Does Personality Breed Interest?
In a sport which constantly grapples with the need for personality versus pouring scorn on pretty much anything deemed to be ‘extrovert’, one man caught my attention this week.
Listeners to The Steve Dangle Podcast will know Adam Wylde – co-host of one of the more mad cap podcasts in the hockey world and co-presenter of the afternoon show on Toronto’s Kiss 92.5 radio station. Wylde floated one of the more, shall we say, controversial ideas on the latest episode of the podcast – but one I have to admit I kind of agree with.
The jist of it – Roberto Luongo’s Twitter comments could do more for the game than winning a Stanley Cup.
On the surface, it’s an idea which seems absolutely insane. The Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal for every NHL club and player. Winning it will be the pinnacle of a players career (well, alongside Olympic gold).
So to suggest Luongo could do more in 140 characters than he might have done had Vancouver won game 7 of the 2011 Cup final, well, it’ll leave plenty of people banging their head against the wall…
It’s all about context though.
Luongo was traded (back) to Florida last week, bringing an end to one of the strained relationships in the NHL. The 34-year old, despite being one of the leagues elite netminders, went through the ringer in British Columbia not once, but twice! Being bumped to the bench for the Heritage Classic was the final straw, and he was soon on his way back to the Sunshine State.
The whole situation in Vancouver was made more remarkable by Luongo’s enduring personality and honesty – which only truly seems to have been recognised and appreciated in the past couple of seasons. His good humour won him legions of new fans on Twitter, and Friday’s outpouring was no exception; with the Montreal native gave his former club a few barbs as they slumped to a 6-1 defeat against the rampant Stars.
And there in lies the ‘selling point’.
Had Luongo and the Canucks won in 2011, it would have been a huge success for Vancouver – and a success for Canada, after nearly 20 years of watching American teams lift the Stanley Cup.
It would have meant jack all in Florida however.
With Luongo on the Panthers, a franchise who have been mired in mediocrity and financial woe, there is suddenly a ‘poster boy’ for the club to to hang its hat on. And that’s the key to all this.
With due respect to Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Brian Campbell, all of whom are fine hockey players, they are not the kind of guys who are going to necessarily ‘excite’ the population of Sunrise – who have been largely apathetic to the Panthers all too often in recent years.
Luongo, on the other hand, just might.
It doesn’t look pretty for the Panthers, or the NHL, when stories of low attendances hit the headlines, whilst ‘strong markets’ like Quebec City are screaming for a franchise. Especially when that becomes the continued narrative for the franchise, regardless of the facts.
But, like it or not, the NHL does want to push these teams – it wants them to be a success and to help grow the sport in ‘non traditional markets’. With new owners in place; the franchise isn’t going anywhere any time soon. So it’s in everyone’s interest to see the Panthers succeed.
Adding someone like Luongo, a legitimate NHL star with heaps of personality, suddenly adds an injection of interest in to a team that hasn’t really garnered any since Pavel Bure left town.
Will we see sell out streaks at the BB&T Centre now? Probably not, but ‘Lou’ is the kind of guy who will grab headlines locally (and nationally) and get people talking about the team again. That is the first step.
Get people talking, build the interest, build the crowd, build the sport a ‘base’ in the area from which youth hockey programmes grow and future NHLers may be born. We’ve already seen it in Texas, Arizona and California. Why not Florida? Especially if the Panthers and the Bolts are doing well.
But there needs to be that first step.
Hockey is still pretty ‘buttoned up’. The likes of PK Subban and Thomas Hertl have all been chastised in the media for being a little too boisterous at times. But the ‘straight laced’ approach clearly isn’t working for some clubs – with the global game crying out for a few more personalities.
Now that Florida has one, perhaps the Panthers can finally, truly ingratiate itself with the local community again and gain some much needed stability and interest.
Because who knows where it might lead.