Minnesota Wild slap fans in the face with hiring of Anthony LaPanta

Say cheese(y).

Sadly my friends, that is the new face and voice of the Minnesota Wild on Fox Sports North.  This morning, it was made official by the Minnesota Wild and Fox Sports North, that Anthony LaPanta was the new play by play broadcaster.  LaPanta has been with been with Fox Sports North in various capacities since 2004, and most recently has been the University of Minnesota mens’ hockey team play by play broadcaster.  Joining LaPanta during Wild broadcasts will be color analyst, Mike Greenlay

While the Wild and Fox Sports North appear to be tickled pink about this hiring, there is one large, and very vocal group, who are less than pleased.  In fact, irate would be a better word.  Earlier in the off-season when it was announced that Dan Terhaar would not have his contract renewed, fans everywhere rejoiced.  It was a bit of excitement after a season that was full of ups and downs.  Fans were wondering and hoping that a vastly improved play by play broadcaster would be brought in, and we all know we deserved one due to what we’ve endured over the years.  Unlike many owners, it’s been known that Wild owner Craig Leipold reads several fan blogs (and I know for a fact that a season ticket holder of our acquaintance has passed the address of this blog on to him) as well as the official message boards.  With that in mind, no one within the organization should be able to claim that they were “shocked” by the fan response.  However, that is just what they did.  They were so shocked by the response of the fans, that they actually pushed back the announcement until this morning because there was clearly a mad scramble of “what do we do now?”  Yet, with the backlash on Facebook, Twitter, message boards and the blogosphere, they continued with their decision.  Most likely the ink was already dry on the contract.

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Here’s what bothers me the most.  We as fans, are ultimately the customer.  We are the ones who buy the tickets, the merchandise, the ones that add NHL Center Ice to our already expensive satellite or cable bills.  With shrinking wallets, many of us are going to have to rethink where our reduced discretionary spending goes.  In my day job, I work in customer service.  I work for a company where we fully stand behind our products and if at any time or any reason a customer has an issue with an item, they can send it back for a refund or an exchange.  We treat our customers with respect and sell them a quality product.  Because of that, they continue to come back time and time again.   As Wild fans, we have been told since the beginning that we’re the “greatest hockey fans in the world.”  Instead of treating us as the greatest fans, we’ve been treated like our opinions and feelings don’t matter.  If I did to one of my customers what the Wild did to the fans, I would lose a customer and would most likely find myself applying for unemployment.  The response coming from Fox Sports North’s Facebook page about how they will pass our comments on to their bosses, is exactly why people in general loathe customer service representatives.  Many times when we deal with issues with customer service representatives, their responses ring hollow with us the customer.  I’ll admit, I have little patience for the hollow service, simply because I know I give every one of my customers an extremely high level of service.  Myself and the company I work for are not the norm in this world.  So forgive me for doubting that anyone in the Wild organization or at Fox Sports North really cared about what we think or even reconsidered their decision after reading our remarks and e-mails.

In this day and age when a business needs to be congnizent of a customer’s wants, needs, and especially opinions, they cannot afford to turn their back on their customers.  The Wild have one of the highest ticket prices in the National Hockey League.  Add that with the less than spectacular play on the ice, attendence has suffered this season.  Unless the Wild make a true splash in the free agent market, expect to see another season with lower attendance.  Fans are getting more and more frustrated, and adding a play by play broadcaster that the fans did not want (especially considering the names mentioned that were interested or applied for the gig in Michael Russo’s blog this morning on the website of the Minneapolis Star Tribune) and fans could be ripe for a mutiny.  Everything that has been done in the past few days could make the fans/customers take their money elsewhere.  The Wild are no longer living the high life of the first few years when tickets were much harder to come by.  Pretty much every game the past two years, you could walk up to the box office window and get tickets.  And even if there are no tickets at the box office, season ticket holders are selling their tickets through multiple channels.  Until the Wild make the team better in all aspects, and that includes the television broadcast team, fans will find fewer and fewer reasons to take the Wild seriously. 

John Forslund  Did they ever really consider hiring John Forslund, we doubt it.

After reading this article by Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune simply confirmed what many Wild fans already felt, the team completely ignored the negative backlash.  Apart from a slight delay nothing was going to stop them from hiring Lapanta.  They even went as far as saying “Anthony is their man.”  Really?  So how much true consideration did they give a polished national broadcaster like John Forslund?  Or how much time did they give to a promising younger broadcaster like Dan Kelly?  They may have called it extensive but was there even an interview?  Why am I very skeptical of their ‘extensive process’?  It might have something to do with the fact they placed a large premium on the fact LaPanta was from Minnesota.  As much as Minnesota fans can be known for enjoying watching their local players succeed, there is also a point where it becomes a lame and far overplayed sideshow.  By not listening to the fans the Wild broke their covenant (to use a popular KFAN term).  The organization has shown without question it did not take the fans considerations seriously at all.  So if they won’t take our reservations about a broadcaster seriously, why should we ever take them seriously when they say they want to build a Stanley Cup contender?  Or something smaller like they’re going to make a big splash in free agency this summer?  Really, who is going to believe it? 

Unfortunately, I am unable to do the classic mute the television and turn on the radio broadcast.  There is a bit of a delay with Center Ice on Dish Network.  Since I live outside of the KFAN broadcast area, I have to listen to the radio broadcast online.  That online broadcast has an entirely different delay.  At times, there is a 15 second or so difference between the two.  I’m better off muting the television and making up my own play by play.  And considering LaPanta, I can probably do about as well in describing the game in front of me.  At least I don’t feel a need to note that Nate Prosser is from Elk River, MN or that Dany Heatley played for the University of Wisconsin over, and over, and over again.  Sure, we got rid of Terhaar, but don’t be surprised if LaPanta takes a page from his predecessor’s book.

Bring on the new drinking games.