5 Reasons Philadelphia Flyers Fans Are the Best in Hockey
Sports teams compete against each other for championships. A ring, a trophy, a banner in the arena…there are tangible, measurable representations of a team’s success or a lack of it.
Fans, on the other hand, have a competition of their own that they wage.
When a fanbase loves a sport, they are destined to believe that no other fanbase loves it quite the way that they do. Philadelphia is no stranger to this concept when it comes to hockey.
We stand by our team despite the fact that the Flyers have lost the last six Stanley Cup Finals series they have played. We ridicule fans in Washington and Boston for only showing up when the team is playing well, while we have turned out through the good times and the bad. We insist that if the Penguins offered to trade us Sidney Crosby tomorrow, we would absolutely refuse the trade out of pure dislike for the notorious Flyers-killer.
Call us passionate, call us obnoxious, call us rude or call us scary. They all sound like compliments to us, and they only make us yell louder.
Here are five reasons the fans at the Wells Fargo Center are the best hockey has to offer.
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One factor comes before all others when you want to consider whether or not your team’s fanbase is the greatest in the sport: Do you bother to show up for games?
It doesn’t matter how many team jerseys and bumper stickers you own if you aren’t in the stadium every night, reminding the players why they get paid. Selling near capacity is a must, and the mark of a true fan depends on whether you bother to show up during the team’s worst years—not simply the best.
Fans in Washington, Pittsburgh, Boston and even Chicago (“dollar” bill or not, if you aren’t buying the tickets, you aren’t supporting the team) get eliminated on the basis of their inconsistent ticket sales between bad years and good years.
The Flyers, on the other hand, find themselves in a situation more like the teams of the Great White North. Attendance figures show that Flyers fans have been turning out near, at and above capacity every season for decades.
The team was not a force this entire time. The chart includes the five-year stretch of missing the playoffs from 1989-90 to 1993-94, as well as the 2006-07 season that saw the Flyers finish dead last in the league. Yet, the team never averaged more than 500 seats below capacity for a season and usually exceeded the capacities of the Wells Fargo Center and the Spectrum.
Commitment Despite Competition
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The Flyers aren’t the only team with great attendance numbers, for sure. One could look to any Canadian team and see the gold standard of ticket sales, and teams like the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues have very positive track records in attendance with the exception one or two seasons here and there.
Generating interest and consistently selling out is a special problem for a team like the Flyers: There are other teams in the city to steal the spotlight.
None of the Canadian teams share much competition from the other three major North American sports, making hockey the primary focus in the city. Buffalo has only one other team, the Bills, and St. Louis has no basketball team, the sport that is played on virtually the same schedule as hockey.
The Flyers have been drawing numbers despite sharing the first three months of the season with the Eagles, the last month and the playoffs with the Phillies and the entirety of the year with the 76ers. Yet, no matter how well their counterparts are doing, the Flyers always seem to draw their crowd. All four teams play on the same block in South Philly, yet the abysmal traffic that can come with sharing the schedule with a team like the Phillies has never deterred the Flyers’ faithful from turning out.
In the years when the Flyers are bad, fans have the option to take their passions across the street to a different Philly sports team. But the fans just cannot get enough hockey.
Flair for the Dramatic
Of course, there might be a reason that Philadelphia sports fans choose to turn their attention to the Flyers instead of a different franchise in the city. The Flyers—and their fans—have a reputation for being more than a little dramatic, and that can be an interesting sight to see.
Flyers fans are infamous for their criticism of the team. Simply donning the organization’s logo does not make a Flyers fan respect a player. That respect can only be earned. And when that respect is yet to be earned…
Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov how difficult the city can be.
Frustrations are not something the fanbase keeps quiet. No team gets booed more than the Flyers: The franchise’s reputation gets them booed on the road and the team’s struggles get them booed even louder at home.
Some fans wear their emotions on their sleeves in an extra special way.
Chris Falcone became a local celebrity when he did something every Flyers fan in the 90s and early 2000s wanted to do: fight Tie Domi.
Falcone rushed the penalty box when Domi squirted water on the fans behind him. The glass gave way and Falcone fell into the box. The fan immediately found himself tied up with the Maple Leafs enforcer, and while Domi certainly won the bout, Falcone became a local celebrity for taking the game just a little too seriously.
Dealing with Drought
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Hockey fans turn out each season in the hopes that they are witnessing the lead-in to a run at Lord Stanley’s Cup. This is why teams in the midst of dynasties have the biggest hype in their respective cities, and teams struggling to rebuild generally lose the interest of the fan base.
In the last 20 years, the Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche have all seen multiple Stanley Cups, an achievement that rewards the excitement of the fans as much as it does the ability of the players.
In simple terms, success makes it easier to be a hockey fan.
For fans of the Flyers, the word “success” might as well be part of a foreign language.
The franchise burst onto the scene soon after its conception in 1967, becoming the first organization outside of the Original Six (not including defunct franchises) to capture the league’s championship in 1974. They would repeat the feat in 1975.
Since that second Stanley Cup victory, the Flyers have made the Stanley Cup Finals six times, losing each one. For 36 years, Flyers fans have had their hopes dashed and their emotions wasted on teams that always found a way to fall short of glory.
Yet, despite year after year of frustration, the fans continue to turn out. They continue to invest in the team. They continue to buy the merchandise. And they continue to proudly identify themselves as Flyers fans, no matter what reputation the fans or the team may have.
A championship drought is the ultimate test of the character of a franchise. For the Flyers and their fans, the test is ongoing, but the city has already passed with flying colors.
The Future Hockeytown?
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In 2007, Sports Illustrated ran a feature challenging the city of Detroit for the moniker “Hockeytown, USA.” The article was as unofficial and unsanctioned as the Hockeytown title itself, but for hockey fans in the United States, the notion of the national capital of the sport is intriguing and important.
Only the most overzealous of Americans would attempt to make the claim that any American city looks upon the sport as passionately as Toronto, Montreal and the rest of the Canadian hockey-mad cities. Hell, even cities without a team, like Quebec City or Winnipeg before last summer, seem to exceed the passion of most American hockey locations.
But the idea that one American city might capture something close to that Canadian mentality is, for a hockey fan, a point of pride. And as Michael Farber argued in the article, Philadelphia could be the most qualified city in the United States to steal Detroit’s title.
If “Hockeytown” meant the most successful franchise in the United States, then Detroit is a no-brainer for the title. But the name seems to conjure up images of team colors worn all over the city, an arena packed to the rafters and a raucous, knowledgeable hometown crowd. Success matters little in this competition, compared to the commitment and intensity of those who are willing to fork over their hard-earned cash to see the team take the ice.
Hockeytown must love hockey, and anyone who grew up in the Philadelphia area can attest to the city’s love for the sport. Farber touches on the team’s AHL affiliate, the Phantoms, who played directly across the street from the Flyers from 1996-2009. Normally, AHL teams thrive in second-tier cities, locations too small for pro teams but large enough to generate interest in the minors (think: Rochester Americans).
The Phantoms, despite playing a stone’s throw from a better grade of hockey each night, were one of the most successful AHL teams during their tenure in Philadelphia. In 1998-99, the team set an AHL record, averaging over 12,000 fans per home game. The fact that a minor league team could be so successful while playing in direct proximity to the pro club is a testament to how much Philly fans love hockey and how committed to the entire organization—not just the professional product on the ice—the city can be.
The Phantoms have since relocated to Glens Falls, New York where they struggled, leading the team to make plans to relocate to Pennsylvania for the 2013-14 season.
There is no shortage of love for hockey in Philadelphia. The stadium is packed each night, the franchise has a long, storied history that lacks only a few more championship rings, and the fans have the kind of reputation that make some players love to play in Philly, and some dread the thought entirely.
Philly fans wouldn’t have it any other way.