- Created on Thursday, 17 October 2013 12:11
- Hits: 477
By STEVE AULD
They have cheaper seats, cheaper beer and have won the same number of Stanley Cups that the Toronto Maple Leafs have since their birth in 1970. So, is it just Canadian pride that keeps the majority of Niagara’s residents as loyal Leafs fans instead of to the Buffalo Sabres?
Kyle Kidd, a student of public administration and French at Brock University and a long-time Leafs fan, says that Canadian pride isn’t the main factor when it came to choosing a team.
“Some people want to cheer for a Canadian team but the proximity of the Sabres mitigates that a bit because it can be seen as a home team. They also do a good job at recognizing their Canadian fans.”
So, if Canadian pride has little to do with it, why choose Toronto?
Kidd says, “I can’t speak for others, but for me it was a combination of the fact that my Dad was a Leafs fan, and the history of the franchise. The Leafs have such a storied history as an Original Six franchise, and the more I learned about it growing up the more I wanted to become a part of it.”
Despite the Leafs’ rich history, there has to be a chance for the Sabres to start making some more headway in the Niagara region. Especially with Toronto’s ticket prices being so high.
A search through Toronto’s and Buffalo’s ticket sales information showed that the cheapest price Toronto fans can expect for a home game is $107.75 with the highest-priced tickets at $928.75.
Meanwhile, Buffalo tickets run as low as $31 for single-games while the highest sell for $240. Can you guess whom the Sabres play when Buffalo’s highest-cost tickets are on sale? If you says Toronto pat yourself on the back.
A quick unscientific survey of students on campus found that 13 of 20 people were Toronto fans, while two were Sabres fans, three were fans of other teams and two didn’t care for hockey or didn’t have a favourite team.
A revealing statistic bearing on Sabre fan growth potential in the region is that of those 13 Leaf fans surveyed, 10 says they had not been to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and nine says they would rather see Toronto and Buffalo play in Buffalo if you factored in costs and impact in the region.
Brent Rossi, Buffalo Sabres vice-president of brand strategy and marketing and Port Colborne native, says there are three keys reasons for marketing in Ontario.
“One, it’s an extremely passionate fan base in southern Ontario. Two, the proximity to Buffalo. We’re a stone’s throw from Fort Erie here; I can actually look out my office window and see Fort Erie. And three, is the rich history of Sabres’ fans in that area.”
Rossi, who received a degree in sports management from Brock University, says the appeal of having Southern Ontario so close makes it “a top priority.”
“It’s something that we take extremely serious. We’re separated by a bridge and that’s about it. We look at southern Ontario as part of our community.”
Rossi says that “around 15 per cent” of Buffalo’s season ticket holders are from southern Ontario and that “upwards of 25 per cent “ of individual game tickets sell from Fort Erie to Stoney Creek. That area makes up the Canadian part of the Sabres’ marketing reach with the National Hockey League’s 50-mile radius of influence per team from the home city.
Going by those standards, Buffalo really is our home team, despite not being in the same country. This is why, Rossi says, any marketing to the Niagara area isn’t stretching boundaries, but is more “community outreach.”
Take, for example, the Sabres Invade Canada Day, in which past and present Sabres’ players and personnel came to Fort Erie, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines for two days in early September.
The invasion included Sabres’ President Ted Black and former players Jim Playfair and Andrew Peters meeting with Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin and other business leaders, centre Cody Hodgson and mascot Sabretooth visiting children at the new hospital in St. Catharines and alumni Rob Ray, Jay McKee and Richie Dunn skating with the Niagara Falls Rivermen novice AAA team.
Winger Marcus Foligno also surprised many caffeine addicts when he spent some time operating the drive-thru window of Tim Hortons in Fort Erie.
Rossi says the Sabres will continue to market strongly to the Niagara region and there are future plans for more local events.
“There will be more player appearances up there and more communication with our Canadian fan base, through emails, through social media, through surveys. We’re constantly asking for feedback from our fans there. We’re trying to understand what they want.”
Do any of the Sabres’ efforts have an effect on theLeafs Nation? When asked to choose between seeing the Leafs at home against Buffalo or at the First Niagara Centre in Buffalo, Kidd says factoring in cost is a huge in determining where to watch a game.
“All things being equal I would want to watch in Toronto. But due to the cost and availability of tickets, I have never seen the Leafs play at home. I’ve seen them multiple times in Buffalo because the tickets are cheaper and the atmosphere for those games is great.”
Just don’t expect the ratio of Leafs’ and Sabres’ fans to change anytime in the near future, especially with Toronto jumping out to a 3-0-0 start and the Sabres remaining winless.
Although money talks, it apparently does not have the power to change the team colours.