From 2003-04 through 2013-14, the San Jose Sharks never missed the postseason. However, the offseason following the 2013-14 season turned into the most horrid in franchise history. General manager Doug Wilson gave conflicting messages shortly after the “reverse sweep” playoff loss to the Kings. He showed extreme disappointment that his club didn’t win the series but then a few weeks later he referred to his team as not being “close enough” to the other top contenders. That begs the question, if they aren’t close enough to the top contenders, then why be so disappointed that they lost to a top contender? Talk about a head scratcher.
That offseason went down hill from there when Wilson’s only notable (and it’s a stretch to use the word notable) additions over the summer were the free agent signing of infamous enforcer John Scott and trade acquisition of fourth liner Tye McGinn.
Not only were there literally zero on-ice improvements made when the team clearly needed them (this past offseason’s additions of Joel Ward, Martin Jones and Paul Martin were the types of moves needed after 2013-14) but the franchise had a miserable summer from a public relations stand point.
COO John Tortora decided to remove fan favorite television analyst Drew Remenda from the broadcast. Remenda’s contract was up and apparently (according to broadcast sources behind the scenes) he was too critical of the team for Tortora’s liking. This in spite of the fact it is quite common to hear fans of other teams call Remenda a Sharks homer. Remenda had been with the Sharks for their entire history, as an assistant coach, then radio broadcaster before joining the television side for over a decade. Remenda and play-by-play man Randy Hahn had unreal chemistry calling games and Remenda’s firing was completely unjustified. There was no reason given publicly by Tortora other than the vague “want to take the broadcast in another direction” jibber-jabber. San Jose’s broadcast used to be incredibly entertaining but now it is average at best. Nothing good came from this decision, you can’t fire a broadcaster that your fan base adores and not give a reason for it.
Furthermore, Tortora doubled down on his awful decision with Remenda by deciding the team needed to use the infamous “ice girls” instead of the regular team of ice maintenance crew. Sure, the jerseys and spandex pants the Sharks female ice crew members are now wearing are much tamer than other ice girls but they are noticeably different than what the male members wear. They both wear jerseys but the girls jerseys often show some bare lower back and the men aren’t wearing the skin-tight spandex. San Jose fans took pride in being one of the few teams not to go the ice girl route, and Tortora took that pride away from them.
These awful decisions, both on and off the ice, during the summer of 2014 preceded a miserable Sharks season in 2014-15. Their playoff streak ended and there was an ugly spat between the GM Wilson and the team’s biggest star Joe Thornton. And even though the Sharks had a much better summer here in 2015, the delayed disapproval from fans is now coming through in a major drop off in attendance.
For the majority of their playoff streak, the Sharks were a packed house, they had an extremely long sell-out streak going into last season that ended only towards the end of the year. Sharks season ticket holders have had to renew their tickets earlier and earlier in recent seasons and so the fans had already bought their seats for the lousy 2014-15 season before the 2013-14 season even ended. Ergo, the displeasure with the decision making by both the GM and COO from April 2014 through April 2015, has only started to be noticed this season. And boy, oh boy, are fans letting their anger known in a loud way.
Thus far this season, the SAP Center, known as one of the toughest environments for road teams to play in, is extremely quiet. Over the last few seasons the “Shark Tank” has been almost always announcing a sell-out crowd of 17, 562. Towards the end of last season a couple of 16,000 numbers were announced but never below that. This year though, the Sharks have announced paid attendance of under 16, 000 and nearly as low as 15, 000 for the past four straight home games. These totals haven’t been seen in nearly a decade. Last week the Sharks played against a tough Western conference opponent in the Nashville Predators (a matchup of two good teams) and it was played in front of a paid attendance of just 15, 219 fans, over 2K short of a sell-out crowd. And remember that is just the PAID attendance, not actually butts in the seats. The paid attendance was 86% capacity but the building barely felt like it was two-thirds full.
Here are the attendance numbers for the Sharks’ six home games thus far this season:
Home opener vs Anaheim: 17, 562
vs Los Angeles: 16, 797
vs Carolina Hurricanes (on a Saturday night): 15, 814
vs Nashville Predators: 15, 219
vs Columbus Blue Jackets: 15, 491
vs Florida Panthers: 15, 525
This significant drop off in attendance is somewhat surprising in that the team has developed a rabid fan base but given the terrible decision making by the front office, it also isn’t that surprising. From the seemingly annual increase in ticket prices (nosebleeds now up to $30 per ticket after being closer to $20 in the mid 2000s) to season ticket holders being forced to decide on renewals much earlier in the past, fans are fed up and rightfully so. The hockey staff led by Wilson pissed the 2014-15 season down the toilet despite having a core roster still capable of being a contending team, and the aformentioned off ice decisions of Remenda and ice girls did nothing but anger a number of fans.
San Jose is celebrating its 25th anniversary season with an arena that is suffering its worst attendance numbers in over a decade, Wilson, Tortora, majority owner Hasso Plattner and everyone involved in the Sharks front office should be embarrassed that their decisions have led to this lack of attendance. They have nobody to blame but themselves.
Andrew has been credentialed to cover the Sharks since 2010 and the 49ers since 2012. He graduated with his BA in Broadcast Electronic Communication Arts in 2013 from San Francisco State University.