U.K. journalist Ian Winwood, an actual British hockey fan, attended a Kings game at Staples Center for the first time last week. He came away bored and filled with disdain for the arena, the Los Angeles fans and the brand of unexciting hockey they pay high prices to see. It's a brutal review, but also mostly right on and kind of funny in spots. He writes at the sports blog of the Guardian:
For reasons that I am largely at a loss to explain, I find myself obsessed by hockey. I can't skate, I live in London (England, not Ontario) and my nearest NHL team play 3,000 miles away. But without reaching for a book I can tell you the name of the first goalie ever to wear a facemask (Jacques Plante) and the name of the player who scored the winning goal for Canada against the Soviet Union in 1972's Summit Series (Paul Henderson). It doesn't stop there; I wish it did. I can tell you all sorts of stuff that is of no use to me whatsoever.
So please allow me to be honest, because this is the truth. If I lived in Los Angeles, I'm not sure how much live hockey I'd go and watch. Not because the NHL is in terminal decline (I don't believe it is), but simply because in some places, and at some times, it just doesn't seem worth it.
With just 30 wins this season, the LA Kings have been playing meaningless hockey since before the onset of winter. This in itself is not necessarily a problem; the Toronto Maple Leafs have been playing meaningless hockey for about 41 years and people still care about them. Of course, Kings fans care about their team too, and it would be wrong to suggest that they don't. A total of 16,784 people travelled to the Staples Center on Tuesday night to watch a late-season game which for the home side held no promise at all.
But it's in the wider community that this team is in trouble. If a franchise survives on the oxygen of publicity, then this is an organisation gasping for air. It would be wrong to say that Los Angeles hates a loser, simply because it takes effort to hate. If you are a loser, LA will just ignore you to death....
The atmosphere in section 117 was like being at the pictures, only here the tickets had a face value of $95 and the beer was more than 10 bucks a pint. And while this isn't the time or place to examine the broad differences between the crowd at an English football match and an American hockey game (by which I mean, the difference between believing oneself a participant or merely a consumer), the level of disinterest from people who had paid a good deal of money to attend the game amazed me...
The Staples Center, the team's home since 1999, is impressive in an architectural kind of a way, but somehow unwelcoming to the kind of person who might slosh beer on the floor. Its design seems unnecessarily complicated, with nooks and crannies, boxes and booths. Tickets range from $29 to more than $400; closer to the ice the crowd is thin, although up in the gods the sections are busy. But the top tier is higher than in any arena I've visited, a vertiginous distance in the air. There's more chance of being hit by a drop of blood from the nose of a spectator in the cheap seats than there is of hearing anything they might shout down to the players on the ice.
Kings fans used to rock the building with noise and passion, but a perenially bad team in a league that has legislated out the threat of unexpected chaos has diluted the energy that made fans like Winwood.