Shaggy: Are Indians fans apathetic?Written by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
If chicks dig the long ball, where the heck are they in Cleveland?
The Indians have been one of the more offensively powerful teams in the early going of the 2013 season. They’re either right at or very near the tops of the majors in home runs, batting average, and slugging. They’re in the upper third in the MLB in RBI, on-base percentage and OPS. Granted, the bullpen pitching hasn’t been stellar, nor has the fielding (which must really stick in the craw of manager Terry Francona), but while defense wins championships, it’s offense that sells tickets, right?
Apparently not because Progressive Field has been the most vacant ballpark in all of the majors this year. In a stadium that seats 43,441 roaring fans, the Indians have averaged only 14,700. That means 66 percent of the seats on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario are empty.
Now, to be fair, Progressive Field doesn’t exactly pack them in historically. After the sell-out streak, the Indians have ranked in the bottom of the AL. Also, it’s a small sample size. We’re only in May, and the opening series games against the New York Yankees had two games of the four game series washed out. Those games will be made up this Monday, no less. But even assuming those two games would have been sellouts (which is a stretch of epic proportions: game one filled the seats, but game two only brought in 12,000 fans), that brings the average only to 18,000, which brings them neck and neck with Kansas City for the basement in attendance.
Is it performance? The Indians had a rough start to the year, yes, but have turned it around recently, working their way back to .500. Is it the economy? If Detroit can pack in 34,000 fans a game, I don’t see why the Tribe couldn’t. Is it a poor ballpark experience? The former Jacobs Field might not be the newest ballpark in the majors, but it’s still a really nice place to see the game, and became one of the blueprints for many of the newer parks across both the majors and minors.
Could it be … apathy?
I’ve long held that a fanbase will go through a logical progression of feelings (or, as the Internet likes to call it, “THE FEELS”) when a team goes through the doldrums. Much like the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, abused to the point of cliché as it is, fans experience denial (“It was just a bad year; we were hurt; the division is too tough”), anger (“Why can’t this team just get it together? That manager is a bum!”), bargaining (“If we buy MORE season tickets, the owners will just have to spend more money!”), and depression (“I need some scissors to cut some eyeholes in this paper bag.”). Acceptance, however, is replaced by another “a” word: apathy. Fans give up on the team, and they simply fade away.
The cure all to this spiral, of course, is winning. Even if your fanbase has slipped into apathy, a quick winning season is enough to fire up the base, if only for a short while. Detroit Lions fans, who long stopped caring about the team, sprung back into action thanks to the likes of Calvin Johnson, Matt Stafford and Ndamukong Suh. Last year was down for the Honolulu Blue, but attendance remained high at Ford Field. There’s at least a blueprint for winning — they saw it in 2011. It just needs to come together a little better this season.
The Indians have had some success off and on. They made it to the ALCS in 2007, and finished second in the division in 2011. Last year looked to be a great year for the Tribe, only for it to collapse after the All Star Break. The team knew it needed a spark; they hired Francona, and spent like mad on free agents. But the fact that the team is so far off the mark of 2011’s 22,000 fans (or even 2012’s 19,000) should speak volumes to the level of skepticism in Cleveland. The team has been struggling too hard for too long. The Indians seem to be piecing it together on the field, but getting the fans in the seats to watch them succeed may take time.
Tags: Shaggy Culbreath