Former St. Louis Blue Paul Kariya gets ready to toss out the first pitch, via i191.photobucket.com
In the thick of July with the Cardinals fighting for first place in the Central, there's no denying that this city lives and dies with the Cardinals. But when the winter comes, St. Louis is more than capable of being a hockey market with the rest of 'em.
According to William Browning, a Yahoo! Sports contributor and presumably a Cardinals fan, St. Louis is a baseball town. Heck, talk to any Cardinal, Rams, or Blues fan, or anyone from St. Louis, and they'll tell you the same thing. The city's love of baseball is empahsized on every national broadcast taking place in Busch Stadium, and the All Star Game back in 2009 was a giant orgy of St. Louis Baseball Awesomeness.
He brings up some pretty valid points as to why St. Louis has always managed to be one of the top draws in MLB despite relative population size. Winning ten World Series helps out, but you can't help but think that even without the flags on the flagpoles and the rings on the fingers, fans'd still come out to support the Cardinals. They're consistent. It's been quite a few seasons since they were horrible all year long - in the past decade, only once (2007) have they finished beneath 500. In the past 20 years, they've done so six times.
A baseball history since 1882 has helped as well. If you have a team for, oh, almost 130 years, chances are good that they'll have some sort of tradition around them. They've had time to work themselves into the fiber of the community, whether through sponsorships, charity work, making their homes in STL, or through beer.
This might be formidable for the Blues to overcome. After all, they've just been around since 1967. Yeah, 44 years sounds like an eternity to youngsters, but that's half as long as franchises like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers - and as everyone remembers, the Montreal Canadiens just had their 10-year long 100th anniversary celebration. Forty four years, though, is more than enough to have worked your way into the fabric of the town.
Local businesses have sponsored (or in Purina's case, owned) the Blues for years. Budweiser's a huge sponsor not only of the team, but of the league (though not the official beer sponsor). Hardee's sponsors them. Schnuck's is all over the boards.
Of course, you also have members of the team making their home in St. Louis after they retired - and that's not necessarily after they retired a Blue. Keith Tkachuk, Bernie Ferderko, and 31 others live in the metro area. The Alumni Association is one of the oldest in the league, and is responsible for community work such as sponsorship of underprivileged youth who would like to play hockey, youth clinics, and youth coaching. You have the current players doing an absolute ton of community work - and not just during the hockey season when the team needs the publicity.
Something hockey players excel at is community involvement. They're generally more approachable and more down to earth than baseball players are. Maybe it's the salary difference, maybe it's the sport, maybe it's the fact that so many of them are kids from middle class families (whatever the country that they hail from) who were raised to give back as much as they've gotten. Whatever the reason, hockey players in all markets are some of the most active community ambassadors between their sport and the people.
All of these things get the Blues on the news or in the Post-Dispatch as human interest stories, and they're appreciated by the metro St. Louis area. Do they get people in the rink? Probably not. Winning, excitement, and tradition get people to the Scottrade Center - that's what sells tickets. This is something that the Blues obviously lag behind the Cardinals in. Sure, they generally have a winning tradition - there are tons of banners in the rafters. The highest honor they've gotten was winning the Western Conference championship - and that was last won in 1970. The Presidents' Trophy from 2000 was a great accomplishment. It would have been even greater had they not gotten knocked out in the first round.
Of course, you have the years since the NHL lock-out, where some ownership issues have hamstrung the team into only making the playoffs once. Attendance didn't start to creep back up until the 2006-2007 season, and with the introduction of exciting young players like TJ Oshie, Patrik Berglund, and David Backes, the Blues' have jammed the house the last couple of years.
If you go into Scottrade Center on a game night, you'll see people wearing Cardinals hats. If it's still baseball season - if the Cardinals make it past the last game of the year - you'll probably see people in jerseys, or folks checking the score on their phone. This might make it seem like St. Louis' heart belongs just to the Cardinals - that they preoccupy everything sports related. But look at it this way - they're wearing Cardinals gear, but they're at the Blues game. You'll see Blues jerseys and caps at the Cards game - during the All Star Game someone in a Blues practice jersey caught a home run derby ball.
It might be a city with loyalties divided, but they're just divided by the calendar. In October and April, the two teams can live in harmony, and despite the disparity in coverage that the local press might give them, the fans know that without the Blues, St. Louis wouldn't be a sports town, it'd just be a baseball town.
And what's the fun in that?