In his final article of four for The Cat’s Whiskers this week David Steadman looks at the relationships between the supporters and the club/NIC
This is what it’s all about! Us, the fans, the people who delve into their pockets, bank accounts, savings, credit cards and sofas to be able to turn up and cheer the guys on the ice trying to entertain us. Without us, there would be no Panthers, no Ice Hockey, nothing to look forward to in that few hours of escapism (for me anyway) when nothing else matters other than that pass, that shot, that check!
I think ice hockey fans are amongst some of the best people in the country. Yes there are some muppets included but there is everywhere in every walk of life, but in general we are a really good bunch of people. We have rivalries with supporters from other teams but for the most part it is good natured and everyone realises it’s not life or death (it’s more important than that!) We all want our team to win, we all want our guy to win the fight and we all want the bragging rights for the next few hours, days, weeks or months (see what I mean about the last game) but, when was the last time you saw any kind of law enforcement at a game? We just don’t need them. I remember one play-off final weekend at Wembley when there was a football cup game on at Wembley Stadium. You couldn’t move for police, their dogs and horses. This was the first and last time I’d ever seen a presence like this. Talking to one of the coppers (is that PC? No pun intended) he said that they weren’t there for us, just the football supporters. You get supporters from 10, 15 maybe 20 teams at the finals weekend, just to enjoy the event and experience. They don’t want to cause trouble, they just want to watch the games, speak to people who want to do the same whether they are from Nottingham, Belfast, Edinburgh, Cardiff or any of the other teams around the country that they may support.
Yes I’ve seen smatterings of trouble, but in the grand scheme of things nothing too bad and certainly not often. I don’t go to away games due to family and financial commitments but over the years I’ve been to Sheffield, Cardiff, Manchester, Hull, Durham and Whitley Bay and the only really scary place was trying to get out of the car park in Whitely Bay after a game and that was too many years ago to remember exactly when. Other than that everything else directly involving me would come under the ‘Banter’ banner, if that.
On the other side of the title to this piece is ‘Them’, the Panthers organisation. And by organisation I mean everyone from Neil Black all the way through to the people who work for the NIC. The Panthers pay for us to play there so they are effectively employed by the Panthers. Now, there are good and bad in all companies, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, a bit like a team (see what I did there). I can quite easily go on about all the bad things and all of the good things but I want it to be balanced and on the whole I think what they actually give us for our money is good value. If I didn’t then I wouldn’t attend. Yes there is an amount of loyalty and desire to watch them play but if it turns out to not be a spectacle or exciting any more then it’s a relatively easy decision to make.
This brings me to what we actually get for our money, some may disagree but by the ever increasing attendances I’m assuming most agree with me that what we get as an end product is pretty damn good. We are always competitive, we are usually entertaining and most of the time the effort is there too. Couple this with the fact there is another team out there also trying to win and not just rolling over because we are Nottingham Panthers, or on paper we should wipe the floor with them, then I believe the on-ice product is excellent. However, when you get to the off-ice product then I think we are somewhat behind the times and a little lacking in the communication and marketing stakes. I just mentioned that the attendances are increasing which is great but I don’t ever see much in the way of marketing outside of the banners dotted around. My feeling is that word of mouth is why crowds are going up and it’s harder to find a seat where you want for the non-premium games.
I was going to add that I don’t want to single anyone out but I’m going to have to because Gary Moran has seemingly such a grip on everything that comes out of the Panthers organisation. I have to say at this point that I think that GM does a fantastic job on the business side of things and I’m sure that Neil Black is more than happy with what he does in that respect, as am I. Yes there are shirt auctions every other week but the club need to raise funds from somewhere. It’s the same reason we have sponsorship, the club gets the money and the sponsors get the advertising and association with a winning organisation. I believe that there does however need to be a better liaison between the club and the fans, a better interaction, listen to what we are saying or asking for. Mr Moran has been criticised for just putting out there what he thinks people want and not actually giving two hoots about the real requirement, which was fine when he was in his prime and everyone wanted what he wanted but times change. I will add at this point that I’ve had a couple of personal experiences with GM and in my opinion he has always come across as being arrogant, but he always had the organisations best interest at heart. I went for a sponsor’s photo on one occasion and the look on his face was unbelievable when he saw that I was wearing an older shirt with a previous sponsors brand on the front. He knew that he had to take the picture, he knew it would be in the programmes for a season and he knew he was advertising a brand that wasn’t paying for it. Should he have reacted better, yes; could he have made light of it, yes; could he have asked me to wear a current shirt, yes. Whether I would have or not is a different matter but we could have had a conversation (it happened to be my dad’s shirt who had passed away the previous April). What I’m trying to say is that he’s not a people person and he just puts things out into the public domain that he would want to see with no regard to the changing times.
The other members of the team are all nice enough but I feel that we lack depth and experience, maybe we need someone with NHL experience! I don’t like that we always try to do everything ourselves, ‘Checking It Out’ is a prime example, it just looks very awkward and stiff, everyone is conscious of what to say and not say. As a specific, I would like Cam to take over the GM element of this, have real conversations with the players and coaches and even the office staff. He’s clearly had training in how to deal with the media and is also a naturally charismatic person (anyone who’s read all of these will think I have a Cam love in but he’s just an easy way to make my points). The staff at the NIC leave a lot to be desired and the game between periods is not to choose the shortest queue but to see which of the staff has any common sense and will serve you without issue or confusion. The stewards are OK, they don’t do a lot but then they don’t have to. The majority of the fans can read a ticket, a seat number and find a block. They’ve obviously got protocols to follow so if the puck flies into the crowd, they have to check if anyone is hurt for presumably politically correct health and safety reasons, other than that they are part of the furniture.
The backroom/office/support staff within the organisation are part of the bigger team, they are all pulling in the same direction, doing their part to bring the fans what we desire. I think the players we have in that part of the team are good but we need to address the balance, the backroom game is evolving and we haven’t addressed that and brought in players who have the skill set to help us compete. Do we need another defenceman? No I don’t think so; do we need an enforcer? Definitely not, do we need a Sniper? Someone to put the message in exactly the right place when needed? Yes, I think we do. A lot like the current playing roster, most think we need someone who is proven at putting the puck in the net, I believe we need someone to put the information into the public domain. Should that person be the Captain? If the experience is right yes, that way they can be the go between for the ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ and help improve ALL aspects of the TEAM.
Thanks for reading. I hope these have broken the monotony of the off season!
If you’ve missed David’s previous articles, they are linked blow:
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