About a month ago, the importance of history came up in the sports news. The reason for this was Tim Leiweke, current CEO of MLSE, wanted to take down (some) of the photographs of Maple Leaf past, citing, “”I don’t want the players walking in the hallways of the Air Canada Centre and seeing pictures from 1962,” he said. “Get rid of those pictures and tell them, this is your legacy.””
This of course created a media storm, partly because it was July and there wasn’t anything better to talk about, but mostly because he dared to question the great history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I was listening to Tim and Sid of the FAN590 during this time, Tim (Micallef) was on vacation so Sid (Seixerio) was doing the show alone.
For those who listen to the show loyally, like I tend to do, they know Sid likes to go on random rants about things. Without Tim there to settle him down, he went off on the fans that really care about the subject of history. I tried to find exactly what he said, but it’s no longer on the FAN’s website. It went along the lines of “What are we really talking about? History? How is this going to make the team successful or not? Who cares?” Then went on to say, “this isn’t New York or Boston that can name every championship the Red Sox or Patriots have won. Quick, name the last 5 championships the Leafs won prior to 1967… THAT’S RIGHT YOU CAN’T!”
Given my background in hockey history, I was slightly offended by that last statement. I could name each of the 13 times the Toronto organization won in my sleep (prize to the first person who emails me all 13 years). So I sent a tweet to their producer just saying that I am contrary to that statement. He sent one back to me saying I was the only one spoke up and said that he was wrong.
This this brought me to the topic of this blog. How important is history to you? To me, it is the identity of the team, the identity of the fans, and the identity of the city. Having a history like the Maple Leafs shows that you’ve been successful, fan recognize that success and want to be part of it. That success is something that is bigger than themselves. Even after all these years without winning (46 years now with the 2013-2014 season), it’s just added to that bubble that the success of this team is bigger than any one person, bigger than the city itself.
No, taking down pictures or leaving them up does not dictate anything involving the success of the team on the ice. However, I have always found if you don’t know where you’ve been, how will you know where you’re going? The Red Wings tried something like this years ago before Jim Devellano took over that team. They completely distanced themselves with the history of the Wings and the fan community suffered and the alumni suffered as well. Once the alumni were welcomed back by the Wings, it only helped that organization grow its brand. Having guys like Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, and Alex Delvecchio around certainly didn’t hurt a young Steve Yzerman from developing either.
From a business perspective it makes no sense to try to remove the history from the Air Canada Centre. Due to the lack of success, the majority of the Leafs brand is based on the history of the team. The Leaf brand is the strongest in the NHL, and one of the strongest in the world. A lot of this has to do with the fact that there were only two Canadian NHL teams until 1970, in which time you were a Leafs or Habs fan in Canada. Also the fact that at the time of their 1967 Stanley Cup Championship, the Leafs and Habs were tied with the most championships in any sport with 13. Even now, the Leafs still have the 2nd most championships in the NHL. Fans identify themselves with the history of the team, so if anything Leiweke should be proud instead of embarrassed.
I may be in the minority on this one, fans may just not care about where this team came from. This is definitely something that a consumer behaviourist would study to figure out how to build a fan base. But this is also a way for fans to take ownership in their team.
Anyways what say you? How important is the history of your team to you? If they were to remove it would you care? Also, how many of you guys know off hand each of the Leafs Stanley Cup championships without looking? Just curious.
Over the next little while, with training camps in full swing, we’re going to hear a lot of the same things coming out of the media. Over the last week alone, fans have been pelted with news about Kadri’s contract situation, Franson’s holdout, Kessel and Phaneuf’s pending free agency, etc, etc.
In regards to both Kadri and Franson, I’ve seen fans saying things like “I can’t believe the Leafs are playing hardball with these guys”, insinuating that the Leafs could give them the money they want and not be hurt by it in the long run. Welcome to the salary cap world my friends. If you ignore the salary cap completely, sure those fans would be right. From a business perspective with MLSE, to open the wallet for those two guys wouldn’t hurt them at all. However, when you’re trying to comply with NHL rules this year, and line yourself up for next year, you have to count the pennies. The cap will likely go up next year, which will alleviate some of the pressure off the Leafs, however the goal here is not to stay the same, but to improve to the point of being a Cup contender. The Leafs do not only want to retain their talent in Phaneuf, Kessel, and Franson but they want to be able to add to their core. By throwing huge money on guys who are questionable as a core guy on this team (like Kadri or Franson) would only hurt in the long run.
Phaneuf and Kessel are going to make their money no matter what. In fact, someone like Phaneuf would likely make more money and be more appreciated elsewhere. However, all indications point to the fact that these guys would rather win with the Maple Leafs than with anyone else. As a fan what more can you ask? Think about it. These are the guys that had to put up with three crummy years with the Leafs just to get to this point right now. This is a time where things are finally turning around for the Leafs, making this a market where people want to play. To me, it would seem like a complete waste of time for them to bail at this point.
This is going to be an ongoing saga throughout training camp and possibly the season. Everyone in the hockey world will have an opinion, and their take. However, the main characters involved (Kessel, Phaneuf, Nonis) won’t let out a peep until there is a resolution. I will just say take everything you hear with a grain of salt as you’re likely going to hear about every possible outcome.
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