Oh, Canada! Think the Packers have the corner on fan loyalty?
Remember when the Packers sucked? It wasn't all that long ago.
The drought that began with the final gun of Super Bowl II in 1968 would run some two decades, broken up by two years featuring early postseason exits. Only the arrival of Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren stemmed the tide of defeat and it's been nothing but good for the most part ever since.
Through all those lean years, Lambeau stayed packed. The waiting list for season tickets chugged forward at it's usual glacial pace even as Phil Bengtsen, Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forest Gregg and Lindy Infante tried and failed to bring the Pack out of its malaise. The renaissance that started in the early 90's not only fluffed Green Bay's trophy case with new hardware--it established Packers fans as some of the NFL's most loyal and fervid.
Turns out we may not have the North American market cornered on frenzy. There's a team north of the border that hasn't been on the right side of the postseason for nine years, yet piled up cash while stoking a loyal audience of devotees.
Meet the Toronto Maple Leafs who are, perhaps, the Green Bay Packers of the NHL.
Forbes says they're the league's most valuable team and also its most profitable. Despite it's losing ways, Toronto sports the NHL's highest average ticket price ($125 in a league where the average is $61), allowing it to rake in two million dollars per each regular season game (there's 40 of those). To reward fans for all of that loyalty, the Leafs have the stones to jack up seats for upcoming playoff tilts to the tune of 75%. The worst seats for round one start at $325 and top out at a grand.
Forbes equates the Leafs with the New York Yankees--both loved and hated in Canada, which helps drive TV ratings and merchandise sales. It seems, the magazine says, as if everyone wins when Toronto is back in the NHL playoffs including the league itself.
Say this for the Packers: yes, ticket prices increase and the team hurt some season ticket holders when it asked them for seat license cash during last decade's big renovation project but it could probably charge more and still get it. People in Brown County groused when asked to pay a sales tax to finish that job but, in the end, they ponied up.
None of this does anything to diminish the fervor of Packers fans--these are both storied franchises with proud histories and huge fan bases. If anything, it shows just how rare such loyalty is in an era where fans become less devoted to teams and more devoted to individual players. While sports tickets are no bargain, at least the Packers are polite. even in the postseason (although I believe it's the NFL that sets playoff prices).
The Leafs? Not so much.