Hey, ESPN what did Toronto ever do to you?
Earlier this June ESPN, slammed Toronto as the worst place to watch pro sports when you compare cost to team results. Well, ESPN-affiliated Grantland takes another shot at Toronto in an essay that argues that Toronto fans kinda deserve it.
The piece written by Torontonian and Esquire columnist Stephen Marche argues that Toronto's sports mediocrity can be pinned on fans so enamored of the Leafs that they line up and fill every seat at the ACC each year despite skyrocketing costs and lacklustre results.
The teams lose because they don't have to win. The Leafs have so many people on the waiting list for season tickets that they don't take new names anymore; no matter what happens they have a 99 per cent renewal rate. Torontonians line up to pay tens of thousands of dollars to watch some of the most dreadful hockey played at a professional level.
He also argues that Leafs fans are attached to an old brand of gritty, physical hockey that may have won Cups in the 70s but, today, just leads to golfing in May. He argues that this appreciation of mediocrity bleeds into Toronto's other sports too.
Of course, a few of the city's pundits have responded. The Star's Cathal Kelly argues that au contraire, Toronto's devotion to the Leafs actually makes it a true sports city.
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In fact, the ‘unrequited love’ model being dangled in front of us like a dead rodent is the defining feature of a great sports town. A great sports town sticks with its club despite the fact that they’re wretched. They have a term for conditional love in sports — it’s called front running.
Kelly is right sort of, most people don't like rooting for winning teams.
"The truth is that, to fans of losing teams, fans of winning teams—any winning team—are all obnoxious. We like to see the top dogs take a hit," writes Reeves Wiedeman in the New Yorker.
Returning to Kelly's argument, he feels that ESPN and Marche have actually done Toronto sports fan a favour by letting us begin having different conversations about our sports team.
"We couldn’t see that when we were all talking to each other. Like a good therapist, ESPN has done us the favour of repeating our arguments back to us. They sound tired and pointless," he writes.
Toronto weekly The Grid also takes issue with Marche's piece, saying that Toronto's sports ineptitude can squarely be placed on the fact that it's hard, in this post salary-cap NHL, to put together a winning team.
While over at the National Post, Chris Selley points out that if MLSE, the Leafs home company were actually concerned about making money (and they are) then seeing their major breadwinner lose year after year is actually bad for the bottom line.
Winning brings in more money, which is purportedly the only thing MLSE cares about. Based on a conservative estimate of $2-million in ticket sales per playoff game, every time the Leafs golf early, they’re denying their drooling bosses, at minimum, a 2.7 per cent boost in annual revenue. If they played 14 post-season home games and screwed the pooch in the final, as Vancouver did last year, they’d pull in an extra $28-million. And in the cap era, it wouldn’t cost them a dime more in player salaries to do so!
On Twitter, reactions to Stephen Marche's piece has been split between threats of violence to the author and vigorous head-nodding. Which means, right or wrong, Marche hit a nerve amongst Toronto's long-suffering sports fans.