In all my years of being around sports, I cannot ever recall witnessing what happened in Columbus (OH) over the weekend. As a Columbus resident, it has been no secret that our local NHL team (Blue Jackets) have struggled terribly since entering the league over a decade ago. Since the franchise first entered the league they have only made it to the playoffs once (losing the to Red Wings 4-0), and have been one of the worst teams in the league annually in the years before and after that sole playoff appearance. Apparently, some fans have had enough, as evidenced by a recent protest designed to prompt ownership to oust the guys working in the front office argued to be responsible for the ongoing losing culture. Talk about one hot mess.
The Columbus Blue Jackets (CBJ as they are known to local folk) have been one of the worst franchises in sports history when you compare their futility against other traditionally bad NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL teams. The CBJ have made coaching and front office changes, as well as player personnel changes, yet still finish each regular season as one of the worst teams in the league. Some fans have clearly had enough.
The CBJ are certainly not the only losing franchise in pro sports, and there have been many other teams from the big four (MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL) who have had longer losing stretches. The Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, New York Rangers, Cleveland Browns, and LA Clippers are teams that immediately come to mind when thinking about long droughts of sport futility (although some of these teams have since won championships). Still, I cannot ever remember fans assembling outside an arena to try and bring a front office down in this manner. This move, of course, prompts many questions around professional sport franchises and their cultural and potential fiduciary responsibilities (if tax payers are involved in financing the team and/or venue).
In the case of the CBJ, do fans have the right to protest? And is the current streak of futility entirely the responsibility of the current management team? And perhaps most importantly – should ownership tune in and listen to what some of the fan base is up in arms about?
In defense of the fans who protested this weekend, it’s easy to see why they assembled – over a decade later and the CBJ have consistently been one of the worst teams in professional sports. On the other hand, sports owners know that making quick GM, coach, and player changes isn’t always the answer, either. Of course, one thing cures all of this – winning.
In these tough financial times the CBJ have witnessed a declining fan base who attend games, and the “branding” of the team around town is almost invisible. There certainly isn’t a “hockey feel” around central Ohio, which may be the cause of some of the team’s problems — or maybe it is a result of their losing ways.
The fans have spoken, and now it’s time to see what, if anything, ownership will do to appease the growing number of people who are fed up with the CBJ and their losing ways. Will the team stick with their current team and management, or blow everything up and start from scratch (again)? Interestingly, there’s an even bigger concern to think about that may play into all of this — that is, does the team even need to win in order to be successful? As hard as it might be to believe, some professional sports franchises have done quite well over the years even though they rarely win (the Chicago Cubs are a perfect example). Granted, losing teams who maintain a strong fan base are the exception and not the rule, but it will be interesting to watch the coming months to see if the CBJ are serious about winning, or instead content to remain a professional team with a “punchers chance” of making the playoffs every couple of years.