Why the Colts’ Renewal of Season Tickets Was Low

Indianapolis Sports Culture Test:

Question #1: The Indianpolis Colts recently announced that the renewal of their season ticket holders was 87% this year, the lowest that it’s been in the last decade. What is the most likely primary reason for this?

a. The 2-14 season in 2011, the worst season since 1991

b. The loss of team icon Peyton Manning via free agency, along with several other key icons of the Manning era

c. Economical effects on season ticket holders

d. All of the above

e. Indiana sports fans just suck

With the recent announcement of season ticket renewal rates, the drop to 87% has caused some to question the loyalty of Indiana fans, saying that one bad season shouldn’t account for such a drastic drop in ticket sales. The recent chaos that has gone on in the Colts’ facility should not have led to these drops, at least in these media members’ opinions. 

Now, I’m not from Indiana, and I have very little family from the state, but this seems to be an illogical premise to come to when you consider the facts. Why did the Colts season ticket renewal drop? A number of reasons, and none as ridiculous as some would have you believe. In fact, considering the circumstances, I’m surprised that the renewal rate only dropped by 6% this offseason.

1. The Colts just had a historically awful year in 2011. 

The Colts were terrible in 2011. Led by an absence of Peyton Manning at quarterback, the team won just two games all season, the lowest total since 1991. This kind of incompetency isn’t something that has no repercussions. Fans don’t want to spend money to see teams performing at that kind of level. It will always lead to some kind of fallback. 

“But wait!” the skeptics say, “The fans of Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, etc. don’t have this problem, they have fans through ups and downs!”

True. Those fan bases generally are known as some of the best in the league. They also have a history that far outweighs that of the Indianapolis Colts. The Packers have been in Green Bay since 1919. Their last season where they won three or less games? 1958. There also isn’t a whole lot more in Green Bay to root for. Green Bay IS the Packers, and vice versa. 

Pittsburgh isn’t much different. They’ve been around since 1933, and haven’t had a season with three or less wins since 1969. The Steelers, like the Packers, are also among the most successful franchises in the league, adding to their draw. 

The Chiefs are the closes to the Colts in terms of parallels, and they have stark differences as well. They’ve been in Kansas City since before the NFL-AFL merger, starting in 1963 (Colts came to Indianapolis in 1984). But, unlike the Colts, they had success early, winning a Super Bowl and getting to another in their first seven seasons in Kansas City. There also isn’t much else in Kansas City, with the Royals (MLB) being the only other major pro team. The Chiefs were in Kansas City four years earlier than the Royals, and while the Royals had a good run in the early 80s, they’ve been abysmal ever since. (Also, to my knowledge, the Chiefs do not have a waiting list for season tickets, as the Colts have had to have over the last few years)

The Colts came to Indianapolis just 28 years ago, and didn’t win 10 games until 1999. Coincidentally, the Colts have been incredibly successful in terms of ticket sales since then, selling out 113 of 114 games. They came to a state that was known for it’s love of basketball, not football. It had to compete with markets in Chicago, Cincinatti, Cleveland, etc. They have very little history in Indy, especially positive history, when compared to such historical teams like the Packers, Steelers, or Chiefs. It’s simply a terrible connection to make. 

2. The Colts just lost several iconic players, most notably Peyton Manning. 

Peyton Manning is easily the most iconic player the Colts have ever had. Losing him was a huge blow to the franchise, and the fact that the details behind the divorce have been dramatized haven’t helped the transition. Losing the player who has had a huge amount of impact on the franchise (just look at the success in the last 12 years) will cause a drop of tickets. Personally, I think that probably more than 6% of Colts fans were simply fans because of Manning. Only losing 6% more than usual after losing him is pretty incredible. 

Beyond Manning, the Colts also cut players like Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, and Jeff Saturday. These players were all part of a golden era that not only was incredibly successful, but that identified with the fans on a personal level as well. When a team goes through a mass exodus of past faces like they did, it’s hard for fans who have become attached. 

3. The economy. 

People are STILL struggling to make ends meet. I know it’s true in Michigan, where I live, and from talking to Hoosiers it’s a struggle in Indiana as well. Combining a struggling economy with a team that was bad last year, lost a lot of big-name faces, and is a complete question mark for 2012 with a poor economy means lower sales. Fans don’t want to shell out their money to see a team play that isn’t winning games. Especially with football TV coverage getting easier and easier to watch at home, with our big screens, theatre chairs, etc. 

It’s Everything

Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t fairweather fans in the Colts’ fanbase. There is in every fanbase! I have yet to see any reason why it should be any different for a team that has little positive history in Indianapolis. It has begun to grow that history and connection with the city over the last ten years, but should we really expect for Indianapolis to become Green Bay or Pittsburgh overnight? I mean, we honestly don’t even know where that 87% renewal rate stands compared to the other 32 teams in the league! 

The truth is, every one of these factors is a major contributor to fans mindsets, and it should be. Hoosiers shouldn’t be expected to be the kinds of fans that Green Bay or Pittsburgh has. It’s simply not a fair comparison to make. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.