* Early this summer with a lockout looming the Sabres saw fit to raise ticket prices up to 8 percent. Fitting, since the team missed the playoffs for the third time in five seasons and has at least some reputation for being soft and pampered. Not for nothing as I'm still glad to have Terry Pegula, but when exactly does having a zillionaire fan/owner that just wants to win start to pay off? I figured Pegula would mean that the Sabres would make big changes and that I'd stop having to face ticket hikes after lousy seasons. I was wrong on both counts.
* The National Football League, in a rare moment of apparent generosity, offered its teams the option of lessening their local blackout standards. It seemed to come at a particularly good time as the Bills had a promising team albeit with a fan-unfriendly late-season schedule. Surely the Bills, who make a reported $40 million profit annually, would pounce on this opportunity for some goodwill. Instead they said that's OK we'll take this money too.
* There's that lockout I mentioned. Funny how Gary Bettman and his lieutenants seem always to be defending how well the league is doing -- despite the many dull games and consistent half-empty crowds in the south -- until it comes time to negotiate with the players' union. Then the NHL becomes women's soccer. The fact that sports games can be cancelled with the absurd wealth among owners and players is a total outrage on a base level. I can't think of any other way to put it. Lockouts in pro sports should be illegal.
* Reportedly the Bills are planning more games than the already arranged one per season in Toronto. Sure they are, because the tepid atmosphere and indifferent fan support should be exactly what they crave. It's almost like the three December home games that the Bills will struggle to sell tickets to and the schedule from hell are blessings in disguise for them. I promise you when they announce the Toronto news that they will cite how ticket sales here have plateaued.
I guess when your fans and stadium are largely neglected for more than a decade people start to turn away. Shocking, really.
Spare me the Toronto defense, that corporate money and regionalism are necessary to the Bills' financial welfare. They are not. What's not accounted for anyway in these analyses is the blood they've drawn from the fans here over the years. How much is it worth to sell your soul?
The issue here anyway isn't to take a side in the Toronto matter. Instead, it's the simple point that fan support is taken for granted, and ultimately close to irrelevant. We've known for years that loyally backing the Bills despite their perennial mediocrity is not going to mean much to the franchise's future existence. Or at least that's how we feel, which is functionally the same thing.
I don't know if I've ever felt more helpless as a sports fan. With the Bills I've thought for years that we pretty much mean nothing. It's not even like our attendance at games is so important anymore; according to Forbes magazine the Bills took in $102.5 million in national TV fees alone last year, and paid out (according to NFL Network) $96.1 million to players. Ticket sales are chump change, and the Bills still have the audacity to hold to the old blackout standard.
With the Sabres and hockey it's bad too. The hip thing to say is that this lockout is the fans' fault. Because we love hockey so much and returned to it after the 2004 lockout, owners may think there's no risk of our abandoning them. And maybe they're right. Still, how does that make you feel? You're being punished for loving a game.
What are we supposed to do?