As the offseason drags on, are Blue Jackets fans sticking by the team, or walking away until they see more evidence of change? (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
I mentioned in Shrapnel a few days ago that the "For A New Start" group (AKA F.A.N.S.) delivered a petition to the Blue Jackets calling for the immediate dismissal of both team president Mike Priest and GM Scott Howson, backed by ~1,000 signatures from fans and season ticket holders.
I don't mean to dismiss their accomplishment - getting 1,000 people to agree on anything is generally a pretty major achievement - but what I do question is how much the "nuclear option" group truly speaks for the fanbase, and if they're really speaking the language the team understands.
First, let me say that while I don't agree with their goals, I certainly understand them. This season was a frustrating, humbling, and at times embarrassing experience. I think the Jeff Carter saga, the flaming car wreck of Scott Arniel's second (and final) season as head coach, and all the other woes around the club made it a difficult time to be a fan. You want to see things get better. If they don't, you want to see someone held responsible, and at the moment it's a very open question if the "right" people are guiding the club out of the darkness.
On the other hand, I think there are still a lot of fans who see light at the end of the tunnel, and the response to events like the draft lottery drawing, the increased social media presence from the team, and players like Jack Johnson and Cam Atkinson going to the World Championships has been quite strong.
When I've talked to fans, even when occasionally guys at my work stop by and ask "Hey, you're a Blue Jackets fan, right..?", the general vibe has been uncertain, but still hopeful. They want to believe that one way or another, the team is fixing their goaltending issues. They think that even if Rick Nash is traded, it could mean a return that gives the team a solid foundation to build on. They're excited about what Jack Johnson brought to the fanbase, and how the team dug deep to finish the season on such a high note.
We've heard from quite a few vocal groups in the Dispatch and fan sources that they'll be holding off on renewing tickets, canceling PSLs, or dropping sponsorships until the team "does something." In a way, they probably have the right idea - if you're truly unhappy with the team, it's best to vote with your wallet.
With that in mind, I reached out to the club. While they would not discuss exact numbers for ticket sales and business partner / sponsor renewals (unsurprising, since that's sensitive information at the best of times), I was told that full season ticket equivalents are on pace with last year's numbers. Meanwhile, it would seem the team's handling of their off-ice issues, particularly the arena lease, has renewed the confidence of the business community. The club's corporate revenues last season were the second best in franchise history, and it seems likely that those numbers will only improve with the All Star Game coming to town next season.
So, are fans truly walking away? Yes, I don't doubt that some of them are, and it's hard to blame people for not wanting to throw money into team that has failed to meet expectations again and again. But it would seem that there is a strong majority - a silent majority, if you don't mind me borrowing Thatcherisms - that have chosen to look to the future, and put their money on Union Blue.
The team has an opportunity here. A strong offseason - and more importantly, a strong start to the regular season - would go a long way towards rewarding the faith of their supporters, and perhaps help to bring the scorned, the skeptical, and the apathetic back into the fold.