The report from New York-based brand researcher Brand Keys found Sabres fans to be the 26th-most loyal to their team. They came in only ahead of the New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Phoenix Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets, who tied for 27th.
The rankings take into account entertainment value, authenticity/fan support, fan bonding and tradition. But company President Robert Passikoff said winning plays a particularly large role in the rankings:
"Rule of thumb is that win-loss ratios can contribute up to a 20 percent bump in a team’s loyalty. But to be fair to NHL fans, professional hockey is a little different from other major league sports. Its contribution to loyalty is higher for the NHL, about 10 percent more, for a number of reasons. First, the sport moves faster than the others, so more attention is necessarily paid to the pure entertainment driver where wins and losses reside. For the NHL, the authenticity driver correlates very highly to at-home attendance figures and makes a slightly higher contribution to engagement and loyalty than for the NFL, MLB or NBA. Additionally, while hockey fans have their favorite players, the protective equipment makes it hard to instantaneously identify individuals, with the possible exception of the goalie, so fan bonding makes a slightly smaller contribution in the case of this sport."
Coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Sabres would seem to fit much of this criteria for low fan loyalty. Buffalo finished a league-worst 21-51-10 and only scored 1.8 goals per game in 2013-14, two indicators that games were not very entertaining.
But fans seemed to stick by the team, even though they're widely considered among the most miserable in sports. Attendance was OK by Buffalo standards, with 18,579 people attending per game. That average was down from 18,790 last season but was actually higher than the previous two seasons, including the last Sabres team to make the playoffs in 2010-11 (the First Niagara Center capacity has increased since then, though, from 18,690 to 19,070). Buffalo also managed to finish 11th in the NHL in average attendance, well ahead of every team behind it in these rankings (the Jets did, however, sell out every game, as they play in a much smaller, 15,004-seat arena). The Sabres were aided by late-season ticket specials and giveaways, but even so fans proved they're still true to the gold and blue.
- Chicago Blackhawks
- New York Rangers
- Boston Bruins
- San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues
- Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers