Generals Fan
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The Greater Greensboro Observer
April 14, 2004

Ogi Overman
Ogi OVERMAN
Omnibus
He Hate Hockey

Normally, this is the time of year when spirits soar, when love and tulips bloom, when God is in His Heaven, when the good life gets a little better. Normally, with the Bats' home opener a day away, I'd be vibrating with anticipation, having missed no more than a handful since 1979.

So why am I sitting here thinking about ice hockey? And I don't mean the actual matches themselves, as the Generals (and the Hurricanes) missed the postseason, but the off-ice, off-season machinations. And why in the name of the Single Bullet Theory am I sitting here putting seemingly unrelated facts together that, when taken as a whole, have all the earmarks of a conspiracy?

Getting to the point, why does the Greensboro News & Record want professional hockey in Greensboro to fail? Without a doubt, they'll deny it, pointing out that theirs is not the role of cheerleader. And they'll be correct. They'll assert that they're merely reporting objectively, again correctly. (Well, almost.) Then they'll tell you that it's not their fault that the team doesn't draw.

That's where the debate begins.

I maintain that it is, in part, their fault that the Generals don't draw as well as they should. And here's why:

People in general and sports fans in particular have a tendency to be fickle, to go along with the crowd, to buy into what's hot and what's not. If they perceive that a club or a restaurant or a sports venue is THE place to be, they'll flock to it like penguins in search of a cliff. And the only way a minor-league sports franchise can operate successfully is to attract those peripheral fans, those who'll show up to be in with the in-crowd. If those penguins perceive this team or this arena or this sport to be the hot ticket, they'll gladly spend their entertainment dollar to be a part of it. It's all a matter of perception.

If, on the other hand, the marginal fan perceives a sport, team or arena to be un-cool, Un-hip, un-happening, they'll stay away in droves. If they perceive that there's no buzz being created around town, they'll find something else to do.

And who creates that buzz? Contrary to what you might think, it's not the marketing department, not the ad agencies, not the front office, not even the product on the ice or field or court. No, more than any other single factor, it's the media. And more than any other single medium, it's the daily newspaper.

If the daily newspaper fails to staff all the home contests and runs only box scores of away games - as was the case this past year - it makes the tacit statement that hockey is not important enough to warrant coverage. In turn, the public perceives that nobody goes to hockey games, so why should they. No coverage equals no buzz.

If the daily newspaper runs a large color picture of a nearly empty arena, it gives the impression that nobody ever shows up, that hockey is merely a fringe sport. When, midway through this season, the N&R did just that, the fact is that over 3500 fans were in attendance that evening. Sure, the Zamboni on the ice would be a tipoff to me that the shot w as taken between periods when everyone is at the concession stands, but is a penguin going to pick up on that fact?

If the daily newspaper continually runs editorials, the latest one being last Friday, criticizing the coliseum for taking over management of the team, it creates yet another negative impression that hockey is not worth saving, even if the mayor, most of the city council and a large number of movers and shakers think otherwise.

So, the N&R will say, let the movers and shakers step up and save the team. To that I would reply that no businessman without infinitely deep pockets would dare risk any substantial amount of money with such a negative bias and nonchalant coverage from the local daily newspaper.

But why, you might ask, is there such a bias against the Generals? My theory is that a) either they have a vendetta against coliseum managing director Matt Brown; b) they simply don't care much for hockey; c) they feel that intensely negative coverage sells more papers; or d) that in a tight economy, it's not worth it to send a reporter to each home game. Oh, they'll try to frame the debate around the premise that taxpayers have no business owning a sports franchise, but that is an obfuscation to hide their real motive. Which brings us to e.

Suppose that possibly, just possibly, e) when the coliseum pared down their ad budget and sliced a portion that in years past has gone to the N&R, the paper decided to play a little lit for tat and slice their coverage budget. And if that's the case, brothers and sisters, "we've got trouble right here in River City."

If that is the case, the N&R has crossed the boundary of journalistic propriety that no daily newspaper should EVER cross! It has let sales dictate an editorial position, a clear violation of everything held sacrosanct in the world of journalistic ethics.

I hope I'm wrong. But I fear the worst.