News | 4/21/2009 4:03:52 PM | Bandits.com
It's official. Banditland made history, setting a new NLL attendance record with a total of 143,581 fans throughout the 2009 regular season.
The achievement was felt all around by players and fans alike as the 18,527 attendees at Fan Appreciation Night were honored for their commitment, despite an overtime loss to the Boston Blazers 13-12 at HSBC Arena.
It is the support of the fans that give the Bandits an extra boost on the turf.
"They are the craziest fans in the league," said team captain Chris White. "They are like an extra player out on the floor. Your intensity level gets brought up by them cheering. It takes your performance level up another notch."
Fans were thanked Saturday night for their support with an autographed jersey giveaway. The prize, however, came with a price.
Select fans had to go to extremes, including taking a pie to the face, dressing in drag, making up a song about the Bandits, wearing a Rochester Knighthawks jersey and many more embarrassments to show their desire for the prize.
Not one participant failed to complete the tasks.
Season ticket holder Sara Gleason was one of the many fans who were cheering on the jersey winners as the new attendance record was announced in Banditland Saturday night.
"It's great to be compared with everyone else with attendance that high," said Gleason. "It's great to get noticed. The fans are the most loyal and dedicated in Buffalo. They are always there for the team."
Finishing the 2009 season tied for first in the East Division, with a 5-3 home record, the Bandits have learned to feed off the intensity of their home crowd.
"It's always great playing in front of your fans," said John Tavares. "It is special when you have so many people cheering you on. The fans are out there cheering for us gives us an extra edge. Over the years you come to know some of the fans. You know some of them on a personal level."
One of Tavares' dedicated fans Mary Bish and her 4-year-old granddaughter Eva who regularly attend games said they continue to return because of the atmosphere.
"I've been a fan since 1992," said Bish. "It's wonderful that [the Bandits] are getting this popular. The fans went away during leaner seasons but now they're coming back and people are finding their love for the game again."
Since the League expanded in 2002, with eight regular season home games, average attendance at HSBC Arena rose from 7,423 to 17,947. Since the franchise's inception in 1992 the total attendance has increased from 55,283 that season to this year's record setting total of 143,581.
"I want to thank the fans for their support. Not only this year but for every year I've played here," said Tavares. "I would say from all the years this year is standing out the most. It seems like there is more and more orange in the crowd and all the fans are into it."
The Bandits will continue to seek the support of their record-breaking fans as they take two weeks to prepare for the East Division semi-final game against the Boston Blazers on May 2 at 7:30 p.m. at HSBC Arena
"The atmosphere here is by far better than anywhere else," said White. "The fans come and support us every game and we always try to do our best to please them on the floor.
"Thank you fans for all your support. Hopefully we can bring them home another Championship."