There was a time when the Buffalo Sabres were considered the model for how an NHL franchise should operate. Under the Golisano ownership, the Sabres pioneered things like tiered pricing, the Winter Classic, party in the plaza, pre-game presentation, etc.. NHL franchises all over copied Buffalo because of the success they had with these various things on the business side and fan engagement end. Of course, having a winning team cures a lot of issues and fan discontent, but having a pulse for your fan base is just as important. The Sabres currently have no pulse and it’s incredibly disappointing.
Much is being made about the Sabres poor effort on 90s day with the poor quality of jerseys given to alumni and misspelling of alumni names to not even wearing the black and red uniforms fans have clamored to see even in just warm up. This is just the biggest example that’s come to the forefront of the lack of attention the Sabres have given to fan attention. But the root of issues and care goes so much deeper.
I will say without issue that if the Golisano ownership was present for the Sabres 50th anniversary you would’ve seen jerseys from the 90s, a far more professional celebration acknowledging the past, and in general a feel for what fans asked for. One of the things that was neat with Golisano ownership is they constantly were doing things for fans. In 2004 they brought the original blue and gold unis back out for the season finale to the happiness of fans and they brought back the blue and gold as a whole because fans wanted a return to those colors.
They also routinely had strong engaging promotions at the arena and even the Sabres style clothing brand was a neat venture to give fans something unique and stylish. In a recent Buffalo News article, Golisano even told Lindy Ruff he’d rather see his team lose 4-3 then 2-1 because it was more entertaining for fans. They got that it was a business and the more they catered to the fans the better things would be across the board.
Many NHL franchises are putting more vintage and classic merchandise out than ever before. The Canucks have put out so much merchandise from different eras for fans to wear while also actually putting the team in those unis for their 50th anniversary. Arizona smartly brought back their 90s look that fans loved as a 3rd jersey. Mind you, all of this is just stocking these teams with cash like crazy, yet the Sabres can’t bother to offer a jersey from the 90s let alone brands from the decades.
At this point, things just feel so stale and dated with everything the Sabres do from merchandise to presentation of the game where DJ Milk will make sure fans floss that night. The Sabres overhauled their locker room with some really neat historical elements, yet it’s virtually impossible to see any of this as a fan. Perhaps the Sabres are waiting for the arenas studies to come in before they make major changes, but the franchise just feels sadly behind something which was hard to believe a decade ago.
It’s rather remarkable the lack of vision and strategy the Sabres have when the same ownership group of the Bills is putting out excellent fan engagement products from the Bills behind the scenes series Embedded to the custom hats that were themed from Western throwbacks to Chicken wings. The creativity the Bills regularly have and pulse they know with the fans needs to be sent to the Sabres badly.
For the record, the Sabres 50th jersey is gorgeous and hopefully will stay around in some capacity. Some of the videos on the history of the team and players have been really good. But by and large, the team is missing and wasting glorious opportunities to appeal to their fans while making more money in the process. There is a growing hope that the Sabres will eventually hire a President of Hockey Operations to streamline things across the board. Hopefully if this happens the Sabres will also use it as a chance for better fan engagement.