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30 seasons will do
Bittersweet end to my tenure as a season ticket holder
4/27/2022 - By Mike Lee

Thirty years ago, I had just graduated from college and found myself staring at my first paycheck from my first "real job" as an adult. It was 1991 and the Sharks had just setup shop in the South Bay. Having grown up in San Jose, it was the novelty of all novelties to have a professional sports team call my hometown their hometown. So I took that paycheck and I did what any twenty-something sports nut with new found riches would do. I signed up for season tickets.

Back then, the commitment meant driving to Daly City to see the team play at the Cow Palace while San Jose Arena was being built. For the first two years, games were held in what amounts to a barn. In hockey parlance your barn is where you play our home games. The Sharks literally played in a barn, complete with the smells that you would expect from a venue that houses livestock.

The seats showed their age by moaning and creaking when you sat down to see how bad the home team was going to lose that night. Those first two seasons were tough, but there was the optimism of a new building that was about to be unveiled 40 miles to the south.

I remember more about who I brought to my first Sharks game, than who they played or who won. I missed the first official home game, because I was a groomsman in a friend's wedding, so I ended up attending the second ever home game in team history. They probably lost. They lost almost every game that first season.

My companion that night was my then girlfriend. I still remember what she wore that night. Funny the things you remember sometimes. I suppose she made an impression, because she's been my wife for the last 25 years. Two dogs, two kids, one house, all over the span of the last 30 years. She was my companion that first game and I remember that part like it was yesterday.

She was also my companion last Saturday night as well. My son has been my primary SAP buddy the past decade or so, but I made sure the wife attended on Saturday. After 30 seasons, this would be my last game with the moniker of season ticket holder so it was important that she be there with me. There's something to be said about nostalgia and this night was one that was filled with it for me.

It was a bittersweet evening. Having spent so many years, knowing my seats were my seats, I couldn't help but recognize that this was it. But the decision to end my three decade relationship with the Sharks was an easy one. The last three years certainly made the choice easier, but that wasn't the only reason to end things.

The experience just isn't the same. In this post COVID, post 9/11, post social awakening era, there are just too many reasons that make the experience tainted. The economics of shelling out thousands of dollars each year and not being able to recoup some of the cost because nobody is interested in paying face value for a ticket make it tough to justify spending that kind of money. I'm not destitute, but I do pay attention to how I spend my money. Even when the Sharks were making the playoffs a couple of years ago, there's been a noticeable shift in the interest of the casual sports fan in the Bay Area.

Maybe it's the Championship effect the Warriors have brought to the Bay Area. The novelty of attending a hockey game just isn't there for the casual or hard core fan. For years, it was easy to move tickets, but 30 years of results that never included a Championship wore on most. The hard core base has whittled as far as I can tell. I did a scan of the seats that surrounded me on Saturday thinking about all the friends I made at games over the years.

My immediate neighbor Manny gave his tickets up after 25 years when he moved to Florida. Sergei couldn't justify the cost of tickets to his wife. Crazy Bob who had an aneurism every time an opponent would score may have actually had an aneurism, because he just disappeared a few seasons ago. Jane, who irately yelled at anyone who had the audacity to walk up the aisle while play was happening had kids and simply lost the fire required to invest in a full season. Tommy the young fan who sat to my right for years couldn't afford the cost of tickets, parking, concessions, etc, etc, etc.

All gone.

My scan on Saturday didn't find replacements in all of their seats. They were simply empty. This was a Saturday night game. A fan appreciation game. And all the seats were empty.

Before the game started, I was outside the arena, with a pair of Subway sandwiches in their customary plastic bag. A blue coat approaches me while I'm in line waiting to enter the venue, and instructs me that I will need to forfeit the bag. I can carry the sandwiches in, but I need to forfeit the bag.

The Sharks mind you have been lucky to fill the building at 50% capacity the past couple of seasons, yet it was a priority for this blue coat to commandeer my plastic bag. It wasn't worth the energy to resist, so I stuffed the napkins from the bag into my back pocket, and palmed the sandwiches as I then fumbled to turn off the wifi on my phone, because the Sharks ticket app doesn't work when the arena wifi kicks in.

It may sound petty, but it's just one of many things that the team has implemented that takes away from the net experience. Just another reason to stay home. In a business that is really hospitality based at the end of the day, the experience isn't that hospitable.

At the end of the day, the product on the ice is what matters most. For as bad as the team was in those first two years, they never missed the playoffs three consecutive years. This year's product will snap that streak. The apologists will give the team a bye because of the COVID ravaged season of 2019-20, but the organization's ills are more deeply rooted.

Former General Manager Doug Wilson gets lots of credit for the team's ability to qualify for the playoffs all those years, but the reality of the NHL is that almost half the teams in the league make the playoffs. Wilson's health induced departure is a free pass of sorts, but the reality is he created the current mess.

The NHL roster isn't competitive. The minor league system is ranked as one of the lowest in the NHL. There is no Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau or Owen Nolan to bail this team out. The Sharks finished this season exactly how we thought they would. No playoffs. No light at the end of the tunnel. San Jose can't attract any impact level free agents, because there is no reason to believe they'll be competitive anytime soon.

They don't even have a GM in place to make the moves necessary to turn things around, and it's not like there are quality GMs waiting in the wings. San Jose will have to rely on a retread, or a wannabe executive who has no experience at the level the Sharks require.

So, yes, it was an easy decision to pass on a 31st season. I'll still attend games here or there, but the massive investment that's required to call yourself a season ticket holder isn't one I'm wiling to make.

When I walked down the stairs from my seat and through the concourse one last time, I got extremely emotional. It's been as big a life investment as it has been a financial one, so it wasn't surprising that I would wax nostalgic on my final stroll out of the building.

My wife stopped me as we crossed over Santa Clara Street on our way to the car and pulled out her phone to snap a photo of me in front of SAP. She knew this walk was a tough one, but she also knew that we would have loved to have photos of that first game from back in 1991. So instead, she made sure to grab one on this night 30 years later.


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