Yesterday, approximately 300 fans gathered in front of Nationwide Arena, the home of the Columbus Blue Jackets. They gathered to express both their love for the team and their disdain for the announcement that, in spite of easily holding the NHL’s worst record at 13-30-6 despite also possessing the NHL’s ninth-highest team payroll, that Blue Jackets Team President Mike Priest and General Manager (GM) Scott Howson’s jobs appeared to be safe. This news angered the masses in Columbus to an unprecedented level, both in the city’s history and in NHL lore.
Enter “Occupy Nationwide.”
The official title for the event was Columbus Blue Jackets (CBJ) Fan Protest but its theme is similar to the ‘Occupy’ protests that have occurred throughout the country, from Wall Street to Seattle.
Their message is simple: They are disgusted by the losing and they want both Priest and Howson to be ousted (fired) by the team’s majority owner, John P. McConnell, and entire ownership groups. The fans feel that their concerns are being totally ignored, that both Priest and Howson have utter disregard and respect for their wish to field a competitive team, that they are solely responsible for bringing in players who lack talent and are devoid of any heart.
In short, this protest was an unprecedented fan’s ‘cry for help’, something never before seen in the history of professional sports fandom.
This protest began with an ardent fan known simply as Cap’n Cornelius, a fan so passionate for this team that he has attended every game since Day 1 (October, 2000) – and he travels to/from Louisville, KY – on the HFBoards NHL Message Board and Forum. From there, several other passionate Blue Jackets’ fans took to the charge and launched an information campaign via social media – on Facebook and on Twitter #CBJFANPROTEST.
From there, this fan protest garnered steam, both locally as it was carried on all of the Columbus, Ohio-area TV news outlets, radio stations and their newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch. It also gathered momentum nationally on various NHL internet outlets like Pro Hockey Talk, SI.com, Yahoo Sports, Rogers Sportsnet and various national media outlets to include the Edmonton Sun, the Vancouver Sun and the Star Phoenix.
Their message was simple: They love their team but they hate the direction of the team. Specifically, their belief was that this organization will continue to flounder and lack accountability unless those with the responsibility for their on-ice performance – Priest and Howson – are removed from their duties and replaced with competent, experienced NHL management personnel.
While some felt that this planned rally would generate scoffing and disregard from the Blue Jackets majority owner John P. McConnell, they were ultimately surprised when McConnell sent an open letter to season ticket holders the day before the rally took place.
The protesters seemed to think that it’s great that McConnell is listening, but they also feel that he is not fully absorbing the message.
So on Saturday, January 28, 2012, the CBJ Fan Protest became reality.
While it was a peaceful rally, the message from the organizers and those in attendance was passionate and heartfelt.
Many carried signs and several organizers spoke from a podium complete with PA system that was set up in front of the main entrance to the arena.
“We need (players) on the team that care,” Co-Organizer Pat Long said. “The only people that can put those people on the team are a competent president and general manager.”
Blue Jackets Management personnel representing the organization attended the protest and made themselves available to discuss the protester’s concerns. Management personnel set up a table and provided free coffee and hot beverages and chatted with many of the protesters.
“We’re frustrated with the way things have gone, too,” Blue Jackets spokesman Todd Sharrock said. “Basically, all of our senior management that is not in Ottawa is here. We came to talk to people and say ‘we’re here if you want to chat with us, we understand why you’re here and we appreciate it.’ Nobody would be here if they didn’t care deeply about this team. It would be irresponsible of us to not be here and let them know that.
“I’m not going to comment on the message, but their attitude is a big reason why the All-Star Game is coming here (next year). It’s because of the fan base. They’re passionate and they care. I know Mike (Priest) and Scott (Howson) and some of the other senior management people would have been here today if they weren’t in Ottawa. But we’re going to talk to them and share the thoughts (of protesters).”
But perhaps the ultimate recognition of the protester’s cause came from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “It’s clearly a demonstration of passion by fans. You don’t do this unless you’re passionate about hockey, about the team and about the city.”
Earlier in the day, the Columbus Blue Jackets fans and the organization received great news: Columbuswill host the 2013 NHL All-Star game. This announcement was met with great jubilation by the protesters; however, that jubilation only pales in comparison to what would create mass jubilation and hysteria with these passionate fans – changes to the organization and a commitment towards ultimately raising Lord Stanley’s cup.