Try To Beat Me At This Game But Get Stomped Like An Ant: A Montreal Myth Settled

Sometimes you read something so hilariously funny that you wonder if it was meant as satire. You wander into the comments and look for the hint that it was a big joke and that the author is not actually as obtuse as the post would indicate and...you find nothing. Turns out that it wasn't a joke. I know, I was stunned too. You mean that a guy seriously called me a weak writer and then followed that up with a sentence that would have Strunk and White rolling in their graves? Well, I won't heed their advice to "omit needless words" since no one really needs to carry on one of these garish flame wars but I am not the best at letting people get the last word. Besides...

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I was thinking of just posting this in response as a nod to minimalism:


Why write about it three days later? Well, first off, the weekend doesn't count as I was busy watching Liverpool and TFC win before claiming the game winning goal in my own game of footie. Of course, I have traditionally answered the bell when Habs blogs need to be educated. Not to mention that I kind of like antagonizing le fanbase so without further ado let's rile us up some Habs fans:

The offending piece starts, as so many misguided diatribes are wont to do, with a thinly veiled insult and some revisionist history:

Last year, one of the weakest of the weak mainstream media, (Howard Berger - no links because he don't deserve it) wrote an item about a (probably mythical) conversation he had with a Montreal cabbie. Said cabbie claimed Torontonians were stupid for supporting the Leafs through thick and thin, and that if they all started to stay away from games like they did in Montreal when the team was struggling, Leafs management would be forced to improve the team. Leafs nation went batshit. Over at the CoxBloc (an excellent site that keeps a very critical eye on the weaker links of the mainstream, with a special emphasis on the above mentioned Berger, as well as the Star's Damien Cox and the Sun's Steve Simmons, among others) they wrote a reply. The reply is well thought out. The comments section is where things get a little iffy, as Toronto fans bend over backwards trying to prove a) that Montrealers didn't voice their opinion on the state of the Habs by staying away from games and b) the same strategy would never, ever work in Toronto. Why is this an issue? Because, based on absolutely nothing, Pension Plan Puppets has dragged this argument back into the light, and the same stupid, misinformed, mind-numbingly wrong facts are being thrown out there again.

HF10 is allegedly a lawyer (in Toronto to boot!) so in theory he took and achieved an acceptable result on the LSAT exam. What is the purpose to the LSAT? I am glad you asked:

The LSAT is designed to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school: the reading and comprehension of complex texts with accuracy and insight; the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it; the ability to think critically; and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and arguments of others.

So I guess the only conclusion is that either my post was too complex or HF10's schooling at the University of Moncton (I assume on the basis of these rankings that U of M is his alma mater) looked something like this:

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Damien Cox wrote this piece. Read it. Read it again. Tell me where he even mentions the "stay away until management gets the hint" argument. He doesn't. He does say this:

"5,000 to 6,000 seats were unsold most nights and the team was in the midst of missing the playoffs four times in five years."

Now, from that line, PPP seems to glean that Cox is advocating staying away until Leafs management gets the message and builds a winner. Wait, what? Let's see ... nope, just read the Cox article again. Doesn't seem to be the gist of the piece at all. Nevertheless, PPP uses that as the jumping off point for a rehashing of the misguided arguments and misconstrued facts he and other Leaf bloggers have to prove that a) no fan revolt ever happened, and b) if there was any fan revolt, it certainly wasn't noticed by Montreal management and had no bearing on management's willingness to change things to get better.

Let's play pretend for a second. A journalist builds his career partly on the repeated assertion that "if homeless people in Toronto would just stop complaining they could get rich". One day during the worst period of poverty in Toronto and a new period of wealth in Montreal he writes an article all about a formerly homeless Montrealer that hit it big after ending his days of protesting because he won the lottery. Would you think that the purpose of the story was to give his reader's a warm and fuzzy feeling about the subject's good fortune? Or would you think that it was a clumsy attempt at obliquely raising his career's main thesis? Apparently, if you were in the 50th percentile of the LSAT you assume the former:

Look, I live in TO. I read Cox, and I read PPP. I'm well aware of Cox's faults, but you guys are so wound up about him that you'll find any reason to slag him. He's not bringing up the "fans need to stay away" argument at all, and it's a weak, silly reason for PPP to try and drudge up his totally erroneous argument. It was incorrect the first time he posted it, it's still wrong now. You can't blame Cox for that.

There is one thing for which I can blame Cox and that is the illusion of awareness that he provides the anti-Leafs' brigade. HF10 can't believe that a truth-seeker like Damien Cox would ever mean for a story about how the Habs' supposed attendance woes caused a change in ownership that has led to the Canadiens resurgence to be read as "See this dummies. I am right. Revolt and you'll have success". Poor 10 can't see the forest for the trees.

Now, the house of cards basis of proof PPP and the rest of the Barilkosphere (their awesome word, not mine) use to prove that Habs fans didn't vote with their wallets is based on a comparison of average attendance figures and percentage of capacity totals from 1993 to 2007. On first glance, these totals might seem to support the theory, as the Habs average attendance figures are higher than those of the Leafs each year. Now, this conveniently neglects one very important fact. As I wrote in the comments section of the CoxBloc article:

"citing "average attendance" figures to show more Montrealers were showing up versus Torontonians is a little misleading since the Forum had 17,959 seats to MLG's 16,307 and the Bell Centre fits 21,273 to the ACC's 18,819. Going back to 1993-94 on PPP's chart, Toronto's percentage of capacity is higher almost every year, even factoring in the curiosity factor a new building would bring to Montreal's totals."

(Kind of a convenient piece of info to ignore, since it pretty well ruins your argument. Lawyers do that and get disbarred. Bloggers do it and get lauded by anyone who doesn't actually pay attention.)

I am looking forward to the Law Society of Upper Canada disbarring HF10 for ignoring one convenient piece of information. If he had asked someone to explain the colourful chart that I included in the first and second posts he might have noticed that in addition to the percentage capacities there were absolute figures as well.

Now 10 procedes to tell us heartbreaking stories of how bad the situation was in Montreal:

While PPP and his brethren might claim that 97.5 or 94% capacity doesn't sound like Montreal turned its back on the Habs, but that still translates into over a thousand empty seats each night in a hockey-mad city.

Hmmm...but still more seats sold than any other building in the NHL. Do you think that ownership was struggling?

It also doesn't tell the story on the streets of Montreal: I lived there from 1997 to 2001, and I remember the Habs being raked over the coals every day.

Leaf fans remember those days too. They are called Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I remember a brand-new arena with hundreds of seats for $15.00 that wasn't selling out. I remember fans booing the Habs off the ice on a regular basis.

Wow, you mean that a smaller fanbase than the Leafs' had trouble selling almost 82000 more tickets a year than the Leafs but still managed about 41000? And the fans booed you say? I've never heard of fans turning on their team like that in Toronto.

Maybe to PPP, 1000 empty seats a night doesn't sound like much, but in hockey-crazed places it should never happen. You can bet George Gillett and Pierre Boivin noticed.

I know that it's tough to click through links so I'll post a couple of excerps that explain why George Gilette and Pierre Boivin could not have cared less about the hundreds of $15.00 tickets that were going unsold. Maybe if 10 gets a second chance to read them without having to figure out the intrawebs he'll see why the story of the fan's revolt that was is a myth. First up, some math courtesy of a good friend of the blog MF37:

Malibu Stacy may tell us that "math is hard" but let's do a little rudimentary accounting.

The ACC has 1020 platinum seats at $400 each, which generates $400K per game (not including the margins from sushi and wine sales).

In the upper bowl there are approximately 3330 Purple Seats at $37 a pop, generating approximately $120K per game. Fold-in the 300 standing room places at $24 each and you've got an extra $7200 - call it $130K.

Time to compare and contrast: the purple dwelling Leafs Nation lunch box crowd is being outspent by the corporations in the platinums by about $3 to $1.

Put another way: one row of platinum seats generates more income for MLSE than all of the standing room tickets combined.

Now factor in 300 luxury suites. I don't know what the original purchase price or seat licensing costs were, but a 42 person suite rents out for $10K per game and a 57 person suite is $13K. The "cheaper" rental is the equivalent of selling 270 tickets up in the purples, more than 10 rows worth of seats.

So if you think refusing to buy the car flag, canceling Leafs TV and declining those $37 purples will make a difference, go for it. I honestly encourage Leaf fans to vote with their wallets. Seriously. After all, maybe Mike Babcock is right, - it is the common fan that's propping this organization up and keeping them from a re-build.

Looking at the numbers I find it very hard to believe it's so.

What a shock! Corporate money actually is the big revenue driver in sports? I am stunned. Before your head explodes, here is some more math:

Up in the corporate suites, it's more of the same. Want pretzels and a veggie tray? That will be a minimum order of $160; Popcorn and some pizzas $300. Want to feed the suits some dinner? Shrimp, green salad and an order of Salmon is $75 per person. Wine has a 300% mark-up and a 12 oz. beer is $7.

The last time I took clients to a box, eight of them ignored the game and talked business, two of cheered on the Penguins and one other Leaf fan and I got to enjoy a Leafs loss. The firm picked up a $2000 catering tab (not including a tip for the hot-ish hostess), plus the costs of 12 seats, plus the cost of the suite, plus the licensing agreement and on and on and on...total bill was easily five figures and only two of us were Leaf fans.

Back to our pal 10:

Was it a full-scale revolt? Were the Habs playing to Atlanta sized crowds? No, but in 2000 I was able to walk to the box office and purchase 4 tickets for Mario Lemieux's first game back in Montreal in almost 4 years a week before it happened. That wouldn't happen now. (Before PPP points out that the Habs were still in the top two for average attendance most of those years, I'll repeat: 21,273 seats. Bigger than any other rink in the league. Almost 1000 seats bigger than the next biggest, in fact. Oh, hey, that's the same amount of seats that were going empty every night!)

Was it a revolt of any impact when it was cheap seats that were going unsold? The corporate support would have softened the blow of losing "hundreds of seats for $15.00". Was it even noticed by management? Not likely.

Now, PPP makes the point that the real turnaround for the Habs happened when Boivin and Gillett went and hired Bob Gainey, and he gets no argument here on that point. But one wonders, if the rink was packed to capacity every night despite the ineptitude of the front office, despite the putrid performance of team trotting out the Trent McCleary's and Karl Dykhuis' of the world, despite the lack of playoff births, let alone playoff successes, would the impetus to go out and get one of the best in the game have existed? It sure didn't when the Molson's had essentially given up and left Ronald Corey to his devices. It sure wasn't an issue for Harold Ballard to hold onto Floyd Smith or Gerry McNamara. It never seems to bother the owners of the Cubs in baseball or Detroit Lions in football (up until two weeks ago), but it sure seems to have been at least one catalyst for the change in Montreal. To shrug off the idea that 95% capacity is good enough in any of hockey's leading cities, and that 1000's of empty seats and a backseat to the Alouettes as the city's darlings was acceptable to George Gillett is disingenuous, naive, or just being blind to the fact that fans can sway opinion through their actions.


Here HF10 comes so close to being right that I want to give him partial credit. George Gillett certainly did not like having a CFL team as top-dog in the city (nice front-running city you have there Montreal) but why do individuals buy sports teams? Ego.

Losing hockey teams do not maximize profits. Losing hockey teams do not pad the giant egos of the men who own them. And, unfortunately in the world of pro sports, egos and dollars are what it's really all about.

Is Mark Cuban running the Mavericks to make a profit? What about Paul Allen or Roman Abramovich or Malcolm Glazer? They are just boys with toys.

Would it work in Toronto? As PPP points out, the sheer amount of corporate dollars in Toronto and truly massive fanbase (yes, I can admit it ... the Leaf fanbase dwarfs EVERYONE else, and there is no sense denying it) suggests that it won't. That's not the crux of the issue here. The issue is a misinformed pointless retelling of a situation that you weren't in on the ground level for. "The Montreal Myth" isn't the version Pierre Boivin tells you ... it's the one the Leaf Nation tells itself.

Would the revolution that never happened in Montreal work? No, because of the corporate money and because the owners already have a fiduciary duty to maximize profits. How do you think that that is done? Just win baby. As for the crux of the issue I'll give MF37 (apparently my co-author in this piece on behalf of the Barilkosphere - Chemmy's awesome word) the last word:

As for debunking your myth, here's the bottom line, WCH and others love to trot out the meme that people don't support the Habs when the on-ice product is weak. The numbers show this to be a lie. The team's lowest attendance mark is 94%. Full stop.

Here's another myth: Hab fans restraint with their wallets is what led to on-ice improvements.  

Nope, George Gillet is what led to the Habs turning the corner. New ownership meant an end to the Molson's old-boy network that brought you former beer salesman Reggie Houle as your GM, followed up by the failure known as Andre Savard.

Of course, I still get the last picture. Here's a visual representation of this debate:

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