Winning Over a City and Growing a Fanbase, Part III

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 fair-weather 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 exaggerated (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.

So far in this series, we’ve covered two important steps in growing a consistent, passionate fanbase. 

First, we discussed the importance of a strong winning period that “hooks” local, national, and international fans into the team. The Colts have accomplished that step by having a decade of dominance with recognizable faces and a championship win. 

Second, we examined the importance to outperform (or at least keep pace with) other professional teams in the area, so as to keep fans’ attentions despite other options. The Colts have been largely successful at this so far, but the next five years will be interesting to watch, with the Pacers growing stronger, and the Colts in a rebuilding period. 

Today we look at a part that is a less related to what the Colts do on the field, but what they and their fans do off the field. The key word here? 

Customize

 The customization is two fold. 

1. The Colts’ must customize their franchise so it embodies the city and state in a way that local fans (and displaced fans) can connect to. 

As readers ECB, AJ_, and buymymonkey pointed out in the comments of the previous installment, the Colts’ reputation as employing “good guys” has been extremely valuable in connecting with Hoosiers, and fans around the country. 

Just as the Steelers tough, hard-nosed teams paralleled the rough industrial economy of Pittsburgh, or the old Green Bay Packers’ teams could handle cold just like any native Wisconsinite, so the Colts’ must find a way to personally connect with Hoosiers, to create a link between the two. 

The easiest way, it seems, is to aim at the good-natured, down-to-earth, respectable natures stereotypical to Hoosiers. By employing “good guys” like Tony Dungy, Gary Brackett, Jeff Saturday, Peyton Manning, and Reggie Wayne, the Colts have done that quite well over the last 10 years. This, in my opinion, is one of the key reasons why the state has embraced them so thoroughly: while Hoosiers, like any fans, enjoy winning, they enjoy it a lot more if it is done “the right way.” 

Humbly, with class, and legally.

Hoosiers balk at loud mouths, braggarts, and distractions, while respecting the quietly efficient, humble winners. The Grigson era-Colts would do well to attempt to build off of that, keeping a link between the team and the Midwestern people. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the team has to be all choir boys and quiet, low-key players. In fact, a healthy mix of personalities would be just perfect. 

However, the cornerstone guys, the new Saturday’s, Clark’s, Manning’s, and Brackett’s must be respectable. They need to be the kind of guys who won’t say controversial things, get in trouble with the law, or things that would embarrass the club in general. With Andrew Luck being picked first overall, it seems the Colts are headed in the right direction.

When it comes to coaching, Chuck Pagano is a different kind of coach than Dungy and Jim Caldwell have been. But, in a good way. Pagano isn’t Rex Ryan or Jim Harbaugh, but he still gives off a fun personality and more willingness to open up in interviews and press conferences. That will be interesting to follow the longer Pagano is head coach. 

2. The Colts and their fans must create something unique about the experience in Indianapolis that creates a sense of unity and excitement for home games. 

Every great fanbase has a shtick. Something that is uniquely theirs that not only gets fans excited but gets players excited as well. 

Sure, being loud is important. Great fanbases know how to create a home field advantage due to noise, just as the Colts have done over the last decade, especially in the old RCA Dome. Heck, look at the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had a massive home court advantage throughout the playoffs due to their terrific crowd. But, every fanbase wants to be loud. That’s pretty generic. In order to get to the point where fans are united as one, a unique home field feature can often be inspiring for fans and players.

The Steelers have the Terrible Towel. The Packers have the Lambeau Leap and cheese-heads. The Chiefs have their infamous Sea of Red, as well as the altered ending to the National Anthem. Even those famous Thunder fans, who grew in recognition due to their decibel levels, had those bright blue shirts that flooded the stadium every game. 

But what do the Colts have? What can we have? What can make going to a game in Indianapolis unique? Thoughts?

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.

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