nothing was ever as good as it was back in the day (to which I say, HDTV, ’nuff said), the game was better, the beer was cheaper (this one is true), and the fans were better. New fans, which every fan was at some point, are told to stand in the corner, not top participate in the rituals and chants, and come back when they are deemed worthy.
When the playoffs came around last season, and the Avalanche failed to make it (by one point, or three, depending on how you look at things), I had to do something. Something pretty desperate. I had to start choosing alliances that I had never chosen before. I am a hockey fan, and I could not just turn my back on the best time of year, simply because the team I have chosen (or chose me) is not involved. And the side benefit was that I was learning more about teams I had paid little attention to. As the next round started, I could carry some allegiances with me, while shedding the old ones, leaving the bodies of the dead behind. I was disappointed in some teams, cheered for other with pumping fists and shouts, and got involved in the playoffs. Even though the Avalanche were done for, and I was sad about it, I still was into the playoffs.
The NHL understands the need for the bandwagon fan. At this point in the year, they need as many bandwagon jumpers as they can scrape up. For every team eliminated from the race to the Cup, viewership goes down. Sure, it seems pretty basic, but without bandwagon jumpers, where would the NHL be when the Finals came around? They would have around 1/14th of the viewership (lowest common denominator – I learned something in school, but my parents may disagree – wait, is that right?). Without fans who will watch any team play anytime there is a game (like me), the NHL needs fans to get behind someone. With two out of three California teams out, with four out of six Canadian teams gone (and the other two staring down game 7 elimination), bandwagon jumpers are not only wanted, but needed.
The CBC has known this forever, and make no effort to hide it, as they shove the marketable Maple Leafs down the throats of Western Canada. The NHL has known, and the MSM believes, that the best thing for the NHL every year is for the Rangers to make the playoffs, and have a deep Cup run. The MSM is the worst, telling the world that no one will watch the games if it involves teams from the south or midwest. They roll out the same spiel year after year, and to a point, they are not wrong. But it is a very small point. Why would hockey fans turn away from a “small market” Cup final, unless we were told that it wouldn’t be worth it? Is that going to turn away hockey fans more than being unable to watch games one and two of the Finals? When NBC doesn’t pick up the entire series, it tells you that it isn’t which teams are playing that turn fans away, it’s the people who are running the machine. Worst. Mistake. Ever.
Without bandwagon fans, 1/29th of Ducks fans (which is as close to using real numbers and any use of math beyond the basics this post will see), would have turned off their TVs, or moved on to something else, like the NBA playoffs. I have run into plenty of fans of their hockey teams, who do not watch hockey after their own season is eliminated. The NHL doesn’t want this, for obvious reasons, and needs all the bandwagon fans they can get. The NHL doesn’t want you to root for just your team, they want you to be pulling for your conference, or better yet, Team NHL (which is another rant I will get into at another time).
Full disclosure: I was not a fan of the Quebec Nordiques. I never saw a game of theirs. I never saw them broadcast, didn’t know they existed until late in life, never saw any Stastny other than Paul play a game, and had to read in the Media Guide about the epic battles between a winning record and the ability of Ron Tugnutt. They did not register on my radar, but neither did hockey for the longest time. I didn’t find a sport that spoke to me as a fan until I found hockey, which was not easy in my family, growing up in Longmont, CO, and being a nerd (my dad loves football, and my mom had a die-hard Cubs membership card, but pull for the Rockies now). Hockey is the only sport I have a real fan relationship with, and it was never the Nordiques that I was involved with, but the Avalanche. Sure, if it weren’t for the existence of the Nordiques, there would be no Avalanche, and I would like to thank the people of Quebec for their suffering so that I may have such a wonderful part of my life.
Therefore, I am a bandwagon fan. Totally. I live and die by my team. But I wasn’t there at the beginning, in the Nordique days, and can’t state what would have happened if the Avs hadn’t had such a successful first season in Colorado. Hockey found me later in life than it found a lot of people. Nothing I can do about it.
Who was there at the beginning of any of it? Who was a Nordiques fan when they were in the WHA, and still are a fan of the franchise? Show me a fan of the Cincinnati Stingers who gave the middle finger to hockey after the WHA folded and the team wasn’t taken into the NHL. It’s the Hartford Whalers fans who boycott hockey altogether that hold the town back from fresh hockey glories (and the Civic Center, which could not hold up to an NHL sized crowd). That’s right, it’s time to bust out the Howie Morenz game worn jersey. Bandwagon fans keep the league alive at playoff time.
And everyone is a bandwagon fan to some point. None of us were sprung from the womb wearing a hockey jersey and the singing a fight song. We were slapped on the ass, and that is truly the first experience we have as a hockey fan.
So the term bandwagon should go the way of the two line pass, stricken from the rule books for slowing down the best game in the world. If anything, I want to welcome the fans of other teams over to the side of (what I consider) the righteous, the excellent, everything that is good and decent with the game Colorado Avalanche. If the Avs are eliminated along the way (and not a moment before), I will see who I get behind, albeit briefly. I know who it won’t be.