CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 16: An Indianapolis Colts fan show her appreciation for Peyton Manning during the game between the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 16, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Jim Irsay took to Twitter yesterday in a rather lame attempt to downplay the fact that the Colts are having trouble selling season tickets for 2012.
We've got great and intelligent Fans in Indy..they know The Monster is coming..we're gettin' set for one hell of a ride in the next decade!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) May 28, 2012
We were sold out last year and we'll be sold out this year,so I'm not sure where the story is..Colts Fans are fanatical and intelligent!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) May 29, 2012
He also posted this on May 28th:
We don't have ticket struggles,Pageling2..we had almost 90% renewals n early April,which was n top 5 or 6 n NFL,we'll be sold out this year
Six tweets in one day about something that, according to Irsay, isn't a story. Hell, that's almost as much tweeting as he did during the whole Peyton Manning drama leading up to and just after the Super Bowl last season.
Look, I'll explain this to Irsay and his enablers in the often soft-as-wet-cheese Indianapolis media market (though, I get the sense they really don't need this explained, and are, instead, just trying to downplay the issue): The reason this is a story is because, after 14 years of winning lots of football games, the Colts lost 13% of their season ticket holders. Their once flaunted wait list for these tickets is now evaporated, and they still have a 3,000 ticket shortfall.
Sure, lots of factors play into the dip. A 2-14 season. The gutting of the roster. Front office purge. Coaching purge. It's basically a whole new team. However, what everyone around the league is saying (like Irsay, I talk to people within NFL corporate here in NYC) is that the reason the Colts lost almost 15% of their fanbase was because of Peyton Manning. In talking to everyday fans (either on the phone, Twitter, or answering the nutballs who email me), some are still upset over the Week 16 debacle in 2009.
Yep. That decision is STILL an issue for many people. I remember telling staff within the Colts organization at the time that the decision to rest starters would linger for years (and those people who are still working there, and are reading this now, remember it as well).
Regardless of the reasoning and the factors, this is a story. It's a big story. Irsay going on Twitter and basically ranting that this is a non-issue pretty much solidifies the fact that this is a very important issue. In fact, Irsay's tactic is almost Polian-esque, with the difference being Irsay using the Internet to make dismissive comments where as former Colts president Bill Polian would have called up Chris Mortensen at ESPN and asked him to write an article about it.
The team is so intent on solving this problem that they have signed a one-year contract with Get Real Sports Sales. According to Phil Richards at IndyStar.com, Get Real Sports Sales works with clients like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Butler University, the Indianapolis Indians, the Cincinnati Reds, the Charlotte Bobcats, and the Minnesota Timberwolves to help them sell tickets.
Now, look at that list of clients, people. Other than Butler (who has had good success, but only in recent years), all of those franchises (with the exception of IndyCar, which isn't one) are perennial losers. They don't compete for championships, and in the case of the Timberwolves and Bobcats, they have next to no legacy of winning EVER.
These are not the kinds of franchises that are perceived to be on par with one like the Indianapolis Colts, who dominated the NFL (in terms of wins and loses) for 14 years. Yet, the Colts need their help to sell tickets.What does that tell you about the Indianapolis market, and the Indiana fanbase?
THAT is why this is a story. A winning NFL franchise has to hire a ticket selling firm that is known for working with teams like the friggin Charlotte Bobcats!
Yesterday, I wrote that the Kansas City Chiefs don't seem to have this sort of problem connecting with fans and ticket buyers as the current Colts do. My buddy Joel Thorman (editor of the Chiefs blog Arrowhead Pride) started chatting on Twitter about it, and he basically told me that, since 1993, the Chiefs have seen a slow and steady decline in ticket sales.
That's understandable. In fact, it's a credit to the Chiefs fanbase that they have been so dedicated to the franchise even though, for all intents and purposes, it's been irrelevant since Joe Montana retired. I don't say that to insult Chiefs fans, but franchises are valued (in terms of relevance) by two things: Playoff wins and championships. The Chiefs have none since 1993.
What the Chiefs fans didn't do during that stretch is, effectively, give up on the team after just one bad season. That IS what Colts fans have done. Losing 13% after one 2-14 year (which was proceeded by thirteen years of 12-win seasons, on average) sends a very clear and resounding message: Indianapolis fans are flaky.
Go on. Hate me writing that. I hate myself for writing it, but it's the truth. This is what we are, collectively. The excuse that, It doesn't matter because the games will still sellout, is lazy, simplistic, and borderline stupid. If the Colts have to blackout a game locally next season (or even come close to getting one), that makes the fanbase look even worse! KC has 19 years of underwhelming football, and yet they had their first blackout in decades a few years ago. If the Colts have a blackout just two years removed from the Manning era (and with Andrew Luck throwing the football), all that will do is reinforce the perception of flakiness. Thus, simply assuming the team will sellout (which is a big assumption, I might add) is not a comfort.
Look, I'm writing about all this is because, once again, the Colts and their enablers at this newspaper are bullsh*tting you. This ticket thing is a big deal. Is it the kind of thing that will immediately prompt the NFL to push for the Los Angeles Colts? No, but it does raise the valid question of just how attainable NFL football is in the Indianapolis market. If the Colts go through 19 years of irrelevant football (like the recent Chiefs), do you foresee only one or two blackouts during that time?
No. The stadium will be full of crickets every Sunday, and it will be THEN that renewed talk of the LA Colts will emerge.
This is why it is so very, very important that Andrew Luck and this "new era" Colts team get off to a fast and prosperous start. The Colts and the NFL will not tolerate a mass fan flake out, not unlike what Hoosiers have done to the Indiana Pacers in recent years. As a fan myself, I understand everyone's reasoning for buying or not buying tickets. The NFL doesn't care about that sort of stuff. Fans in a given market either buy the product, or the NFL moves the team to a market that will.
This is, after all, a business.