It’s taken quite some time, but the Philadelphia Flyers have finally gotten everyone delivering the same message:

No playoffs. We’re selling. We’re looking to get younger. We’re building this the right way.

That was the message from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher delivered at a press availability Tuesday, ahead of the Friday trade deadline.

It was the first time Fletcher pivoted in that direction publicly. Although he had some slip ups with the way things were said (we’ll get to those), for the first time this season, the coach and GM  are now delivering the same, on-brand message, and it’s being endorsed by their bosses, which was evidenced by John Tortorella’s letter to season ticket holders a couple weeks ago,

So, after all this time, finally everyone is on board. It’s too little, too late, but hey, we got there.

I guess the Flyers now expect the fans to start applauding like the crowd would for the last place finisher in a marathon, because they got to the finish line, even though it may have been hours after those that actually won the race.

The difference is, cheering the runner is cheering that individual’s determination, perseverance, and flat-out will to achieve a personal goal.

The hockey team took at least 13 months to identify that they all need to be in lockstep simply to publicly state the goal. That’s not something of which to be proud.

Still, getting on the same page is at least ensuring the flooring is stable as you rebuild.

Wait, they still aren’t using that word? Why is it being treated like Beetlejuice or Voldemort? Is it going to make things terrible if it’s uttered frequently enough?

Here’s Fletcher:

This is where Fletcher is both right and wrong at the same time. Yes, it’s terminology and by that he means that everyone has a different interpretation of what “rebuilding” means. But does he honestly think those calling for a rebuild want him to trade his young talent and or/prospects? Who does that?

So, why isn’t the word being used?

Maybe it’s because there is an organizational fear that fans won’t come to games during an admitted rebuild.

I mean, let’s look at the track record of the past couple weeks:

  • Torts’ letter to season ticket holders goes out.
  • The NEXT DAY those same fans are sent a letter about renewal of their season ticket plan.
  • The renewal, which includes rolling over the cost of the three April home games into a payment for next season – or roughly a one-month freebie if you are on a 12-month plan – is not an “opt-in” situation, but rather an “opt-out,” meaning season ticket holders would have to click through a link, and fill out a form choosing not to renew.
  • The “opt out” information was in small print all the way at the bottom of the email.
  • The “opt-out” deadline is Feb. 28.
  • Fletcher breaks his near 3-month silence… on Feb. 28.

If you don’t think there’s some kind of coordinated plan here, then I have a bridge to sell you.

Now, to be fair, all teams in all sports coordinate stuff like this to try and bolster sales. They’re multi-billion dollar businesses after all. But there aren’t many teams who have put themselves in as bad a position as the Flyers have, with embattled leaders, who have doled out a bevy of bad contracts, that, except for in goal, have struggled to develop any high-end talent to speak of, and have presided over the downfall of a franchise whose fans used to be described as “Stepfords” on local talk radio, who now are staying away in droves.

That is, unless they are getting complimentary tickets, which, to their credit, the Flyers have been giving away like Oprah Winfrey with trips and cars, to get patrons into the Wells Fargo Center, knowing that they will still spend money, even if their seats were gratis.

It’s a challenge for the Flyers, for sure, to continue to market this product and try to sell this product, so you can’t blame them for trying to unify the message and keep it on brand when every public-facing employee speaks.

What’s being lost in this effort to get people excited about what Fletcher identified as the “seventh-youngest team in the NHL,” or “the fifth-most improved team by winning percentage,” (yes, he actually used that in the presser), is the fact that some words matter. And fans are going to feel like Fletcher, who is incredibly unpopular with this fan base, simply gaslighted them with this press conference.

He may not have intended to do that, and the team certainly didn’t want him to do that, but, he kind of did.

First, there’s the refusal to use the word rebuild. And Mike Sielski from The Philadelphia Inquirer had a great Twitter thread about this after the presser:

Amen. And that’s the whole point. Unifying the message now doesn’t work. It’s too late. If Fletcher is going to be allowed to keep his job, whether it’s for one more day, one more week, one more month or even (gulp) one more year, having him repeat a message that has already been put out there isn’t going to jive.

When it comes to him specifically, the only message that would work is one that starts with accountability, and then concludes with transparency – about the plan moving forward.

No one expects him to give absolute specifics of said plan, but just the general concept of it. It needs to be more than the elevator pitch of, “we want to get younger and find high-end talent.” That’s great. So does every other team. Explain how that can be done. What’s the process to making that happen? And, considering your situation, how long will it take to achieve.

That’s what fans want to hear. Nothing else.

Now, before you go bonkers over the “fifth-most improved” thing, it does need the whole quote to truly be contextualized:

OK, so what’s he saying? We improved a little, but not enough.

Well, yeah, that was always going to happen with Tortorella being the coach, and frankly, if things got worse than last season, well, you just shudder to think of that possibility. But the point is, marginal improvement was not the stated goal of this franchise.

Thirteen months ago, it was an “aggressive re-tool.” At the start of training camp it was an expectation of being competitive. On December 4, Torts talked about the team not even having laid a foundation for success yet, that the redevelopment plan was still “at the footers.” Then, an hour later, Fletcher sat in the same chair as his coach and instead said the team was only five points out of a playoff spot and that with guys coming off of injury, they expected to make a push.

Fast forward to Tuesday, which was Fletcher’s first scheduled media availability since that mixed message day, and he says this:

Been pretty clear about it all year? No. No you have not. That’s gaslighting. That’s not being accountable. That’s not being transparent.

Yes, things definitely changed internally with what to do after Couturier and Atkinson were found to be out long-term and probably the entire season, but that was never conveyed to the fans by management.

They can sit there and hide behind Torts saying what he said, but until the letter to the season ticket holders, there was no organizational unity on that message. That was Torts being off-the-cuff. That was Torts getting the message out that he wanted to get out. If Fletcher was on board with that being the public message, December 4th never would have happened.

Its for all of these reasons and more that the fans don’t trust Fletcher, and as to why he’s not a good person to convey this strategically-planned marketing message. Torts is fine. The fans buy into him.

But unless Fletcher was going to come out and take responsibility for what’s happened, even if some of it was purely bad luck, and then explain further what the next steps are going to be, then the Flyers would have been better-suited to just let him stay out of the public view.

Instead, he came out and said some things that were an attempt to be on brand, but his other deflections and comments were far meatier bones for the fans.

My expectation is that the Flyers will look at posts like mine or tweet threads like Sielski’s, or commentaries like Charlie’s and just blame the media for sensationalizing 2-3 quick things from a much longer press conference, and shrug it off.

And that will be just as bad. Because Fletcher said those things. He meant those things. And these fans are no longer Stepfords.

Once that’s realized, if ever, then – and only then – will the only unification that really matters come to fruition: rekindling the trust that was lost between the Flyers and their fanbase.

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