Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Green (Bay) With Jealousy & A Defense of Fair Weather Fandom

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has a nice little habit of innocently linking to some sports columnist in some other paper badmouthing Twins/Vikings/Wild fans/players. It clearly works, as I always click the link, and wherever I arrive, the comment section is full of angry Minnesotans engaging in the sort of brilliant wordplay we are famous for: "Why are Packers fans so fat?"

So I certainly knew what to expect when I saw the Star Tribune with a link to a column about how Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Fair Weathered Fans. The auteur of the piece, Mike Vandermause, starts off with a rather clumsy assumption (and in fact, seems to revel in the hamhandness of his argument):

"A trip to the Metrodome last week told me everything I need to know about Minnesota sports fans."

A 3-game, interleague novelty series (without even a cool name yet), during some of the best weather Minnesota has experienced in 7 months, told Mike Vandermouse everything he needed to know? Everything? Highly dubious.

Mike Vandermause does some really stinky thinking in one of his later paragraphs:

"The numbers don't lie. The Brewers (35,000 average attendance) are drawing a whopping 40 percent more fans than the Twins (25,000) this year. Since 2002, the Brewers have finished a combined 104 games under .500, while the Twins have been a combined 104 games over .500. Despite the huge disparity in records over that seven-season span, the Brewers have posted higher attendance figures in all but one year."

Numbers don't lie, but they can be shaded through omission to help a writer make their point, and that is certainly happening here. One thing the numbers don't mention is that the Brewers have a relatively new, really nice ballpark. Obviously, it doesn't get all the credit for the 40% difference in attendance during this year, but it could account for the 45,000 person difference for all of the 2002 season. or the less than 200,000 person difference in 2005, or the less than 125,000 person difference for the entire 2006 season.

See--that's one way that paragraph by Mike is kind of a dick-move--by making the argument the way he does, it suggests that The Brewers are routinely outdrawing the Twins by large numbers, which they aren't. But they do regularly outdraw the Twins by a relatively small amount, and have long before the current success of the Twins began. I've gone back 16 years, and Brewers had more total attendence in 11 of those seasons. So what? Maybe that's just how it is.

And hey--why are we comparing cities to cities anyway? The Twins attendance has gone up every year since 2000, except one. Milwaukee has a similar track record since opening up Miller Park. Good for both teams!

But Milwaukee and the Twin Cities are not the exact same environment, and to compare the two baseball attendance records and declare one team's fan base sucks based on one stat seems to be overlooking a lot of other factors.

For example, it is possible that Twins fans have gotten a little jaded by winning the Division as much as they have. They do not view going to the playoffs as a (quite literally) Once-In-A-Generation Event that the Brewers fanbase does. That says a lot less about Twins fans than it says about Brewer front office incompetence.

Or perhaps it says that Milwaukeans enjoy pursuits that involve sitting and drinking beer more than other cities do. ("In terms of obesity, the City of Milwaukee weighs in at the top with 51 percent of us earning obese status.") Hey, see? I can pull a stat and make it into a dickish, sweeping generalization, too!

A defense of Fair Weather Fans

As I've been writing this, I find myself coming back more and more to the idea that I was going to conclude this post with an acknowledgement that Minnesota is indeed a fair-weather fanbase. There can be no doubt about it--The Metrodome does not fill until late in the baseball season (if at all), The Vikings are lauded as Super Bowl Contenders, and torn down as pretenders week-to-week; I watched Timberwolves games this past year that were eerily quiet.

But you know what--what is wrong with that? Why shouldn't Twins fans demand to see something more promising than a first-round exit year after year after year. Why should we be excited about this team? As fun as they are to watch (and they absolutely are) any Twins fan who is watching with just a small chunk of brain power knows that they are too young and too inexperienced to realistically expect anything from. Why should a franchise extorting the public for a new stadium and running on a super-tight budget be rewarded? (I'm not talking about Santana or Hunter when I say super-tight. A team can spend without being profligate).

That said, I don't know a Twins fan who isn't happily surprised by this season, and if they could skip work and enjoy a day outside, they would be there in a heartbeat. We'll see how the Twins attendance changes in 2010. Vandermause predicts--"Fans accustomed to a climate-controlled 70-degree atmosphere will be forced to battle the elements in April and May, and the guess is many will choose to stay home." That's a point that may be true, but it of course overlooks the huge gain of attendance in May, June, July, August, September. It is a boneheaded point.

And here's a question--why do we care about fan attendance? I mean, under a certain number, yes, the stadium is embarrasingly empty. But if they are making noise, and our team is responding, who gives two shits if there are 30,000 or 35,000?

Attendance is a Corporate Statistic

No one else should care about attendance. Only the owners and the marketing department should care about attendance. Not the players, not the coaches, not the stupid-ass sports editors banished to Green Bay, and certainly not the fucking fans.

Only because the Packers are community owned (an option the NFL has made sure will never happen again) is this sentence from Vandermause saved from utterly corporate shilldom: "The Green Bay Packers, in contrast, have sold out every season ticket at Lambeau Field since 1960, in good times and in bad. It speaks to the character of Wisconsin fans that their devotion isn't swayed, no matter the record or weather conditions." [my emphasis]

Think about that--it speaks to the character of an individual that they give their money away for a shitty product. That is the definition of swallowing the corporate line.

A friend of mine, when he was 8 or 9 years old was watching the Vikings on TV when his father walked in, shook his head, and said, "They'll only break your heart," and walked out. That was over 20 years ago, and his dad hasn't been wrong. No one in the history of the world has ever lost money betting against the Vikings to win the Super Bowl. Ever. Why should people get excited, fork over hundreds and hundreds of dollars to watch a team with such a spectacular history of late season failure? Why the hell would you invest in season tickets, or show up to Week 3 games against the equally doomed Detroit Lions?

Fair weather fans are people who have to pay their way to get in the gate, Mike Vandermause, ya dick. You start paying for your tickets, and let's see how many games you go to after the inevitable Ben Sheets injury and Brewer's late season collapse breaks your heart, yet again. I'm sure you'll got a nice bonus from the Brewers for telling all the citizens of Milwaukee that their moral duty is to support the team--Oh wait, YOU DON'T WORK FOR THEM.

1 comment:

Barnyard said...

Ha, ha - you had to justify a harsh reality about Minnesota's crappy fanbase.