The common saying is that professional sports players should be able to get motivated to play the game no matter what setting, that these guys are paid good money to go out and play to the best of their ability.
In reality, the players on the field or on the ice feed off the energy created by a loud, boisterous and raucous crowd and it has a direct affect on the intensity with which they play. There's a good reason that certain teams possess a discernible home-field advantage compared to other teams, no matter what the talent level may be. You see this a lot in football and you certainly see this in hockey, where physicality and intensity is a needed aspect of being successful.
We saw this just a few weeks ago in baseball, when Mike Napoli of the Texas Rangers helped secure home-field advantage while the crowd was loudly chanting his name. He said afterward it was something he'd never experienced before and it gave him an extra boost in motivation.
The visiting team can also feed off this energy, finding motivation in silencing the home crowd and feeding off the anger and brooding their success can bring. It's an amazing dynamic in sports and it's certainly incredible to be a part of. Unfortunately, for the next few months at least, the Dallas Stars are going to have to find a way to create this energy themselves.
The cause no longer matters; discussing all the factors leading to the current drop in attendance is irrelevant. A drop in attendance in the first few months of the season is not going to affect the sale of the team nor will it affect how the NHL views this franchise. Three are just too many mitigating factors to lay it all on one thing and point to that singular reason as the cause of the problem.
Instead, we can look at the effect this issue is having on the product that ultimately matters the most: the success of the Dallas Stars on the ice.
The players will tell you that they love playing in front of a loud and rowdy crowd, that they feed off that energy and it helps to focus them and allows them more energy to play with. Just last season, with several incredibly energetic crowds behind them, the Stars won some big games against the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins that resembled playoff atmospheres in the fall.
It's going to be a tough few months in that regard as we move forward and the Stars are going to have to find a way to generate that buzz and that momentum themselves. This is a team that obviously needs energy and aggression to succeed as there's just not enough raw talent to overcome a total drop in team ability. Instead, this is a team that has to find a way to pick up the pace and dictate the flow of the game and be aggressive out on the ice -- without the help of a big crowd behind them.
It's unfortunate that the Stars will have to find a way to win without the big crowds behind them, but the team can't expect the crowds to just start showing up if they're playing lazy and hapless hockey. If the team is winning and playing exciting hockey, the fans will start showing up more and families will be more willing to spend their money. Sure, it won't be the giant crowds we've been so used to in the past -- but this isn't a team that can sit around and wait for the fans to show up without provocation.
I don't want to debate what should be done or what needs to be done to get the big crowds to return, that is a separate issue altogether and a discussion that shouldn't be had until a new owner is in place. Right now, the Dallas Stars themselves will have to find a way to win without the game-changing crowds behind them -- something that isn't as easy as it sounds.
We all want this team and this organization back on top where we all know it belongs. We know the Stars have the potential to be great once again and we know the fans are out there, willing to spend the money if they feel it's worth it. For the Stars, it's their duty to get the job done no matter how many fans are in the seats. For a team that so obviously needs energy and excitement to build upon, this could be the toughest task of the season.