By E. Martin Nolan
So the Toronto Maple Leafs have apologized to their fans for another awful season. How do you think that went over? Yeah, not so well. Based on the initial response, the fans have refused to accept the apology, instead taking this as another opportunity to bash the organization they feel has spurned them. This is in keeping with what I wrote last week: that the fans will, in losing times, consider their team as a business that doesn’t care about them, as opposed to a shared public institution (this is different, from the team’s perspective, if that team needs to win to make money, in which case the profit motive and winning are naturally synced. But the Leafs don’t need to do that, they can lose and still make money, at least for now).
It’s interesting that now it’s Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) making the argument that they are a “public trust,” as they claim in their apology letter. They do this because they know they aren’t really a public trust, but are only taken as such (at least when their winning) and that their seemingly permanent place as a Toronto institution depends largely on them being accepted as such. Now, they feel like they need to really drive that point home, that they need to make a public act of humility to prove they are still the fans’ team. Is this a sign that MLSE fears that fan loyalty is seriously waning, that there might be a breaking point in fan patience, that maybe they could suck so much for so long that fans might really turn away? Are the Leafs in danger of losing their public identity? Writing a public apology letter seems just the thing you would do in such a moment of panic.