DENVER - SEPTEMBER 26: A young fan of the Indianapolis Colts watches as the Colts warm up prior to facing the Denver Broncos at INVESCO Field at Mile High on September 26 2010 in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
We've talked about this before. Recently, we get more bad news as to the fickleness of our sports market in Indiana. From Mike Florio at PFT:
Don Muret of SportsBusiness Journal explains that the Colts have hired a local firm to help sell tickets after a seven-percent drop in season-ticket renewals. Currently, the team has 3,000 season tickets to sell, prompting the organization for the first time in a decade to hire interns, who will target customers that previously bought single-game tickets. The interns also make a second pass through a waiting list that apparently is made up of more than a few folks who are willing to wait even longer.The situation demonstrates the fickle nature of football fans.
Anthony Schoettle of the IBJ first reported on this two months ago. This was just after Peyton Manning landed with the Denver Broncos (after a very public divorce from the Colts) and before Andrew Luck was drafted No. 1 overall. Schoettle echoed what both he and I hear often about the Indiana market.
You guys can yell, scream, kick, and whine that Schoettle and I are "insulting" the fanbase, but that changes nothing. "Shooting the messenger" is another Hoosier trait. One of the more infuriating ones. Here's Schoettle's words again, from March 27th:
I hear it almost everywhere I go; Colts and Pacers fans are more fickle than a teenage girl.
There’s even dissension among its own ranks about how faithful central Indiana’s fan base is.Either way, the 'fair-weather' label continues to get hung around the neck of Indy's fan base. Some times the label is quite literal.
There's no shortage of callers to local sports talk radio shows or posters on local sports message boards who will call their own sports-loving brethren right here in Indianapolis soft, weak and downright too-hard-to-please. Others argue that local sports fans only have so much money to spend and that there are a fair number of people for a market this size that have stood by the Pacers and Colts through good times and bad.
Now, in defense of people who live in Indiana, PFT's Mike Florio offers this:
At a time when the NFL hopes to persuade more and more fans to choose to watch games in person than on TV, the primary magnet continues to be a consistently winning team.
And it makes sense. Given what it now costs to attend games, it’s far easier to justify the expense if the buyer believes the return on the investment will be the satisfaction that comes from watching a victory for the home team.
As I've often written, I understand this mindset. In many ways, I agree with it. If the owner wants butts in seats, make the team good. Make moves that generate interest. Make the team worth my money.
However, the problem here is the Jim Irsay and Ryan Grigson have made those moves. This team is worth the money. It's new. It's exciting. It's fresh. It has youthful exuberance from the coaching staff and a front office that isn't run by flaming buttholes.
So, why the season ticket shortfall? Simple. We're fickle. We're flaky. We rooted for Peyton Manning more so than we rooted for the Colts.
Already, Colts enablers like Mike Chappell and Bob Kravitz are on Twitter making excuses, using the same, tired line that the team will still sellout every game. I don't disagree with the sellout predictions, but both men are avoiding the bigger problem.
Comparable markets like Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Minnesota are not facing similar ticket issues, with K.C. being the one I personally point to. The Colts have been far more successful over the last 20 years than the Chiefs, who haven't won a playoff game since Joe Montana was their quarterback in 1993. Seriously, how many of you readers were even old enough to watch football back then? 19 years, and no playoff wins! Can you imagine Lucas Oil having any fans in it at all on Sunday if the Colts went through a comparable stretch?
Yet, Arrowhead Stadium has no problem with season ticket sales, as far as I am aware.
The Steelers might have had more overall success than Indy (four Super Bowls and two wins in 20 years), but the two franchises (along with the Patriots) are often compared as being the "best" during that span. Is Pittsburgh experiencing similar season ticket issues? No.
Also, claiming that simply winning will bring the fans back isn't accurate either. Look at the Pacers. They had an excellent team in 2012, and yet struggled to sellout playoff games. In addition, ticket prices for the Pacers are significantly cheaper than Colts tickets. Still, not enough fans showed.
As much as we hate to admit this, but stars and star power drive fans to Indiana sports venues. Bob Knight brought fans to Assembly Hall. Reggie Miller brought the fans to Market Square Arena and Conseco Fieldhouse (now Banker's Life Fieldhouse). Peyton Manning brought fans to the RCA Dome and Lucas Oil Stadium. Hell, just this past weekend, the Indianapolis Star was polling its readers to see if it was OK to continue to cover Manning even though he plays in Denver now.
Please keep in mind, if you are reading this blog, I don't personally consider YOU to be fickle, flaky, or fair weather. I feel the need to emphasize that, for whatever season. However, we Colts fans are a collective fanbase, hardcore and flake alike. If several fans were more interested in Manning than the Colts, and that group was big enough to make this kind of dent in the season ticket sales (to the point where the team has to hire people to sell and promote season ticket packages), then the reality is we don't have enough hardcore Colts fans in Indiana.
We don't. We just don't. It frustrates the hell outta me, but it's who we are. As Schoettle noted on March 27th:
Instead of soaking up the atmosphere local fans have been known to complain about everything from parking and traffic woes to the cost of concessions.
At the first sign of trouble, Colts and Pacers fans are accused of heading for the exits—and often refusing to come back.
This is our label. We whine. We complain. We bicker. We make excuses. You don't see these sorts of things in K.C. or Pittsburgh. All this does is prompt people to question why the NFL is even in Indianapolis, and when the fans are this flaky, and when there aren't enough hardcore fans to fill the void (especially after 14 years of consistently winning football) the question becomes a valid one.
This is why you'll never see me ripping Jaguars fans again for putting tarps over seats. Our fanbase is actually WORSE. 14 years of winning, and after just one bad season, fans turn away. It's something I cannot defend. When rival bloggers, or establish media, ask my opinion on it, I cannot offer an excuse.
Again, for you loyal readers, I don't believe you are fickle. However, our market clearly is. The numbers don't lie. Even if they did, the perception has already taken hold, and perception is everything.
Maybe this is a sign that the "sports bubble" is bursting. I don't see how Jim Irsay can be viewed as credible if the Colts blackout games locally for a team that plays in a stadium that taxpayers paid to build and continue to pay (annually) for maintenance. Perhaps this is what is truly motivating the Colts to make moves to prove their team for the current season. I don't think the franchise can survive another 2-14 season. The Pacers still haven't won back their fanbase.
What makes you think the Colts would win back theirs after two 2-14 seasons?