Q: What do the Seattle Sounders have, that the Buffalo Sabres don’t?
A: Fans that feel that their voices are heard.
The Sounders, a huge hit in the Pacific Northwest, have a VOTE on their General Manager’s job. A fan vote. Yes, you read that correctly. The fans decide on the direction of the team. What could it mean here?
The Buffalo Sabres have had the same two men atop the management of hockey operations for 15 years now. Most hockey fans in the area would give both Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier credit for being good hockey men. It seems like most would say that they have resumes that should earn them work in the league...just not here any more.
The thing is that it’s not up to you or me. It’s not up to the collective “us”.
The decision lies with Sabres owner Terry Pegula. Until he wants to make that change you’ll have Ruff and Regier making the calls on the Buffalo Sabres.
Now imagine a world where the fans had a voice. A choice. You live in that world. The Sabres just aren’t in that league. In Seattle, the Sounders of the MLS have their GM job as an elected position. The fans make the call every four years.
Here’s the story from the Sounders website:
The Sounders FC announced today plans to hold the first general manager vote in U.S. professional sports. Sounders FC season-ticket members and Alliance members may vote on retention or lack of confidence for Seattle Sounders FC General Manager Adrian Hanauer.
The online vote will begin on Sunday, October 7 at noon (PT) and conclude on Friday, December 7 at 11:59 p.m. (PT).
Patterned after the FC Barcelona model, which boasts more than 160,000 members worldwide, Sounders FC season-ticket members will have a voice by participating in the general manager elections every four years.
Membership in the Alliance is complimentary for season-ticket members, and non-season ticket holders can join for an annual fee of $125. Benefits include voting privileges, membership pin, membership card, discount at team shops, an invitation to the annual meeting, electronic newsletters during the season and more.
Apparently the whole thing was Drew Carey's idea.
Sabres nation seems to be angry these days. It’s not a pleasant place to be because fans are impatient. No wait, they’re actually very patient. It’s been 15 years of the same GM and Coach. Patience has been tested tremendously with this fan base. There have been tremendous highs and frustrating lows.
This team is supported. They’re supported tremendously. This week the Sabres announced record television ratings (for an underperforming and uninspiring product). Last month it was merchandise sales. They added seats to the arena. They’ve introduced a standby ticket program. They’re popular. Fans support this team, perhaps moreso than at any other time in the franchise’s existence.
The relationship of a fan to a team is a strong bond, obviously. Here’s the disconnect in Buffalo: While the support for the team appears to be unwavering, it feels as though the team itself accepts and celebrates it when it comes to the box office, the ticket booth, the merchandise tent, the waiting list, and the television ratings...but at Coach and GM, the attitude is different.
The continued commitment to both Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier could quite possibly be the right approach in the long run. I can’t rule it out. It’s possible. But...and this is a BIG but...you’re alienating your fans at this point.
The continued commitment to R & R is not just about a Coach and GM. It’s about the attitude of “We’ve got this under control...fans are passionate and they overreact. You're overreacting."
Fans do overreact. Both ways. Some fans just react. I’d say that most are quite objective. You can usually tell if your team is good or not. We’ve all watched a lot of hockey...eyeball test this thing. Are the Sabres currently good? No. Were they last year? Not really.
If ownership wants to stick by these guys there is little that we can do about it. For me, I turn attention to Mikhail Grigorenko. I’ll turn attention to Ryan O’Reilly. I’ll look for any light on the horizon that means this island-of-no-playoffs is a place that we can finally leave.
All a fan wants - is to be heard.
Whether it’s about shelves over the urinals, chimes to signal intermission, or any of the million little things that Ted Black has championed, the Sabres are listening to everything.
Two years ago we had a wacky internet campaign for Swords of a Thousand Men. They tried it as the goal song.
The organization listens. The operation works FOR the fans, except in this one area and it’s the area that the fans care about the most.
So while all the other work to help the franchise and city is greatly appreciated, it runs the risk of ringing somewhat hollow. When the on-ice product, the reason for the existence of all the million little things, brings the fans pain, misery, and frustration they’re going to want to be heard.
In Seattle, they are.
Fan vote? What’s the worst that could happen?
What's the best that could happen?
If you lose, your fans fire the GM.
If you win, the fans hold a piece of it. We picked him. We re-elected that guy. We are a part of this.
WE have been heard.
In Buffalo there seems to be a lot of shouting on this issue...mainly because it feels like no one is listening.
Oh yeah...the Sounders’ fans...re-elected their guy.
They also lead MLS in attendance, and they lead that category by approximately 10,000 per game.