Sunday, July 02, 2006

Cyclones vs. Ducks: A Study In Loyalty

How’s that for a provocative title? Actually I’m going to ride the fence again on this one as I explore loyalty and how it affects us fans. I tried and tried but I couldn't cut this one down in size and still say all that I wanted to say. So, it will be my first two-part blog topic. Part two will be posted next week.

The question of why people are loyal to one team is not what I wonder about; but I do question some of their behavior related to that loyalty. The root of it all is that we are all basically creatures of allegiance. We like it when people are loyal to us in whatever way; and we show our loyalty to what we appreciate. This is a case study of one man’s loyalty, how it has been earned, and how & why it has shifted. This is my story, but I’m sure I’m not alone.

Set aside hockey for a moment. Think about your mechanic, hair stylist, furnace repair guy, pizza place, veterinarian, or any other business that you trade with on a regular basis. You try it – either by referral or just through experimentation – and if you don’t have a good experience you simply look for another. Then eventually you find a place or person who treats you right, you have a positive experience, and you go back.

You continue to go back until you have a bad experience. Then you might give them another chance but if it is unresolved, you probably won’t return. Sometimes it does not take a bad experience but it’s just the circumstances. My mechanic is a good example of this. I’ve had my cars serviced at the same place for many years. I went to grade school with the guys and they do good work. They are a little pricey but I trust them. One Saturday my stepdaughter was home from school and having trouble with her pesky little marvel of Korean engineering (a 2000 Kia Sportage). My regular shop is closed on Saturdays but she had to go back to school Sunday night.

There is a new shop in town that’s open on Saturday so I tried them out. I could write three blog entries on how great this place is (C.A.R.S. on Dixie Highway in Erlanger) but that’s not the point. The point is that they were wonderful, reasonably priced, and the finally got to the core of the ongoing problem with the Kia. They attacked the problem like an old-school mechanic, trying to solve the problem rather than treat the symptom.

I’ve referred 6 or 7 people there in the past month and everybody loves them. I have had a loyalty shift. I feel torn about this because the guys at old shop are friends and they never did actually treat me badly. They did not catch the problem with the Kia, but it took extraordinary effort by the new guys to find it. So, I reward that extraordinary effort with my continued future business.

How does this relate to hockey? Well, they really are parallel examples. This will be my personal experience alone, I’ll get to the experiences of others in a moment. The Cyclones were here before the Ducks, obviously. I was thrilled that Doug Kirchhofer brought hockey back to town and I started going to games. My game experiences were always very positive, so I kept going back. The first year in the IHL was a little rough, but they quickly made adjustments and returned to their winning ways.

Then they moved downtown. No need to fuss over all the intricacies of that; they just moved and I continued to have good times at the games. The Ducks came along but I had no reason to go check them out because I was totally satisfied with the Cyclones experience. Why go get your hair cut somewhere else when you are happy where you are going?

Yes, a professional hockey team doesn’t sit on every corner like a barbershop; but the loyalty thing is primal. It just can’t be avoided. My loyalty was to the team, the entity, which had brought me many years of pleasure. I did go watch a Ducks game or two. I never had a bad experience with the Ducks; but they did not thrill me to the exaggerated degree that would have been caused to pull my allegiance from the Cyclones and the history I had with them.

It didn’t help that the Ducks only had 2 winning seasons out of 7 while the Cyclones only had 12 winning seasons out of 14. The Ducks were OK. I like the Gardens enough. The people there are nice and the prices were good. But I had no reason to leave the Cyclones and the Ducks didn’t give me enough to walk away for no reason.

When the Cyclones dropped to ECHL, yes they technically were not the same franchise. They were a relocated franchise and their history of record was not in Cincinnati. They kept the logo and played in the same building but they could have just as easily been called the Cincinnati Slag.

However, they were still the entity associated with all the prior years of good times, even euphoric feelings. By this time in my life, I was married and my job assignment changed. I was working shift work and could not maintain my season tickets. I attended as many games as I could; and I went to a fair share of Ducks games. The AHL was certainly better and the Ducks mustered up some better win/loss records. Still, I naturally associated the years of “good vibe” to the entity known as the Cincinnati Cyclones.

Did they do some things to upset me? Sure. Did they go down in quality of play? Absolutely. But like my barber or furnace guy, the team had done me well and I appreciated them; so I stuck with them. Then, I had a very, very bad experience with arena security on the night of Don Biggs’ return from retirement. It was addressed but never really resolved to my satisfaction. Telling that story would be take a record length blog. I won’t go there.

Suffice to say it was enough to make me give the Ducks another look. I knew several people working inside the Gardens and I played there in the men’s league after they reopened the annex. I even did a little Zamboni driving when they needed some help. They made me feel like family.

Where did my loyalty take me from here? Stay tuned to next week's exciting conclusion.

This blog is my sole opinion. It may be based on reason and fact; or it may be purely my emotional preference but it is mine alone. I only claim to be perfect most of the time. You are entitled to disagree, and I invite you to do so - somewhere else.


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