5 Reasons the Philadelphia Flyers Really Run Pennsylvania Sports
Pennsylvania is the greatest sports state in the nation.
The Philadelphia's Flyers, Phillies, Eagles and 76ers combined with Pittsburgh's Penguins, Steelers and Pirates to create a statewide sports community stronger than any other.
The fans of each team are among the most rabid. Each franchise is among the most historically successful in their respective sports.
The 2006 race to the Governor's mansion featured Ed Rendell, known Eagles season ticket holder and post-game analyst, versus Lynn Swann, Hall of Fame wideout for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While the Eagles in Philly and Steelers in Pittsburgh are technically the most popular team in the state, as NFL football's supremacy in Pennsylvania, and the rest of the country, is unquestionable.
However, the popularity of the Flyers in comparison to other NHL teams in the major, three-to-four sport markets is incredibly high.
As the national spotlight has been turned on the Flyers and the rest of the National Hockey League like never before in the build-up to the Winter Classic on January 2, I've found myself contemplating the Flyers' not only among its hockey peers, but the rest of the franchises in Pennsylvania.
I also came to the conclusion the Philadelphia Flyers run not only this town, but the entire state.
Read on if my reasoning interests you.
The South Philly Sports Complex
The South Philadelphia Sports Complex is the epicenter of the city's passion and dedication for its sports franchises.
Four of the seven state teams play within a few blocks of each other in the shadow of the Walt Whitman Bridge—creating one of the greatest festival atmospheres for professional sports tailgating imaginable, especially during periods of schedule overlap between the four leagues.
Ed Snider's Flyers moved into the Philly Spectrum in 1967, when their only other venue was JFK Stadium.
In 1971, Veteran's Stadium was built to host both the Eagles and Phillies. It brought on the onset of the "Philadelphia Sports Community" that has since grown.
The Citizen's Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field were erected in the early 2000s to update the homes of the Phillies and Eagles, respectively, much as the Flyers and Sixers had done when they moved from the Spectrum across the Street to the Center in 1996.
Now XFINITY LIVE Philadelphia, taking the place of the old Spectrum, will be a shopping, dining, and entertainment spend-your-money district spear-headed by Flyers Chairman Ed Snider.
Set to open up on April 5, 2012, which will bring even more fans and Philadelphians to the Sports Complex, and make the area an even greater part of the city's life force.
The most tight-knit fans in the world may have never had the opportunity to congregate, so conveniently en route to filling up each of their sports franchises' stadiums, if it were not for Ed Snider and his vision to put the Bullies on Broad Street and expand with the times.
Ed Snider and Comcast
The Comcast Corporation is the majority owner of Comcast Spectacor, whose Chairman is Ed Snider.
While Snider's Flyers were busy acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov and the rest of the newbies this summer, the Comcast Corporation was completing an acquisition of its own, that was the purchase of NBC Universal from General Electric.
I'm not totally solid on the chain of command, but it seems the parent company to the Flyers, Philly-based Comcast, now also holds an exclusive television contract with the NHL, based on its acquisition of NBC.
And people wonder why the orange and black will be seen in the Winter Classic for a second time in three years.
I contend that this relationship makes the Flyers the most important team in their league, something no other team in the state can contend.
Comcast SportsNet, the network airing all local Flyers and 76ers broadcasts, as well as a majority of the Phillies' schedule, is as strong of a local sports network as there is in this country (wondering why there is no ESPNPhilly.com, yet?).
Now NBC and its sports network (formerly Versus) contribute to the same bottom line.
Basically, I'm arguing that Ed Snider is the most influential sports figure in the state, and the empire he has built will allow his own team, and the NHL as a whole, to reach its most broad audience.
History of Success
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No, the Flyers have not won the Stanley Cup since 1975.
And yeah, maybe the Phillies, 76ers, Steelers, Penguins and Pirates have all won at least one championship since then.
But no franchise in Pennsylvania has been a model of consistency comparable to the Flyers.
Philly's hockey team came into existence in the 1967-68 season, won their division and never looked back.
In 43 NHL seasons, the Flyers have missed the playoffs only eight times, five of which occurred between 1989-90 and 1993-94. In no other stretch in Flyers' history has the team ever missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
The team's eight appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals match the number of seasons they did not qualify for the postseason.
This success has made the Flyers as much a part of the city as cheese steaks, booing, and the homeless.
While fans of other franchises ask "are they all in?" Philly knows the Flyers are in a non-stop, unquestionable pursuit of hockey's Holy Grail.
Sure, sometimes that one-track mindedness leads them in the wrong direction, but it is still commonly accepted that the Flyers really were "all in", but just did not achieve their goal.
Nobody has ever questioned the team's dedication to winning.
Such pursuit has lead to consistent relevance, and the city has come to depend on that relevance as a crutch to get them from the end of a disappointing football season, and the beginning of a disappointing baseball season.
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
The Flyers are definitely Pennsylvania's most nationally relevant franchise in their respective sport.
I have always found it interesting that former Flyer Dan Carcillo, born in King City, Ontario, grew up a Flyers fan. How did a Canadian love the Flyers?
But it occurred to me the Flyers' branding as the Broad Street Bullies attracted the interest of fans with an affinity for the rough side of the game.
But there is an opposite element to that as well. The "purists" more interested in skill than the grit the Flyers displayed from the early 1970s, until about two or three seasons ago saw the Flyers as the enemy.
And ask any pro wrestling fan, nobody sells more tickets than a great villain.
The Flyers are the most polarizing team in the league, and such interest makes them the most important franchise in the NHL. Again, the Flyers are playing in their second Winter Classic.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have also played in two (meaning Pennsylvania has been featured in four of the five New Years-ish outdoor games).
The Flyers continue to ensure their status with their buying power. The Flyers spent like addicts in the pre-lockout salary cap-less era. As of today, they have pushed their cap number to the brink each season.
Pursuing big names, whether they are past their prime or not, is the hallmark of Philly's front office. Even in a "rebuilding" year that saw the team captain, leading scorer, and several other key figures depart, the Flyers signed top free-agent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr.
The Eagles and Phillies have recently hopped on the spend-money-to-make-money bandwagon, but long histories of tight purse strings offset recent revelations.
In contrast, the Pittsburgh teams all seem to have achieved their success incognito. They have been building teams from the ground up rather than flexing their fiscal muscles, in hopes of creating buzz by landing a big name.
The number one fan base in all of Pennsylvania belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers.
NFL games sellout because that's what NFL games do. And in the long history of the Steelers and Eagles, there have been periods of empty seats.
The Phillies current sell-out streak is impressive, but we all remember those dog days at the Vet.
Now the Penguins draw, but have struggled to make money when the team is not loaded with the best talent in the game (Lemieux-Jagr, Crosby-Malkin).
I have mentioned it many times, but the ultimate testament to Flyers' fans was being named the Most Intimidating Fans in the NHL in 2007. The year the orange and black only won 22 of their 82 games.
The aforementioned history of success has made Flyers' fans the most loyal because it is the franchise most loyal to its fans.
No sports city in the US has hockey fans like Philadelphia, as rabid as the NFL fans, as dedicated and passionate as the baseball fans, more numerous and proud than the basketball fans.
Hockey is easily this country's fourth sport but in Philadelphia the Flyers are a relevant member of a fanatical sports community as their identity goes beyond their sport—the Flyers represent Philadelphia, and the overall popularity of the game itself is irrelevant.