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Indians Indians Archive Passing the Buck: The Indians Attendance Problem Part 2
Written by Noah Poinar

Noah Poinar


 Yearly Uncertainty: (2% Responsible)


Despite what the Indians were able to accomplish last year, no one knew what the hell to expect from this team in 2012.  When in doubt, it’s hard committing to a season ticket package of 81 games if there’s a realistic chance that, by the all star break, you’re selling them to friends for small favors.  There’s uncertainty around this team every year.  2006 and 2008 taught us to be cautious when this team is coming off of a good year.  But it’s not like fans are sitting at home, twirling their thumbs, reasoning that the future uncertainty of this team actually prevents them from going to a game.  It’s something more.

Ownership (and Dan Gilbert): (8% responsible)

Here in the outskirts of Cleveland, it’s not uncommon for a frustrated Indians fan to accuse the Dolan’s of being “ass-holes.”  First and foremost, that label couldn’t be further from the truth, but as active owners of a professional sports franchise that’s their main downfall— they’re not egocentric, money bags living vicariously emotionally psychologically through their ‘pat on the back’ purchase that they made back in 2000; or, they're not a-holes.

Buying a professional franchise is the biggest pat on the back a person could give themselves, one final “I’ve arrived” statement you make to yourself.  Some people save up their money to purchase a quaint vacation home for retirement, other’s buy a 300 foot yacht stocked with foreign escort’s and enough drugs to last a lifetime.  A professional franchise is that yacht; but not for Larry and Paul Dolan. 

Let’s go back to February.  When word first broke that the Detroit Tigers had signed Prince Fielder the majority of Indians’ fans were all thinking the same thing:  “Huh, the Tigers?  Detroit’s like the mirror city of Cleveland with a parallel economy, how can they afford Fielder and we can’t?"   Because the Tigers are owned by Mike Ilitch, the founding owner of Little Caesar’s Pizza.  Although Little Caesars is doing well with their $5 dollar pizza deal, it’s not why they were able to up their pay roll to $129 million this offseason.  Any day now Frank Ilitch’s wife could roll over and find her husband lying next to her, motionless and unresponsive.  The man is 82 years old.  His age, not his checkbook, was the biggest driving force in the Tigers pursuit of Fielder.  But don’t think that means he can’t afford it, because I can assure you he can just as suspect the Indians know, if they had really wanted to.  

When you’re an 82 year old owner of a pro-sports franchise you find you’re more willing to spend in order to get the last “bang for your buck” that life has to offer.  In Ilitch’s case, that last bang is a World Series.  The Tigers haven’t won a World Series in 24 years and Ilitch knows this.   What an honor it would be to go out as the guy who brought Detroit its first baseball championship in decades.  Most likely this is probably his line of thinking.prince 

If you had enough money to purchase a professional sports franchise, wouldn’t you do anything short of mimicking Frank McCourt just to become that figure person who brings that coveted world championship?  How about if your team hadn’t reached the promise land in 60-plus years?  How about if your team played in a sports town that is considered to be cursed?  Wouldn’t you really, really want to be the one that got them there?  Wouldn’t you want to become a immortal lock in the community?   That’s what winning a championship in this town would mean for an owner and the Indians are actually the closest to doing so.

The issue isn’t how much money the Indians, as a business, bring in and are able to spend.  The issue is that baseball isn’t a business at all.  No sport is.  The Indians look like a business; they’ve got employee’s, stockholders, office space, customers, and high paid white collar decision makers.  But the similarities end there.  For one, their customers are obsessively loyal and emotionally engaged in the fortunes of their “business” operations.  Secondly, they don’t operate in a free market, the way real businesses do.  They are treated by the government with unmatched generosity, anti trust exemptions and a system of revenue sharing which essentially guarantee’s a yearly profit.  They get to control their labor in a manner that any owner of a private sector would envy.

I’ve got nothing terribly negative to say about the Dolan’s.  I’m aware of their situation.  They bought the Indians at the worst possible time and overpaid to do so and have been treading water ever since.  The team may very well be poor and ownership could actually be reaching deep into their pockets when they're making Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman acquisitions, we don’t know, we just know that we aren’t all that on board with what we’ve seen. 

gilbertThe Dolan’s are operating on fixed budget, getting bargain deals, making savvy trades, and getting as much as they can out of their farm system which has never really been that highly rated over the years.  We should be giving the ownership our credit and support, but it’s hard to do that with Dan Gilbert in the picture.  Gilbert is building casino’s, constructing shopping districts, taking on Baron Davis amnesties; basically attempting to re-do the entire city of Cleveland and, in the process, pushing the ghetto ever-westward.  For Gilbert, Quicken Loans is his business and the Cavaliers are his metaphorical toy.  He runs the former solely to maximize profit, and he runs the Cavaliers in a way that will hopefully sprout eternal happiness.  Gilbert is the type of owner every fan dreams for.  They want their team to be owned by a ruthless, egotistic, cutthroat, hedonist, not a penny pincher who’s concern centers around breaking even on a budgeted annual basis.  


For the record, I don’t believe or advocate anything I just said about the Dolan’s.  


1994-2001: (9% Responsible)


Browns fans over the age of 33, by all means, go ahead and talk up those teams of the 80’s and feel free to bamboozle people (age 24 and younger)into thinking Bernie Kosar was on John Elway’s level.  Indians’ fans, though, need to tone it down.   This “Glory Days” of the 90’s thing has gone a little too far into the extreme.  At the very least, if you’re going to sulk on the past, please have the decency to reference the 1999 Indians every now and then; after all, they’re one of seven teams in baseball history to score 1000-plus runs in a season. bernie

Indians fans can proudly say that they saw this team win their division six times in a span of seven years. (Get ready for a sudden change in gramatical tense) We can stick our chest out and relinquish how we were a part of a record sellout streak of 455 consecutive games.  We can think about it, talk about it, tell our young kids about it, watch re-runs of all the memoir videos that they frequently play on STO,  and even bounce our grandkids on our lap and further pass the info along to them.  But not now, not this soon removed, not when they’re still actively chasing the championship that those teams never won.  It’s almost unfair to the present day organization and the player’s that currently make up their competitive roster.  But I suppose it’s a forgivable offense when taking everything into account.   

cliffleeCliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia facing off in game one of the 2009 World Series became one of the more significant moments in Cleveland Indians history.  It was a back handed slap to every Indians fans face as it marked the proper time to officially jump off the Indians bandwagon and prep for the end of professional baseball in Cleveland.  For a lot of paying customers, it was a traumatizing time to be an Indians fan; anytime a fan base comes together to unofficially change their name to the Aeros, you know it’s bad.  We didn’t just hate what happened to our team, we actually hated our team.

There are a heavy remainder of these fans out there who still hold a underlying grudge against this team.  They’re still waiting around to be rescued by the likes of Dick Jacobs ghostly corpse—you know, like a group of lone survivors during a zombie epidemic.   There could be thousands of these scarred fans out there just sitting, lurking, and waiting for the Indians to earn them back, but they’ve already made up their own minds and know that the Indians will never earn them back.  At least not anytime soon.  Some people don’t easily forget.  I can't see those fans caving at this point. They're too entrenched and too rankled.  It’s going to take more than a hot April and May to get these people to budge.  At this point it will most likely take a rendition of the act they pulled during the 90’s because, well... that’s the standard we’ve been holding this team to.  It might also take a uniform change, one in which the team wears red shoes, socks, and undershirts.  Even then that might still not be enough.  Ultimately, they’re probably just going to have to sign Manny Ramirez to a minimum deal this year.  Apparently it doesn't look like that's going to happen. 


Cable/HD Television: (19% responsible) 


I had no choice but to give this category the highest weight on this list.  While the Indians rank dead last in attendance, their televised ratings on Sports Time Ohio are one of the highest in baseball.  With considerations to the size of the market, they have been rumored to have the highest percentage share of viewership in the league.  See, I told you we really do love this team.

The wide availability of cable TV has had remarkable consequences on the game.  It goes hand in hand with what I said in part 1 regarding the longevity and truculency of the 162 game schedule and why baseball needs to scrap it.  Cable TV has given us a reason to de-commit from the time consuming, money shreding process of  attending a game.  Watching a game from home not only saves money, it ensures you won’t be beaten into a coma like Brian Shaw; that  your kids won’t be exposed to the homeless (a life altering event for me when I attended my first Indians game); and that you won’t be distracted by that teenage couple sitting behind you, mutually pleasuring each other under a blanket.       

tv50But it isn’t so much the broad availability of cable that’s hurting attendance, it’s the High Definition TV.  

I’m currently in college where I’m operating below the official U.S. poverty line.  Somehow, someway I have a 42 inch TV in my room with HD capabilities.  This is weird when I begin to think how it was a mere five years ago when I returned home from school one day to find my parents had first got HD.  It was right up there with when we got RoadRunner.  This was in the year 2007;  as in, the last time the Indians made the postseason; as in, the last time the team really drew at the stadium; as in, two years before Time Warner started giving customers free HD in a desperate attempt to combat the fact that they couldn’t deliver The NFL Network.  If books on tape have supplanted the use of braille, than HD TV has done the same for attendance.


The Local Population: (15% responsible)


A couple months ago, a laughable, seemingly half-hearted statement was thrown out to the public for us to maul, pick, prod, make fun of, and ultimately laugh at.  It involved the city of Columbus and whether or not Mayor Michael Coleman was serious when stating his intentions to land a NBA team in Ohio’s capital.  The snark rebuttal by the common folk was, Yea, if Ohio State moves.  

For the sake of this argument, let’s say the Indians and their Triple-A affiliate Clippers were to trade places.  Wouldn’t that deal end up being profitable for both parties?  The number of enrolled students at Ohio State alone makes up almost a sixth of the Cleveland population.  That’s something Cleveland doesn’t have and probably greatly lacks.  In the last fifty years, the population totals of the two respective cities have swung in inverse directions.  Yes, this has everything to do with the two areas differing economies, and yes, and the rumors are true, the Cleveland economy has been dissipating since Garret Morgan’s invention of the traffic light back in the early 1900‘s.  Err, at least the city’s population has. 

If the idea of Columbus getting a NBA team seems laughable, I don’t see how it’s any more laughable than the thought of Cleveland being able to support three professional sports franchises. 

It’s easy to see why I have this ranked the second highest in both part 1 and 2 of this story.  Just know that there's a reason entrepreneurs don’t build fancy restaurants in rural areas. 

Expensive Beer, Gas, Concessions, and everything else: (4% Responsible)


In May, interleague play kicked off with the Miami Marlins making a rare visit to town.  Tickets were cheap, fireworks were on the agenda, the Indians led the Central division; it was Inter-league play.  A friend and I decided to make the 3-hour drive up from Columbus to take in the game.  Ultimately, we decided to just stay in Columbus and get drunk because it was a cheap, bargain deal.  “We’ll get to a game eventually,” we told ourselves.  


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