A response to Paul Balm’s recent article Crowded Out from fellow Panthers fan Steve Warren.
Having just read Paul’s article I felt compelled to write about my own journey from “wouldn’t mind going one day” to hardcore fan to give a perspective on what our potential fans mindset could be like.
My earliest recollection of the Panthers actually stems back to the 1980’s, not actually watching them but reading about them on a Saturday night/Sunday morning in the Football Post. As a teenager I followed and held a Notts County season ticket and was a regular away supporter, so really football was my passion (I will come back to this point later). It also meant that firstly from a cost point of view I couldn’t afford both and secondly Notts away meant arriving home too late to see a game. I enjoyed the write ups the paper gave and although I had never been to a game I could tell my friends that the Murrayfield Racers were the team to beat and what players were in the Panthers line-up etc.
Back then the media coverage was just as poor as it is today. The BBC would sometimes broadcast the Benson & Hedges Cup final and other showcase matches so from time to time a rare Panthers game would be shown. My other sporting favourite is skiing and would love watching the men’s downhill from Wengen or Kitzbuhel on a Saturday lunchtime throughout the winter and thus from this every 4 years would come the Winter Olympics and of course the broadcast of the Ice Hockey games. So from a media point of view my exposure to the sport was almost non-existent but to be frank, what little I saw I absolutely loved and I was kind of hooked then but didn’t realise it.
I do hope Facing Off will be a success because the sport desperately needs it to be, people need to see the ice hockey product so they can go out and experience a live game for themselves. I think all clubs need to push the coverage more and aren’t doing anything to promote it to get fans talking about it to their friends as just sticking it on without plugging it will only encourage us hardcore fans to watch. A mention in every match programme, short clips on the teams & EIHL’s website and a plug on our electronic scoreboard all seem easy starters copyright laws permitting.
So moving into the 1990s I had cut back on going to see Notts and had more Saturday evening time on my hands, so why wasn’t I now going to watch Panthers? My then circle of friends/girlfriends were more interested in going out, getting wasted/going to rock city to see bands plus a thousand other reasons but did we ever talk about going to a game from time to time? On very rare occasions yes we did, what usually stopped us was we couldn’t get a ticket as it was sold out. No-one had a ever been to a game so we just did something else instead.
My points here are firstly our new building can easily accommodate enough fans for almost every game except Steelers so ticket availability isn’t an issue, secondly the majority of fans don’t go on their own, so if your new you need to find someone else to go with thats likely to be someone else who already goes.
So back to 2001 and we have our lovely new building, I have a new girlfriend and I finally get to go to my first match on an early date with her as she’s not bothered about football. We both fell in love with the game but not really understanding fully what was going off nor did we have anyone to really explain things to us. I write this last bit as I have taken many new friends/work colleagues to games and spent most of the matches explaining to them what’s happening. If people are going to want to come back then they need to understand the game better.
So it’s now nearly 2017 and I’m hardcore fan. No I’m not a season ticket holder but you will have heard my cries as I can be quite vocal at times! So why am I not a season ticket holder? Simple, our group varies in numbers with all of us going one night to just me and Sandra on other nights so if you buy a season ticket for a set seat, it’s unlikely your friends will get to sit next to you unless it’s high up and your view is restricted. So why do my friends go to some games and not others? here are the main reasons/excuses
It’s too much now to go to every game
It’s only against Dundee! (ie its not one of the bigger teams)
Its Saturday so its a 6pm start in the legend, after match debate back in the legend, followed by more beers in town/kebab on the way home (its a full night out with the gang)
Midweek games are quieter with little atmosphere (especially at the moment!)
Now call me a cynic but I can’t help but think the demise of our local football teams and their spiraling costs have helped Panthers. Let’s face it, we are the only successful sports team in Nottingham and our attendances are higher than that of Notts County. The cost of going to see ice hockey is cheaper than football and I see faces at Panthers who I know are Notts fans and our growing collection of silverware helps entice new fans to the building.
So how do we get people to come back to watch the team again, especially the brand new supporters? Why don’t we offer a starter ticket to new supporters which could say cover 3 or 5 games at a reduced price which could be policed by registering the new fan with a supporter number upon ID to ensure its not abused. It would also give the club an opportunity to market the new fan in other ways such as merchandise offers or one off cheaper match tickets to future games to lure them back?