The Rise and Fall and Rise of Dan the Flyera Fan

If you ask 100 members of Flyers twitter what they think of Dan the Flyera Fan, chances are you’ll get a split answer. “Hero to some, villain to others” as the famous quote from Hellraiser states. The gimmick of Dan the Flyera fan was supposed to be me, Daniel Esche, turned up to about eleven. With that goal in mind, I feel like I succeeded with flying colors.

I’ve never been one to shy away from controversy. In fact, I find myself in the middle of it whether I intend to or not. Chaos is never far away when I’m around, but it’s all part of the life. Just another chapter in the story of Dan the Flyera Fan.

On the one year anniversary of Brotherly Puck’s debut, and recently celebrating five years as Dan the Flyera Fan, Now seems like a good time to tell my story.

EARLY DAYS

Originally I joined Twitter to keep in contact with friends after I graduated high school, completely unaware “Flyers Twitter” existed. When I came across different sites and people, like Broad Street Hockey, Tim Panaccio, Dave Isaac, amongst others, I realized there was a whole community I could be apart of. I trashed my person account and became Dan the Flyera Fan, which was originally a nickname my childhood friend gave me, just swapped out with the classic “Flyera” instead of Flyer.

While I’m on the topic, I’m not actually sure where the term “Flyera” came from. To the best of my knowledge, it was a Tim Panaccio misspelling which, if anybody remembers when he was covering the Flyers, misspellings were common.

At first, I just retweeted most of the coverage from other sites and fans. Eventually I started tweeting my own observations which led to early writings. The first ever writing gig I have was actually covering MMA. I covered Bellator 164 in November of 2016 for mmasucka.com. I would later write monthly columns for a site called fastphillysports.com. It was my first taste of Flyers coverage.

LAUNCHING PHILLY IS FLYER

With very little experience as a writer, In March of 2017 Anthony DiGrazio approached me about a new project he was starting. At the time, he was one of the folks I had a good friendship with, and a decent amount of respect for. So I accepted.

I’ve always been a person who rises to the occasion. I like working under pressure and being a leader, and Philly is Flyer was the perfect fit for me. There weren’t many of us at the site originally. Six or seven, if I recall. Soon after the launch, we absorbed a site called ETS Philly, who Anthony wrote for previously. Now at about a dozen writers, the site was ready to take off. (Just a side note, every writer was male. This will become a factor later.)

I had plenty of ideas, but I was far from a strong writer. Luckily, Philly is Flyer had Dan Silver and Wes Herrmann there as editors. I would write a piece and one of those two would edit it, then I would read it back and realize what errors they fixed and learned that way.

I did a vast majority of the promoting for the site the whole time, but especially early. I’m sure some of my long-time Twitter followers remember that every single day I would promote all the recent articles on the site. To a point that it was counterproductive as I would lose followers from promoting the same articles every day.

PHILLY IS FLYER TAKING OVER

The site was launched in March of 2017, so we only had a couple weeks of the season left to make and early impact. The miserable season was wrapping up with the Flyers missing the playoffs by 13 points. Over the summer, I wanted to keep eyes on the product. I looked at multiple Flyers sites and many national sites and came to the realization nobody was doing a top 5 countdown on a regular basis. The idea worked well, as it let me research Flyers history, which I have a passion for, and it also hid some of my flaws as a writer because I didn’t have to write full articles, just blurbs. So Top 5 became my new gimmick over the summer and kept it going as the 2017-18 season picked up.

When the season started I started live tweeting regularly from the Philly is Flyer account. Things started to take off soon after. The trio of Dan Silver, Anthony DiGrazio, and myself were a lethal unit. I was the workhorse of the group, Dan was the relief pitcher who came in with a solid article now and again, and Anthony was a mouthpiece of the trio, someone who can be a smooth talker, a.k.a. a bullshitter.

There was a goal in mind from the start; get press passes. Anthony applied at least twice to my knowledge, being rejected both times because the box was full and the site was too small. This becomes a key part of the story later.

For the most part, there were no assigned roles at Philly is Flyer. However, it was clear that I was the head writer. Of the dozen or more people we had there, I was the only one who wrote consistently. I live tweeted and did a postgame article for just about every single game during my tenure there, I wrote a Top 5 every week, as well as a couple different series and articles during the offseason. And quite frankly, this is where some of the displeasure stemmed from.

Anthony DiGrazio isn’t a leader. Some people have leadership qualities and some don’t. He doesn’t. He would vanish for a month or two, then return to rally the troops, vowing he would commit this time, only to disappear a few weeks later. So I had to step up and take the reins of the site without having any actual power to do so. For any of you who watch Bar Rescue, Jon Taffer would call this a “stupidvisor.” Someone who has the role of leader, but no proper ability to succeed.

Late in the 2017-18 season, Anthony had an idea, copy the then-new all-female site The Daily Puck. He realized the use of female writer would be a way to make the brand come off as hip and innovative. We added half-a-dozen female writers and pushed the additions as inclusion, whereas it was just Anthony’s way to exploit them to grow his brand.

Things were getting tense. Toward the end I was just going through the motions of coverage. Live tweet, postgame, repeat. I don’t live in Philly anymore, so the idea of busting my ass for press passes that, chances are, I wouldn’t get to use more than a time or two during the season started to make me question what I was working so hard for. Putting out the level of content I do just for someone who only wrote an article every three months to get the full experience was just something I could never stomach.

I started looking into other sites to start writing for as a way to transition away from Philly is Flyer. A site called Sports Are Philly showed interest. At the time they had about ten thousand more followers than PIF, but I chickened out at the last second because I felt responsible for the growth of Philly is Flyer. Looking back, I should have pulled the trigger. It would’ve saved a whole lotta face.

DEPARTURE FROM PHILLY IS FLYER AND CONTROVERSY

I’m sure most people remember the fireworks that immediately followed my departure from Philly is Flyer. It was quite the scene. However, there were two very different sides to the story, theirs, and the truth. So let me tell everyone what actually happened that day.

This was the tweet the started everything.

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Now, I’m not a sexist. I don’t hate her because she’s a woman, I don’t like Taryn Hatcher because I don’t think she has much talent as a TV personality. I didn’t intend the original tweet to be malicious, and as I interpreted her response, I don’t think she did either.

Also seems worth noting Anthony DiGrazio liked both of those tweets.

The following morning, Heather Barry, who was the Philly is Flyer photographer at the time, sent a slew of messages to the group saying she couldn’t work in an environment where her “colleagues were being attacked.” A tad melodramatic if you ask me. After those messages, there was pretty much radio silence from within the team for a couple weeks. A couple days went by and everybody on twitter forgot the whole situation, including myself.

What I later found out happened is they started another group chat, leaving me out. Anthony went to Heather and did anything to get her back, and the stipulation was simple, fire me. A couple days later on November 12, 2018, I got a long rambling message from Anthony that reads as follows-

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Just a couple things there- The idea we couldn’t use Heather’s photos anymore is a comical, because, again, I was the only one writing and never used a pic of hers to begin with. And the “image and reputation being questioned” from a single tweet from my personal account that nobody remembered is baffling.

Though it seems professional, right? lighthearted? Well here is what was said to the public-

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“completely unacceptable” just makes me giggle even to this day. Again, this all stems from that single tweet. Philly is Flyer writers say worse things about John Boruk (granted any flak he gets is generally deserved), Bill Clement, Andrea Helfrich, on a daily basis, but that single tweet about Hatcher’s mic cutting out is completely unacceptable. Gotcha.

It was a *semi* professional approach, but they totally blew the context of what happened out of proportion to make them seem like heroes for getting rid of me. Anthony also took to his personal account to say this-

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The reason he brought up the phrase “smear campaign” is because that is what I was referring to it as. To be professional behind closed doors then try to bury me six feet under in public is about as big a scumbag a move as you can make in my opinion.

Just another note, a few days before my tweet about Taryn, Becky, a female Philly is Flyer writer tweeted this, attacking Flyer host Andrea Helfrich-

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was she fired? reprimanded? put on blast? Nope.

Seems hypocritical, no? Once I brought it up, she quickly deleted the tweets. I even brought it up to Anthony-

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his response-

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Completely dodging the question at hand. Are you starting to feel the inconsistencies here? I hope so. Also, the “it goes far beyond one tweet about Taryn” comment goes against everything he stated in the previous tweets, but I digress.

Every female member of the site when on long rants burying me and claiming they were so proud to be members of Philly is Flyer. So proud they never actually contributed to the site, but hey, logic be damned.

Later that night, I had over 50 people, whom I consider friends, reach out via DM on Twitter about the situation. The support I had from the people who clearly realized the whole situation was, shall I say, a steamy pile of bullshit, kept my spirits up.

What I really think happened here is a mixture of two things- Anthony saw this as a perfect opportunity to play hero. To paint me as a raging sexist asshole so he could come in and make he and the site seem like a haven, despite that not being the case. I also think it stemmed from a point of jealousy. Anthony loves the spotlight. He is the dictionary definition of a “yes man.” Once Philly is Flyer, his baby, took off with me at the helm, I think he found a way to remove me from the picture whilst putting himself over to the people as an ideal perfect man.

His desire for press passes blinded him. Keeping relationships open with people he perceived as steps on a ladder to success were more important than keeping the *only* consistent writer on staff, which is how you actually get press passes.

In June of 2019, I had one of their former female writers looking for a writing gig. Not following any of the Philly is Flyers staff, I wasn’t sure what the situation was, so I asked her about it. Here are some snippets of what she had to say.-

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So yes, the female friendly site wasn’t friendly to a female writer, and the same three who conspired and sealed my fate did the same to her. Judge for yourself what happened here.

I never really looked back on this whole ordeal until I wrote this. I unfollowed and blocked everyone from that site with the exception of Kevin Fortier, who didn’t take part in the smear campaign, and Dan Silver, who later reached out and admitted he didn’t take part, or was ok with, the way things were handled.

I learned a lot at Philly is Flyer. I learned about sports journalism, promoting, and growing a brand. But the most important lesson I walked away with is to never trust anyone. And also, if you’re going to commit to a brand long-term, make sure it’s your own. Working non-stop for almost two years to build something only to have it taken from you and given to people that don’t deserve it is probably the most sour taste I’ve ever had. It’s a catch-22. I worked so hard for nothing, but at the same time, working so hard taught me so much about the business it gave me the edge when building Brotherly Puck.

AFTERMATH

I took all 182 articles of mine down from Philly is Flyer when I left. I never bothered counting, but I guarantee that was more than double the rest of the staff combined wrote in the same 20-month period.

I’ve never been one to lack confidence, but to say I was shaken a bit is fair. Luckily, most people that knew me didn’t buy into any of the stories PIF spun. Others, who didn’t know me hit that block button as quick as possible, but hey, their loss. I wasn’t concerned about saving face. I could’ve taken some time off  Twitter, but abandoning a brand I worked years to build over an incident forced by some jealous people wasn’t something I was going to let happen.

Only a few hours after my release from Philly is Flyer, I was picked up by two sites, Philas Phinest Sports Blog, and Flyers Face Off. My original idea was to work for multiple sites and disperse my ability to create content. I had eight sites and four podcasts reach out in the first week who wanted my services. At that point, it became clear the two sites I already signed up for weren’t going to be long-term homes. However, I committed to them so I was willing to stick around and provide both with articles before I bailed.

BROTHERLY PUCK

The day after everything went down, Garrett, who was a long-time twitter friend and follower of mine, approached me with an idea. He sent me a logo and an untouched website and said if I was ever interested, he’s be honored if I used that brand. The name? Brotherly Puck. At that point, I had no real interest in starting my own site, but that name stuck in my head for days. I loved it. So I started brainstorming. Before too long I had a vision for the sight, as well as a new podcast idea, Brotherly Pod. With columns like top 5, Brotherly Puck Weekly, and various other ideas, I changed my mind and was sold on working for myself at my own site.

It was about two weeks after Garrett initially brought up the idea, I re-approached him about Brotherly Puck. Once he was on board, we had a twitter page, bought the domain, and geared up for another run at starting a website.

We launched the site on November 30, 2018, less than a month after my dismissal from Philly is Flyer. Luckily, I had many loyal followers that were eager to support my new endeavors. Less than a year after launch on November 9, the Brotherly Puck Twitter page passed 2,000 followers. The site has also hit 11,000 views in the same span.

It started out as just Garrett and I for the first month or so. We later added Mike Bailey and Jay DeBie to the team. Over the next year the site would reach 17 contributors.

BROTHERLY POD

I was apart of the O&B Puckcast since the summer of 2018 when they brought me on as a full time member. Before that, I was making guest appearances on the show for about six months. I’ve always respected the O&B team and enjoy doing shows with them, but a straight laced professional setting isn’t where I feel like I thrived.

With the launch of Brotherly Puck, I had the idea of doing Brotherly Pod as a sister brand. The issue is, I had no idea where to start. I spent a few weeks reading up on podcasting and watching many Youtube videos learning about microphones and the best recording options. I eventually picked a platform and a mic and started Brotherly Pod. I originally had an idea of doing two shows- BPW Radio, a solo show where I would do an audio recap of that week’s Brotherly Puck Weekly. I would also do an episode of Brotherly Pod, where I would talk to guests every week. BPW Radio, in its first incarnation, ran for eight episodes before I scrapped the idea. a few months later, I brought it back with two co-hosts, Mike Aceto and Bobby Thomas, two of my better friends on Twitter.

Brotherly Pod on the other hand has run straight through. The first guest I ever had on was Angry Jim. We recorded and posted the show as I would always do. When I was promoting the episode, something dawned on me- he’s “Angry” Jim and my nickname is “Negative” Dan… why not combine them for one perfect Philly sports podcast, The Angry & Negative Show. It has been a smashing success, consistently outperforming our other shows.

A third show was later added to the rotation by the name of Coast to Coast, with a trio consisting of Anthony Di Marco, Julia Kender, and myself. It ran for seven episodes during the 2019 playoffs and the early off-season. We tried to put on a professional show covering the NHL as a whole. Over the summer, I decided scrap the show due to lack of chemistry amongst the three of us. Anthony and I would later reunite to start a new show called Flyers A.D. where the professional gimmick was dropped. The Brotherly Pod brand will celebrate it’s one-year anniversary it January, more than likely hitting 15,000 listens before then.

National Puck Expansion

After Brotherly Puck took off immediately, I thought it’s be a good idea to capitalize on the hype and expand the brand further. In April of 2019, I launched the National Puck brand as well as the National Podcast Network.

I always wanted to have a podcast network because it is much easier to succeed together than apart in that field.

National Puck never really took off. I knew going in I didn’t have the connections to the rest of the league that I do in Philadelphia. It has floundered since its inception and will more than likely not survive beyond 2019.

The Podcast Network is still going, where it plays host to 13 different podcasts from around the NHL. While it hasn’t taken off the the level I would’ve liked, All the shows do support each other, and that was one of my goals from the beginning.

Launching the National brand was a classic case of spreading myself too thin. It was hard enough keeping the Brotherly brand growing so starting two more fires was simply too much to contain by myself. It is the lone case of failure on my track record, but at the time I felt like I had to strike. At the end of the day it was a learning experience and I can refocus all my time back to the Brotherly Puck brand.

Final Thoughts

This cocky to say, but it’s just the truth, there aren’t many who have contributed more the the Philadelphia independent media scene than I have. I almost single-handily built Philly is Flyer, I built Brotherly Puck, O&B Puckcast took hold as a legitimate podcast when they brought me on full time. Brotherly Pod has become and established podcast in less than a year, and my personal Dan the Flyera Fan brand has grown into a notorious entity that, love me or hate me, everybody recognizes.

I’ve made some great friends from this journey, and I’ve made just as many enemies. Flyers twitter has fallen to such a state of disrepair lately that all the good people, the people I broke in with, are all gone. Survival of the worst, I guess. I don’t have any plans on leaving any time soon.

If you told me five years ago when I first joined twitter that I’d be responsible for two major Flyers coverage sites, I’m not sure I’d believe you. I never pictured myself as a writer. The over-the-top character I brought to Twitter and my determination to be the best in real life was a dangerous duo that ultimately payed off.

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride so far. I can’t believe it’s been five years as Dan the Flyera Fan. Quite frankly, it feels like it has been so much longer. All I can say is I’m just getting started and my domination has just begun.

 

 

by: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

 

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