Kevin Lowe: “We have two types of fans.”

It’s difficult to sell renewal in a press conference when the new general manager is coming from within, and so it was perhaps unsurprising that the Oilers brass took some hot questions this morning, most notably from the Edmonton Journal’s John MacKinnon and Sportsnet’s Mark Spector.

Unfortunately for the Oilers, team president Kevin Lowe did not handle a number of them very well.

Two Types of Fans

A noticeably aggravated Lowe initially responded to a question from MacKinnon by dividing Oilers fans into two separate tiers of different value to the team:

We have two types of fans: we have paying customers and we have people that watch the game that we still care about but certainly the people that go to the games and support we spend a lot of time talking to them, delivering our message.

On one level, it’s a fair distinction to make. The NHL is very much a gate-driven league, and from a business perspective the most important people to the Oilers are the ones shelling out cash for tickets to every game.

On another level, it’s a breathtakingly stupid thing to say given that a) the fans that go to the games regularly represent a minority of an extremely large fanbase and b) the fans that aren’t regularly in attendance at Rexall still mean a great deal to the financial fortunes of the team. They’re the people who make the Oilers television rights valuable, they’re the people who buy the majority of the team’s merchandise, and to some non-trivial degree they’re also the people that need to be sold on community involvement in a new arena.

From a public relations perspective, there’s simply no reason to remind this rather large group of devoted fans that they matter much less to the organization than the folks shelling out big money for season tickets. That’s one of the things that can be expressed to season-ticket holders in private.

Count My Stanley Cup Rings

And then Lowe kept going. After professing that half the teams in the league would love to trade rosters with Edmonton, he said this:

In terms of the group that messed things up, you’re talking about the group that had a team one period away from winning the Stanley Cup, and you know the cycle of that. You know that we chased a dream for a few years, for our fanbase, like a lot of teams do. And then at some point in that timeframe we realized that’s a bad plan and we made a change. We’re finishing year three of that plan. Are you saying to me you’re getting impatient after three years? And lastly I’ll say, there’s one other guy I believe in hockey today, that is still working in the game, that has won more Stanley Cups than me, so I think I know a little bit about winning if that’s ever a concern.

The point about the team in 2005-06 is a valid one, to be sure; the fact is that the Oilers under Lowe weren’t nearly as bad as they became under Tambellini.

But Lowe’s comment on his Stanley Cup victories as a player was both tone-deaf and irrelevant. Tone-deaf because many fans had already written off the hiring of MacTavish as yet another example of hiring the familiar person rather than the best person available; reminding everyone about the 1980’s simply underscored the notion that this club is living off past achievements. Irrelevant, because the job of a manager and a hockey player is quite different: there is certainly some cross-over but the athletic talents that make a player great don’t necessarily make him a great executive. Wayne Gretzky was a far better hockey player than Scotty Bowman, but in terms of coaching careers there can be no question which had a greater impact; one only needs to look at the management of the last few Stanley Cup winners to realize that a law degree in a lot of cases is a better indicator of management prowess than achievements on the ice.

Does it matter?

The good news for the Oilers organization is that what was said today really doesn’t matter, a point Craig MacTavish repeatedly emphasized during the availability:

It makes very little difference what I say today. What really, truly, matters is what we do tomorrow as an organization to get better. If I can come in here and sell you guys on my capability and credibility to do the job today means nothing tomorrow.

Kevin Lowe bungled things badly at the press conference today. But if, in Craig MacTavish, he found the man who can build Edmonton into a Stanley Cup contender, nobody will remember or care about a few ill-advised comments.

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  • The Soup Fascist

    The only problem I have with Lowe is that he took the attention of MacT. I think more questions in the presser should have been about “what’s the plan” instead of “you suck Lowe”. I have respect for Lowe, and I certainly understand why most think his time is up. That being said, I think MacT was probably the best choice for GM, and who knows, down the road he could have both jobs of GM and coach! Probably not but I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility. The press conference was a year late though: we all know that MacT was in line to do this when he was hired a year ago.

  • ginganinja

    There are two types of employees: 1. Those that work hard, take responsibility, are held accountable and who don’t count on past successes, relevant or not, to be considered valuable to an organization. 2. Those that figuratively sleep with the boss to ensure their employment.

    Which camp are you in, KLowe.

  • ginganinja

    Im confused…… Did I not see that note written on Brownlees forum under dsf’s name?

    Edit: nevermind he referenced this comment. And I thought dsf could feel.

  • StHenriOilBomb

    I am the second type of fan, and I don’t care what he thinks of me.

    I go to one game a year, and my gate revenue goes to the Bell Centre and the Habs. I don’t pay for my 75 or so streamed games each season. I follow the Oilers on TSN, oilersnation, EJ online, and some other small site, but not oilers.com. Every Christmas my wife buys me something with a registered Oilers logo on it, but other than that, there’s not much I do that actaully supports the team… They probably make less than $2 a year from my fanship.

    It’s business, and I don’t expect a businessman to care about me if he can’t take my money.

    There could be some debate about how the brand value is grown through people like me, but it would be fairly inconsequential.

    I want this team to concentrate on the fans that make them money. It only makes my experience better to watch a financially stable team. What doesn’t enhance my fan experience is a losing team with managers getting in to pissing contests in with the press and saying dumb things.

    It may be different for those of you who are paying for the city’s investment in the arena, but get used to it. I’ve lived in Montreal for 10 years, and spent 8 of it paying for a stadium that I got to experience 2 years of baseball and a couple of cfl games.

  • StHenriOilBomb

    I cant believe there isnt more outrage he basically told 95% of their fan base that they dont matter and that we as the oilers do not care what you say or think. But he has 6 stanley cup rings. Also he forgot to say that if things went how this Winner wanted we would have Thomas Vanek and Michael Nelander and Washington and Buffalo would Ebs, Hall, Nuge and Yak.

  • StHenriOilBomb

    Of all the people on this post so far, StHenriOilBomb seems the most realistic and grounded. Kudos to you for your reality-based comments.

    Listen – I suppose I should have been offended by Kevin Lowe’s comments yesterday because I’m definitely in the second-tier (i.e. lower-tier) of fans who don’t have season tickets, but I wasn’t, really. Of course I expect the team to care more for the people who shell out thousands for season tickets each year. That’s business. The casinos in Vegas comp the high-rollers … they don’t comp people like me. I’m not offended by that.

    But there’s another reason why I’m not overly offended and it’s this: I don’t really think Kevin Lowe means it.

    I think what we saw yesterday was Kevin-Lowe-the-Player coming out of him. Those of us of a certain vintage will recall that he was quite the hot-head as a player. They didn’t call him “Killer” for nothing. There were many-a-scrum (and many Battles of Alberta) where Lowe would simply snap and do something that he’d later regret.

    Now, back then, it was considered endearing because it often took place against sworn enemies (Calgary, NYI, Philly, etc.). Heck, even in recent memory it’s been endearing. Remember when Lowe and Brian Burke had their feud a few years ago after the Oilers signed Penner? That was Lowe-the-Player coming out.

    Sometimes it should come out, sometimes it shouldn’t. Yesterday, it shouldn’t have. And I’m sure Lowe regrets it. But let’s move on.

  • I think it’s pretty obvious that the team they have in place is not getting it done, nor will they. They have to get bigger up front. It’s really sickening to watch the young guys getting roughed up and all they can do to retaliate is send in Mike Brown. He’s an ok scrapper for his size, but he’s not an enforcer to put fear in most teams. I think for starters they need to trade RNH , Hemsky, and give away Horkoff for a McHappy meal. Give us just one big forward with some gonads for the 3 of em. I’m sick of watching all the talent going into corners in fear for their lives. Why they ever signed Hemsky for 5 mil is beyond me- Eberle is a mil – they should trade paychecks

  • StHenriOilBomb

    I’m a season ticket holder …. I hate what was said by Kevin Lowe, it’s divisive, unproductive and pits fan against fan. Not a good move when all fans are looking for reasons to support the Oilers period ! Every season ticket was a fan 1st …. season ticket holder second. The comment was insulting to all fans STH or not.

    If I was a fan wanting to buy Seasons, I would now think twice … however, there will likely be quite a few for sale.