STEELERS’ fans will get an idea on Saturday whether this season’s team has the one ‘magical’ ingredient that its owner demands of it - character.
Tony Smith started going to watch Steelers as a fan in 1994 when Ken Priestlay ruled the roost along with Steve Nemeth, Tommy Plommer and Tim Cranston.
Smith believes it wasn’t just the skills of players like them which filled the stands, it was their ability to interact with fans.
“The likes of Plommer, Nemeth and Priestlay connected with fans and I think we’ve been missing that,” said Smith, who is the architect of this Saturday’s Festival of Hockey at Sheffield Arena. “Players have got to work as hard off the ice as on it.
“They here to do a job, initially, to play at top level and win things for Steelers, but they have got to do more than that. They have got to start connecting with fans, get to know them and relate to them.
“We are not going to sell any shirts unless the fans know who they are and that doesn’t come just with having three 20 minute periods on the ice they have to do more than that.”
While last season’s team were champions, just winning a trophy is not enough to fill the Arena,” insists Smith.
“Last year we won the league but did it increase the crowd? Well, slightly. Did we get the entertainment yes but in a different way, winning the games was entertaining, but there’s something missing something from early days.
“I have asked the coach (Ryan Finnerty) what has been missing and he thinks he has the magic formula. We don’t think its fighting, although it does add to the excitement. We think it’s real characters on the team that relate to people on and off the pad.”
The collapse of former owner Paul Ragan’s operating company took with it this year’s Season Ticket money, so Smith is banking (literally) on a decent crowd on Saturday for the all-day spectacle.
“Financially, the event is very important. We need every fan who has ever attended game to come on Saturday and support not just team the Legends but the entire organisation and make it the biggest event we have ever had.”
Asked if he was confident that the business can thrive, Smith replied: “I’m as confident as any sensible businessman would be. I’m not letting my heart rule my head.
“We are working this in numbers and budgets rather than excitement, its all about getting the business to work.”