The NHL arguably poses the greatest fans in the world. It is Canada’s number one passion and sport meanwhile in the US the popularity is increasing at a rapid rate. Since the lockout season of 2004/05, the NHL has grown significantly which is all the more impressive in terms of the fan following and general revenues which wasn’t even on a par with the other main sports in North America namely the NFL, NBA and MLB in years past. That is changing and although it is unlikely to match them it is forever getting closer.
On both sides of the border, some of the fan bases are passionate, some play out to sell out crowds every night and some don’t bother to turn up at all. The Blues have had a rich history of ups and downs and they have a fan-base who has been through it all and more. The Blues organization is lucky because good fans are a rare commodity in sports today. Throughout the years we have seen a ton of the “bandwagon” fans joining to support the team on a playoff run but have go AWOL in the regular season. Then of course there are the ones who are most annoying to the true fans, the ones who join the fan group after a Stanley Cup victory.
The Blues are a unique franchise in the sense that they are only team from the “original six” and “expanded six” introduced in 1967 never to get their hands on the Stanley Cup. The Blues fans experienced the final in their first years into the NHL (1967/68, 1968/69 and 1969/70). Bob Plager the Hall of Fame Blues defenseman said “When you get there the first years you think you are going to win one soon because you have been there and tasted it. But its the toughest trophy to win in sports” In those three appearances they were swept each time. They have never won a Stanley Cup Final game, let alone won enough in the final to even be close. This past season the Vegas Golden Knights won 2 games in their first ever Stanley Cup Final appearance.
The Blues fans haven’t been starved of playoff hockey, far from it as they made 25 consecutive appearances in the post season between 1979/80 and 2003/04. That playoff streak was the longest active streak among the four major professional sports and fell just short of the NHL’s all time record held by the Boston Bruins which was at 29 years (1968-1996). Although a great accomplishment Blues fans may wonder if they had missed the playoffs ten times during that stretch but instead they were able to win the Stanley Cup just once. What would they rather have? It has been 51 years of disappointment full of missed opportunities, the organization has had rosters full of talent who have thrived in regular season play only to come up short in the spring. They have had names such as Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Al Macinnis, Chris Pronger and Bernie Federko to all wear “The Note ” on their sweater at one time or another but that hasn’t made the difference.
Even though the Blues fans are enthusiastic and forever supportive of the organization there is some feeling that they expect to be disappointed. This in turn has unfortunately created a culture around the organization of accepting mediocrity. It spreads from the owners all the way down to the fans. Blues fans somehow have come to accept failure and worse of all they expect it year after year.
The fans throughout the history of the franchise have held high expectations only to invariably leading to disappointment that no other franchise can match. This includes the fans that are familiar with the current roster and the ones who have memories of yesteryear. Fans are definitely becoming tiresome of saying “maybe next year”. They have seen the equivalent in Baseball with Chicago Cubs finally breaking the curse and even to a smaller degree this season with the Washington Capitals capturing their first Stanley Cup after 44 years of trying. The only other franchise who has similar suffering is perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs who have not won a cup since 1967 but their rich history prior makes up for that somewhat.
For the lack of success in terms of Stanley Cups, the fans did get the Winter Classic in 2017 coming to St Louis which was massive for the city. The 46,000 plus fans never stopped cheering for their heroes in the Cardinals Busch Stadium, where the sea of blue and yellow was a terrific sight with the famous Gateway Arch in the background. The weather conditions didn’t deter these fans despite the battering rain and dense fog this was a day to remember for all St Louis Blues fans. They don’t get the recognition they deserve as they are not a top ten market team, but on this occasion the fans did the city proud. The ownership did the fans and players proud and the team did everybody proud. A similar sort event happening around mid June would be the pinnacle for this city and its incredible fans
It was a hopeful precursor to what it may be like in the city if St Louis were to finally win the cup. Fox Sports Mid-West analyst for the Blues Darren Pang commented on such an occasion “If the Blues were to win a cup the parade could be larger than a Cardinal’s parade. The city is accustomed to having one every so often but the burst of enthusiasm that would follow a Blues cup victory could surpass a World series celebration”
With all the negativity described thus far with the Blues franchise, they are ranked 5th best in the NHL in terms of its team performance. They are also ranked 5th for lowest average ticket cost, which in turn allows the average fan to attend games on a regular basis. The same cannot be said for those same fans in Toronto or Montreal in Canada where they experience extortionate ticket prices regardless of how the team is playing. The city of St. Louis may never have the pedigree of the “original six” teams but it has quickly risen up the ranks among American city markets. A personal finance website named Wallethub had listed St. Louis as the 7th best hockey city in the US behind Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago and Newark. The Blues are often one of the highest ranked teams in the NHL in terms of attendance. This is the kind of press that is positive for the city after all the negative attention it received prior. The city was hurt when the Rams were moved to Los Angeles and the inability to build a MLS stadium to house a soccer team.
The St. Louis Blues, do however have one of the best relationships within the community in the entire NHL. The Blues players are active in the community, attending charities and visiting local sick kids hospitals and have been a long standing part of the community. The fans as a whole have ignited the city of St. Louis with their excitement and energy, which they bring to the game and afterwards which galvanizes the community further.
At the Enterprise Center the Blues have created their own and personal touches with fans during home games. Firstly with the “Land Of The Free And The Home Of The …. BLUESS ! sang by Charles Glen before every home game. The whole arena will scream as he performs, as well as the fans roaring at the end of the National Anthem. Secondly the Blues organist Jeremy Boyer delivers timely use of the LETS GO BLUES chant to get fans engaged and also has a nice use of “Here Comes The King”, which is employed at crucial points in the hockey game.
An amusing touch at home games is the power-play dance which is used when the Blues get a power-play. It is very unique and odd at the same time, fans throw their hands up in the air and do their dance to the Twilight Zone by “2 Unlimited”. It is very amusing to outsiders and probably most Blues fans, who are attending the game and are reluctant to participate in the dance. How do fans feel when others around them do this dance?
The most unique of them all is arguably the towel man (Ron Baechle), who comes with his ringing bell and 1-2-3 jersey when the Blues score throwing towels into stands celebrating a Blues goal. He is found in the nosebleed section of the arena and has done so for over 25 years. Back in 2012 Sports Illustrated named Baehle as one of the years Noteworthy Sports super-fans. Finally the traditional playoff beard, which is NHL tradition has been used by the Blues as a contest encouraging fans to grow their beards during the playoffs to win prizes and help raise money for charity. Another nice touch.
The organization itself have done a marvelous job in recent years through the social media outlet by connecting the die hard fans on a more personal level. The Blues have connected to the fans mainly through Twitter, when they launched the hashtag #WeBleedBlue this has allowed fans from everywhere to share their passions with the organization and further stabilize its community spirit. They have also been known to respond to fans in real and authentic way, creating a more personal experience for fans. The fans are also able to connect with each other on various social platforms, and engage discussions and opinions. This allows the fans to create websites, blogs and writing platforms to attract new fans and followers to further enhance the community of St. Louis Blues hockey.
Blues fans are very loyal to the franchise, and even more in recent years where they continually sell out the Enterprise Center where they constantly bring electricity from the stands. They are also known for creating fabulous atmospheres outside the arena with the traditional tailgating, that goes on at Clark/14th Av during every home game.
When people talk about St Louis if you are an outsider, most people probably think of St Louis as a baseball town but it is way more than that. It is a great sports town. Granted, the St. Louis Cardinals have won 11 World Series, and the Blues haven’t won a single Stanley Cup, it is easy to say that. The fans not only are loyal at home, but can be seen in numbers on many of the road games. They continue to stick with the team through thick and thin.
The Blues organization have always had their die hard fans. However like any kind of business, the Blues have to continue to improve the product on the ice to keep building the fan-base. They have to keep striving to be a team that their audience wants to engage and interact with. In any kind of sport, winning sells as we shall see next season with the “new” Washington Capitals fans. We are likely to see many roaming the streets of cities across the US and Canada other than in Washington ! The Blues must continue to maintain their high levels of uniqueness as a franchise, and their commitment to delivering performance on the ice to capture new fans .
For all the All Stars that have played in the NHL over the course of its history, the real all stars are the fans because without them their is no game at all. They travel to home and road games all year, wear the jerseys with pride all year long, talk with friends about their teams all year long and get emotional when their teams win or lose. St Louis Blues fans are undoubtably some of the most passionate in the NHL
For 51 years since the Blues have been a hockey club, the biggest and most obvious thing that makes them unique is that they have not won a Stanley Cup. However in terms of its fan-base they have proven that they don’t need a championship to love their team. The fan-base will continue to come back for more. These fans are more than just a group of followers of a hockey team, they are a part of a family and in this family WE ALL BLEED BLUE !!!