The Business Journal conducted a study to determine which NHL teams it was the most difficult to cheer. Surprisingly, the Ducks finished 28th. In other words, The Business Journal believes that it's pretty easy to be a Ducks fan. Their method - not methodology - is primarily focused on winning. Simply, if your team has enjoyed recent playoff and regular season success, then it is an easy team to root for. This is a pretty one dimensional standard and ignores key factors, such as history, style of play, and fan identity. The article attempts to put a truer scope on what it means to be a Ducks fan, the good and the bad. Let me preface this by saying, I'll be making a lot of generalizations. If you think it doesn't apply to you, then maybe it doesn't apply to you.I'll fulfill my obligatory negativity quota by starting with the perception of West Coast Sports - better known as "East Coast media bias". This country developed from the East to the West. As a result, everything that is older is farther east. Similarly, things that are older are considered to be better due to their longevity, history, tradition etc. Moreover, the time difference makes it difficult for the East Coast Media to watch all the games and correctly assess the true value of our teams and their players. Of course, with the advent of DVR, I think this excuse is becoming less and less justifiable. Yes, I just said the East Coast Media is lazy. However, I will add the caveat that the blog centric media tends to be much more attuned to West Coast sports than ESPN. For die hard fans who have followed this team for its nearly two decades of history, the silent treatment we get from mainstream, national media is frustrating.
Perhaps more frustrating than the indifferent national media is the inability of our fellow fans to let go of the "thug" moniker we've so undeservedly earned. I'm not going to say that the Ducks haven't had players that play on the edge, but I will say that every NHL team has them. For example, Niklas Kronwall throws flying elbows that would make the late Randy Savage 12 different kinds of proud. I've seen Sidney Crosby give slashes behind the play without recourse. Not every single play committed by a Ducks player is dirty. I'm sick of watching games where teams can throw punches at us, but we can't throw any back. It's hard being the fan of a team when everything you do is considered dirty, but similar practices by opposing teams are considered good hockey.
Another thing we can't seem to shake is our Disney history. Look, it's not my fault that The Mighty Ducks was an awesome movie. It's also not my fault that Disney's drive for family entertainment led to Kariya's early injuries. (Editor's Note: ALLEGEDLY led to..please do not sue us - Jen) I follow the Ducks because Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were riveting and the organization won my loyalty. I used to follow the Kings before the Ducks joined the league, but there was something about the hockey that was so exciting for me. I'm not embarrassed by the Disney era. There was a lot of good hockey that got played, and Disney put on a phenomenal show. However, it seems I can't get into a conversation about the quality of an organization without someone inevitably making the argument that the Ducks are an awful team because Disney used to own them. That's like saying the United States is an awful country because it used to operate under the Articles of Confederation.
The final reason being a Duck fan is rough is that it's a small market team in a large market area. Anaheim has over 300,000 people and Orange County has over 3 million. When you start to incorporate the populations of Riverside and north San Diego counties, as well as the huge amount of people in L.A. county, there's a huge fan base to be had. Yet, hockey hasn't seem to taken strong root in Southern California. As the cap has risen, the Ducks spending has not. As of this writing, the Ducks have only spent 2 million more towards the cap than the new Winnipeg team despite access to a market that dwarfs Winnipeg. There wasn't a lot to spend money on this summer, but in general. It's frustrating being the fan of a small market team that's on the edge of the second largest market in the country.
However, it's not all bad. There are a few key factors that make it easy to be a Ducks fan that are frequently ignored by the rest of the country. First, Anaheim has always done a great job of keeping star power. While that seems like a small consolation to winning, it does make for a watchable product. The Ducks do a great job of keeping around players that are worth the price of admission. Even when they lost Kariya and Selanne in the summer of 2003, they managed to replace them with Sergei Fedorov. Disney started a good tradition of star players in Anaheim, even if they were a bit tyrannical with Kariya. Good players make it easy to stomach hard times.
Furthermore, ignorance is bliss. Arthur and I once had a discussion about California sports fans where it was discussed how fans out here tend to be fans of their team and not their sport. I think this accounts for the narrow minded view of a lot of the Kariya haters that erupted after he left the team. This isn't to say that fans out here know nothing about the sport, but rather we seem only able to contextualize things in reference to our teams. I would say that West Coast fans are the ethnocentrists of the sports world. It's easy to understand when you consider that our teams are not only younger than other franchises, but often not included in national discussions. It's quite the conundrum. The national media ignores the west coast teams, and as a result west coast fans tend to stay in their own little world in relation to the rest of the league. However, it makes it easy to appreciate your team, because you soon stop caring what other people think.
Finally, it's easy to be a Duck fan because we live in Southern California. I certainly don't follow this mold, but it's easy to follow a team when your life isn't invested in it. There are tons of things to do in California. The compact nature of the south makes it fairly easy to go to museums, sporting, events, cultural hubs, as well as countless outdoor activities in the beaches and mountains. It's easy to go somewhere and take your mind off the sport. We don't have the fanatics that seem to characterize "great" fanbases, but it also means we probably won't riot after losing a championship, winning is a different story. Still, we have plenty to do to keep our mind off the sport. When you don't have to be mentally and emotionally invested in the team all the time, it makes the highs more enjoyable and the lows more tolerable.
I think that covers a few of the differences. Being a Duck fan can be a difficult undertaking but also offers several rewards. Being a fan is actually a complex process of identity; most of these quantitative studies are only good for making posts like this.