It was of no surprise whatsoever that when the SI story of LeBron’s return to Cleveland was launched, the initial reaction was not about Cleveland suddenly being the favorite in the East. Nor was it how this would affect the roster in Miami. Nor was it about the sudden impact to the often-sad city of Cleveland.
By far the most immediate reaction was all too predictable and mostly typed by people who are the ones you know you think they are way funnier than they actually are:
“Miami just lost 80% of their fans”
“LOL!!! Just 80%?!?!”
“Bro, true. True. More like 99% and all they have left is Dan LeBatard.”
“Serves them right – worst sports fans ever! We are real fans!”
And on and on it goes. Everyone jumping in to get their cheap shots in – thinking they’re soooooo hilarious. But here’s the thing no one seems to mentioning: when LeBron left Cleveland 4 years ago, the Cavs experienced its own sudden, major attendance dropoff all the way from 2nd in the league in 2010 to 22nd in 2013.
Or consider the Pittsburgh Penguins who before Sidney Crosby was Sidney Crosby, were on the verge of moving their franchise out of Pittsburgh. Just a decade ago, Pittsburgh was dead-last in the league attendance wise clocking in under 12,000 fans during the 2003-2004 season. Yet where’s all of the outrage telling the people of Pittsburgh they are nothing but bandwagoners?
I’m not here to drag the good people of Cleveland and Pittsburgh into this and call them bad fans. I’m not. In fact, I don’t blame them at all for that dropoff. My larger point is that I struggle to wrap my head around two things when it comes to how we view sports attendance. (1) Why is attendance the be-all-end-all focal point when fans want to identify “real fans” and (2) Why do people blame Miami (and Cleveland in this case) for having their priorities in order?
Why Do We Focus So Much On Attendance?
If there is one element of super fandom that annoys me 100% of time – it’s talking shit about attendance. Because attendance smack is just the worst.
For some reason since it became “cool” to compare off-field attributes of a team instead of just on-field performance, attendance has been at the forefront of the “real fan” debate. This is incredibly stupid and usually brought up by the losing team as a coping mechanism. But other than that, it truly undermines what is great about being a fan of sports – and that is the pure emotional attachment we have to our teams.
Consider last season’s touching moment of this father receiving Bengals tickets from his son as a surprise gift. The father is brought to tears over the gesture and in the video it is revealed it is partly because he had never been to a Bengals game before. But yet – attendance is the measure of real fans so this guy must not have been a real fan until last season when we went to his first game, right? This is just one of the major problems I have with attendance smack.
The other problem I have is a lot more obvious – money. It is expensive to be a fan and I don’t blame anyone who chooses to forgo the costs of live game attendance. A research company Team Marketing Report has put together a Fan Cost Index that basically identifies the cost to being a fan who attends games. Aljazeera American smartly takes it a step further by combining this data with median income for each NFL city.
You can click the links to review the tables in full, but the gist of the combined study shows us, on average, it costs someone 46.51% of their weekly income to attend that week’s game. Or you can say 23.25% biweekly if you define that a team averages one home game ever 2 weeks for the duration of the season. To put that in perspective, 30% of your income is the recommended percentage someone spends on housing.
Yet…you’re not a real fan unless you are in the stadium/area. And I can keep going with other reasons such as personal obligations, work, weather, the advancements in the HD home-watching experience, Red Zone Channel…But none of those are good enough for the Twitter Comedians who claim you aren’t a real fan, or a fan at all, unless they see you in the seats.
The “Miami Sports Fans Stereotype” Should Be Celebrated, Replicated
Name me one industry where consumers should be expected to pay for bad products. ONE. (No…Apple doesn’t count because I love my iPhone and I don’t care what you say.)
And yet in sports, fans who refuse to spend good money (46.51% weekly income!) on bad teams are labeled as bad fans or worse…Bandwagoners. Again, for some reason, Miami is the punching bag for this phenomenon for the simple fact that Miami sports fans won’t pay premium prices regardless of value in return. The insults continue fly despite the fact Miami is home to arguably one of the worst owners in sports who financially screwed the city.
Team after team operate under the same assumption that fans are tied emotionally to the brand. In the offseason, they sell you on hope and fantasy. Yet when those don’t pan out and teams fail to fulfill these false promises (or worse) it is the FANS who are widely blamed for discontinuing their support. They become bandwagoners.
All I ask – the only thing I want an answer to: why is this a bad thing? Why is it being a “bad fan” to continue to stay follow the team but not give them my wallet? Why are Miami fans in particular given the negative labels when it is a city that refuses to financially support bad products? Why do we not negatively view fans who blindly give bad franchises money so that owners can continue to raise prices despite the poor value in return?
This is what I mean when I say Miami sports fans (and other comparable cities) should be replicated, not hammered. Yet just wait for the beginning of this coming NBA season when Miami receives an attendance hit that virtually every team should experience in the same situation. While thousands of Heat fans will continue to watch Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh at home, they will be told they are bad fans for not shelling out the same premium money for a significantly lesser product.
I will not blame a single fan who doesn’t pay good money for less than good experiences. Neither should anyone else.
And be honest, the Miami hate with LeBron was never about LeBron was it? If he joined any other team outside of maybe the Lakers or Knicks, The Decision and all, the hate would not be nearly as severe. But because it’s Miami and because of the ridiculous stigma of “bad fans”, the hate never stopped. Not even after 2 NBA Championships. If the Big 3 got together in Charlotte or Memphis, the hate is nowhere close to what it was in Miami.
All because you hate Miami while you should be following their lead.
Brad Epstein’s day job is being a marketing guy in Atlanta. He is also an American Outlaw and college dodgeball champion.
You can follow him on Twitter @BradMEpstein