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Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers Fight for Piece of the Pie in Tough Sports Town

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Phillies playoff crowd last season (AP Photo)

September in Philadelphia means the Flyers soon will be in training camp, the Eagles have kicked off and the Phillies continue their march to the playoffs.

The Sixers? Training camp starts in October and there are major question marks over Philadelphia’s most enigmatic team. 

Most Philly fans are four-for-four fans (as we say around here). They are all-in on all four teams, even with an established hierarchy among the fans.

Everybody is an Eagles fan. Even when the Eagles struggle, fans don’t back away. Every Eagles move — or lack of a move — is scrutinized. Every unsuccessful third-down call is ripped apart. Heck, successful third-down calls are ripped apart. Eagles football is 365.

And now, coming off a Super Bowl season, interest might be even greater. The Eagles have an enormously likable player at quarterback, the game’s most important position. Jalen Hurts stormed through last season and was on his way to winning the league MVP award before getting injured on Dec. 18 against Chicago.

“I feel great about it [to see Eagles and Phillies succeed],” Flyers president of hockey operations Keith Jones said recently.

“The Eagles are the Eagles and that’s an entirely different entity which I know from my years at WIP. Football is football in this country. We just want a small piece of that pie.”

Red October for Phillies?

Most fans follow the Phillies with great passion, especially if they are playing well. Coming off a World Series, and with an exciting team, the Phillies are playing to packed houses at Citizens Bank Park.

Something else that helps the Phillies: They are entirely relatable. They are a fun team. Bryce Harper seems to be the most down-to-Earth superstar in the game. Fans adore Kyle Schwarber. With their recent success, the Phillies are averaging 10,000 more fans per game this season compared with last season.

“What the Phillies did last year, thinking back on that and watching a lot of empty seats for much of the season until they made their charge,” Jones said. “Seeing the fans come back during that charge and into the playoffs and how that place lit up, is something that we want to make sure we get to — sooner rather than later.

“It’s nuts [the recent homestand when the Phillies were bashing home runs to cheering throngs]. It’s a great thing to see. I would say we’re similar in that regard … We’ve got to get good again and I think it’s something that I think can really motivate us.

“It does become contagious within a city. You don’t want to be left behind and right now we’re behind.”

Loyal Fanbase

The Flyers? Well, it’s complicated.

The Flyers have a loyal following, fans who once were willing to accept results and circumstances they otherwise would not tolerate from other Philly teams.

But that has changed. A string of failed general managers, bad contracts and poor drafting have left the franchise in a lurch. The fans largely are disheartened by what has happened over the years as their proud and mighty franchise can’t even make the playoffs. The Flyers have missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons and four of the last five.

“It’s been shrinking on our end and we want to make sure we do our part to get that back,” Jones said.

Flyers management made a smart and overdue move by announcing they are rebuilding and their moves will be directed toward sustained success beyond the next game or the next season.

Their 2023 draft might have brought them one of the best young players in the world in Matvei Michkov. Their 2022 draft brought them Cutter Gauthier, who looks like a future all-star. The Flyers made prudent free-agent signings. There were few tears shed over whom they traded away.

“I consider it my highest duty to rebuild and restore this team to its winning ways for years to come,” Flyers general manager Daniel Briere said.

When the Flyers return to playing winning hockey, more fans will join the party bus. When playoff games are being played in South Philadelphia, interest will skyrocket. Four-for-four fans will be “Flyered Up” as they say.

In Philadelphia, the sports hierarchy is what it is. The Eagles are the Eagles. They have everyone captivated. The Flyers just want their share. 

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Not Offsides

Somewhere along the way, the Flyers and hockey in general have slipped to a very low rung on the sports-interest ladder in Philadelphia. Partially because the team has not been very good for a long while, but I don’t think that’s the entire reason. It seems like only a small percentage of people in the Philly area are big hockey fans, and the sports media in the city rarely mention hockey. Channel 6 news, for example, gives them about ten seconds on a sportscast, if that much, and this isn’t regularly. The Union gets more coverage. WIP almost never talks Flyers. Contrast this to some other areas. Visiting Pittsburgh, sports radio there regularly talks Penguins.

I think back to the 80s and 90s, interest in hockey and the Flyers was more widespread in Philly and I think nationally, but something slipped since then. Bettman has tried to make it a national game through expansion (Vegas are the NHL’s new darlings) but expansion has watered down the talent level and they’ve reduced the number of games with division rivals. Who cares when the Flyers play Arizona? Maybe that has something to do with it.

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