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Hockey Wilderness
  • REMINGTON: Dear Wild, Stop Patronizing Your Fans

    Ben Remington

    Dear Wild,


    Greetings, my name is Ben and I write about you on a weekly basis. Maybe you've heard of me. Well, you probably haven't. I'm on a Wild-centric podcast, known for arguing about... well, soup. Anyway, I'm writing you because I'm concerned. I'm not a fan per se, as much as I've become an interested observer since I started writing. However, I can't let this go on any longer, for the sake of those fans who bleed forest, rust and wheat.


    Stop. Stop all the pandering.


    You're an NHL franchise, in the hottest hockey hotbed in the United States. Minnesota is Canada Jr., and you're got an incredible opportunity at your fingertips to create a franchise like its Canadian brethren, just, you know, maybe with a Stanley Cup someday. Minnesotans aren't a super passionate bunch, but man, do they love their hockey. It flows in their veins, and they've played the game since birth, at least at a very amateur level, on our many frozen ponds and well-maintained local rinks. When it comes to American hockey fans, you were handed a Wagyu ribeye: well-marbled with a great pedigree, just waiting for a bit of seasoning and the right amount of heat to make for something deliciously memorable.


    Unfortunately, I feel as though you've doused it with steak sauce.


    These Wild fans, they've been hurt. The North Stars leaving still pains them to this day. They wanted revenge on the hockey world, regular throttlings of Sunbelt teams and success over and above what the beloved Green and Yellow brought them. Instead, they were given a hearty pat on the back and constant reassurance that they're great fans.


    It's that constant reassurance that is bothersome -- the sauce on that proverbial great steak. Minnesota hockey fans know they're good hockey fans. No one supports high school hockey like they do. No one supports college hockey like they do. Why do you put sauce on a steak? Because it's not a good steak. Great steaks don't need sauce, and it's insulting when you do such a thing. Minnesota hockey fans can stand on their own, with just their passion and knowledge for the game shining through, not smothered by claims of greatness.


    First of all, un-retire that number. Are Wild fans really No. 1? I don't know. Sure, they sell out a fantastic arena for a sport they love, but it's just so cliché it comes off as disingenuous. I was 13 when the Wild debuted and retired No. 1 for the fans, and even then I thought it was stupid, at an age where you think everything stupid is cool.


    It's not exactly respected around the league, either.



    'Not exactly respected' might be putting it mildly. Laughingstock might be more appropriate. As if it was bad enough that the corporate groupthink team came up with an intentionally ambiguous non-plural name, this was your first move.


    Also, the Neal Broten thing was very silly. Broten, a Stars legend and one of Minnesota's favorite sons, came out to center ice, in Stars jersey, and proceeded to take it off, revealing the Wild jersey underneath. As far as I can recall, Broten never ended up actually suiting up for the Wild, so this professional wrestling-type face turn was meaningless, and therefore awkwardly pandering. It's things like that which comprise the steak sauce. Broten can be acknowledged for what he was -- a fabulous hockey player native to this state. No theatrics were necessary, and the approval of the crowd on that night says more about the crowd than the act, but that's another topic for another date.


    From there, Wild fans have been subjected to several things along these lines. Let's talk about that song.


    We were born of something something, that one. An entire song written about how much Minnesotans love hockey and play hockey, and breathe hockey, and watch hockey, and hockey and hockey hockey. While it's campy vibe might have been seen as a neat tribute back then, it's worn out its welcome, and that's assuming anyone liked it to begin with. Once again, let's take a look outside of our state for an opinion.



    When a well-respected hockey beat writer, who has witnessed more Jumbotron proposals and intermission sumo suit contests than he can remember calls you out for being ill-advised, you know it's bad.


    Unfortunately, your reaction to the general staleness of that song was -- wait for it -- to reboot it! The right thing to do would've been to retire it, save the pandering corniness for a trivial footnote in intermission history and something Wild fans could laugh about later, and be thankful they weren't subjected to anymore. Instead, you scrapped together a few local bands, desperate for the exposure as well they should be, and asked to do the impossible -- make that song not awful. This adds layers to the constant reassurance of Minnesota hockey fans that is just not necessary, and no distorted chords can change that.


    For that matter, the whole State of Hockey thing is fine, but maybe just dial it back a bit. Is Minnesota the President of the American Hockey States Club? Absolutely. But they'd also rather watch a weekend of high school hockey than a weekend of your regular-season games. Take a gander at North Stars attendance, and you'll find Gophers-since-joining-Big-Ten type numbers.


    There's plenty of hockey being watched in this state, but attaching some kind of superior fandom at the professional level is a little misleading. Minnesota hockey fans care about the Wild, but the level of that isn't as strong as, let's say, a hockey fan in Nashville, who has very, very limited options for consuming hockey outside of the NHL arena.


    I have plenty of beef with other things that happen within the Xcel Energy Center on any given game night, but starting the wave and pronouncing 'Wild' with two syllables is hardly your fault, again, that's another letter. But in general, a more deft touch with the back slapping of your fans should be a priority. Do the Maple Leafs need to constantly remind their fans that they're dedicated to the point of insanity? No, because it's obvious. Are college football fans told they're the most rabid sports repeatedly, as they poison trees and pool money to buy out coaches that haven't won championships in the past two seasons?


    No, because when you continually tell someone that they're something, even when they already know it, the compliment rings hollow after a while, if not right away.


    I understand the difficulty of marketing a professional sports team this day in age, especially in a market with all four major sports. But it feels as though the reliance on making Wild fans out to be great NHL hockey fans, and centering ever marketing strategy around that premise, is not only maybe not super accurate, but maybe even a little lazy. Yes, Minnesota fans like hockey, a lot. Are Dallas Cowboys fans reminded constantly that they're huge football fans in Texas? I feel like that would be met with just as many eye rolls. Or the slogan "[insert English soccer club here], we're the best song singers in the EPL!' Saying that out loud might get you mugged by hooligans -- of the team you're supporting, mind you.


    Don't get me wrong, I think you're doing a fine job in most respects. There are many very cool things that the Minnesota Wild do for Minnesota Wild fans, and I don't want that to get lost in this. Certainly, no one can question the amount of grassroots work done by this team and its people, and that's fantastic. Also, Minnesotan hockey fans do wonderful things for Minnesota hockey.


    This all cycles back to my ultimate point: Let things grow organically. The Octopus in Detroit, college goalie chants, cheering/signing the anthem...these are all things that make hockey fandom great and none of them were designed or originated by the team itself. If your fans are great, they'll come up with something great. Anytime a team tries to start any tradition or create some kind of fan phenomena, it's cringe-worthy at best, and takes away the power of creativity that is rightly property of the fans themselves.



    So stop telling fans that they're great, and give them their team. They've already been through a lot, and in 17 years have earned the right to take ownership of something that they've invested a lot of time in. The steak is there, and just needs some seasoning and the heat of some success, and it can have let its own flavor shine through after that.


    No condiments needed.




    Ben Remington



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