This series will take a look at the ever growing perception of the exaggerated “problem” of Colts’ fanhood. Specifically that the Colts’ fan base is fairweather and weak when compared to similar markets such as Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and Kansas City. While I find the outcry over the slightly lower rate of season ticket renewals to be very exagerrated (and way offbase), it’s impossible to argue that the Colts’ fan base is comparable to the near-rabid fans of the Packers, Steelers, or Chiefs. So, over these pieces, we’ll be connecting these franchises, finding their similarities and differences in how their fan bases grew to what they are today, and figure out how the Colts and their fans can emulate that.
Two weeks ago, we looked at the first part of growing a rabid fanbase, which, predictably, was winning early.
The first step in the process of growing a resilient fanbase is having a stretch of winning football to draw people in. This must include winning over a period of time, with recognizable, connect-able faces, and winning a championship. The Colts have completed this step over the last 13 years, winning at an incredible rate, having recognizable faces, and winning a championship while appearing in another.
The second step, and one of the hardest to do, is becoming the number one option for professional sports.
Step Two: Becoming a Priority
In order to win over a city and state as a professional franchise, the franchise must first become the number one option for the locals (in terms of professional sports). The winning over a period of time hooks people in, and then, if the franchise is the number one option for people in the area, they stay hooked.
We can see this in Green Bay and Kansas City fairly easily.
What professional sports are in Green Bay? Well, there are the Packers. The rest of Wisconsin professional sports resides in Milwaukee, with the Brewers in baseball and the Bucks in the NBA. The Packers had the huge advantage in Wisconsin of being the first. The first legitimate target for Wisconsinite’s passionate following, the Packers joined the NFL in 1921. The Bucks didn’t join the NBA until 1968, and the Brewers moved to Milwaukee in 1970.
By that point, the Packers had staked their claim in Wisconsin as the ultimate state pride. The Packers had hooked people with nearly 20 years of winning, including several NFL championships. They then had a run of losing seasons and mediocrity throughout the late 40s and 50s, but it didn’t matter. The Packers had people hooked and were the only option in the area. The run of championships and elite teams in the 60s (Five NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls) merely solidified their spot as number one in the hearts of the Cheeseheads.
In Kansas City, there is nothing. I mean, look at this list of professional sports by an online KC tourist site. The Royals, a minor league baseball team, and women’s tackle football team, and a professional ROLLER SKATING team. It’s not exactly the most daunting of lists. This of course doesn’t mention Sporting Kansas City, the MLS team (although, they do play in KC, Kansas, while the Chiefs reside in Missouri).
Really, the only rival for the Chiefs’ fans attention was the Royals. The Royals didn’t arrive until 1969, the tail end of the Chiefs’ hook. The Royals’ run in the 70s was impressive, but ever since the mid 80s, the Royals have been terrible, while the Chiefs bounced back from a 14 year playoff draught to be very competitive for the last 25 years. The number one option is the Chiefs.
Pittsburgh is the hardest to crack, with the historical prowess of the Pirates and Penguins being much longer than the other two cities’ competing franchises. Fortunately for the Steelers, the timing worked out perfectly.
The 1970s was glory time for Pittsburgh. Not only were the Steelers’ the cream of the crop in the NFL, but the Pirates and Penguins were also kicking along. The Pirates made the playoffs six times in the decade, and won the World Series twice. Meanwhile the new Penguins franchise was starting successful (1967), going to the playoffs eight times from 1972-1982.
But, after that things changed. The Pirates didn’t make the playoffs once in the 80s, and the Penguins had a six year dry spell from 1982 to 1988, losing much of the fanbase they had built up. Meanwhile the Steelers made the playoffs four times (spread out) and won enough to keep people interested. This coupled with a skyrocketing in the NFLs popularity made the Steelers’ franchise king in Pittsburgh.
Indianapolis is a little harder. The Colts came to Indianapolis in the 1984, when many Indiana natives already had NFL allegiances to other teams, such as the Bears, Lions, etc. Indianapolis is also the only city out of the four in this comparison with an NBA team, and the Pacers were firmly entrenched as Indiana’s team when the team arrived.
Nevertheless, the Colts can become the number one option in Indianapolis, and Indiana. Their first competitor is the locals: the Pacers. The team was firmly ahead of the Pacers during the Manning era, being consistently competitive and elite while the Pacers struggled with bad seasons, bad PR, and messy transitions. Now, as the Colts head into a new era, they need to make the transition quick, so as to keep Hoosiers’ attentions and beat out the Pacers for Indiana dominance. If the Pacers are consistently good over the next ten years, and the Colts are not, they will be wasting valuable time. The Colts also will need to be winning over old Bears and Lions fans, while staying ahead of the Rams, Browns, and Bengals.
The Colts’ hook was Peyton Manning and company, a better hook than they could have hoped for. Now, with a new staff and dynamic franchise quarterback, the Colts must look to stay the number one option for Hoosiers, a difficult task.