There’s a common theme in the comments of the opposing coaches when they speak after a Bandits game. They aren’t talking about Tavares or Steenhuis, and they’re not complaining about the accommodations, either. What are they all talking about?
“This is definitely one of the tougher buildings to play in the league,” said New York Titans head coach Ed Comeau after New York’s 11-9 win on March 28. “Great crowds, very passionate fans.”
Comeau isn’t the only one who notices the fans, and the Bandits players stress just how important it is to get the fans involved when at home. The impact those people in the seats have on the game is evident to everyone involved, and with the playoffs approaching the words “homefield advantage” mean even more. Buffalo has already locked up one home game this spring, and they are looking for more as the season winds down.
But what it is about HSBC Arena during Bandits games, and why do they continue to draw so many fans? In fact, this season the Bandits are on pace to smash the single season attendance record held by the Colorado Mammoth. That’s quite a feat for a franchise considering their tenure in the league, and it seems their popularity is at an all time high with their recent success.
Still, a quick look at the NLL Media Guide tells you that the Bandits always seem to carry big crowds. Championship Game attendance in Buffalo is always high, even pulling in over 14,000 in 1994 at the Aud. The Bandits have had a big following since their inception, and it’s evident from the amount of families you see clad in orange on weekends at the Arena. This is a sport that grows on you, and grows through generations as well.
However if you ask around about the real voice of Banditland, it may be the teenagers who embrace the sport the most.
“Every year it seemed like we were going to more and more games and having more fun at them each time,” said Nick Cottrell, a longtime fan and first year season ticket holder. “It is a completely different atmosphere than a Sabres game, yet just as fun.” Nick started going to games years ago with his father and brother before deciding to make the leap to season tickets this winter.
The atmosphere Cottrell describes is something every Bandit fan I talked to was sure to mention. You’ve never heard HSBC Arena louder than it gets at Bandits games, especially when someone drops the gloves. Why does Nick think games are worth going to?
“Because every game experience is entertaining and exciting,” Nick said. “Fans are always on their feet dancing, cheering, celebrating, and of course booing the refs.”
The fans are, without a doubt, crazy for lacrosse. For eight-plus weekends every year HSBC Arena becomes a convergence of orange-clad maniacs looking for any chance to cheer. They are usually in luck, too; the Bandits currently average just over 14 goals per game. That’s plenty of fog horns and flashing red lights to go around, and fans keep coming back for more.
“I really wish I could explain the Bandits phenomenon here. Its just something you experience and get hooked,” says Cristina Fudoli, a two-year season ticket holder who attends games with her friends.
This season her seats moved to one of the more volatile spots in the arena: right behind the opposition’s penalty box. When an opponent gets called for a penalty, cardboard letters “B”, “O”, and “X” pop up throughout the arena, including section 117. The fans there start the chant, complete with a Ric Flair “WOOO” to finish it off. It may sound cheezy on YouTube, but when over 18,000 people scream it that can be downright scary to the other team.
Indoor lacrosse may not catch on nationally, but it certainly has a foothold in Buffalo. Over the last few seasons the Bandits have become the model franchise in the NLL, and the talent on the field has certainly lived up to the hype. It’s clear that league officials should take note of what has happened with indoor lacrosse in Buffalo.
“It’s probably one of the best kept sports secrets,” Fudoli said. “They need to market themselves better.”
They do, and that’s exactly what I want to talk about next.