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Sports Business

Are Indy's sports fans fickle, frugal or something else?

March 27, 2012
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About the worst thing you can call any sports team is soft. Same goes for fan bases.

No one likes to be called a fair weather fan. Fans of the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers have been fitted with that label it seems more than most.

The theory goes that central Indiana fans are not willing to be long-suffering like Chicago Cubs crazies, not hard-core like Pittsburgh Steelers supporters and not faithful like Green Bay Packers followers.

I hear it almost everywhere I go; Colts and Pacers fans are more fickle than a teenage girl.

There’s even dissension among its own ranks about how faithful central Indiana’s fan base is.

There's no shortage of callers to local sports talk radio shows or posters on local sports message boards who will call their own sports-loving brethren right here in Indianapolis soft, weak and downright too-hard-to-please. Others argue that local sports fans only have so much money to spend and that there are a fair number of people for a market this size that have stood by the Pacers and Colts through good times and bad.

Either way, the 'fair-weather' label continues to get hung around the neck of Indy's fan base. Some times the label is quite literal.

Indy fans have become known for their unwillingness to sit outside to watch football. They complain about how stuffy it is in Lucas Oil Stadium on warm fall days when the roof is open or how chilly it can become when the mercury dips below 60 degrees.

Fans too have complained about the sun streaming through the window at the north end of the stadium making it unbearable to sit in the sun-bathed section.

Pacers fans complain about the composition of the home team, the lack of defense in the NBA compared to college basketball and the lack of consistent hustle by players on the court.

Instead of soaking up the atmosphere local fans have been known to complain about everything from parking and traffic woes to the cost of concessions.

At the first sign of trouble, Colts and Pacers fans are accused of heading for the exits—and often refusing to come back.

The Pacers have felt the sting of this so-called fickle fan base for more than five years. The Colts are now getting a taste of it too.

Colts officials on Monday reported that the season ticket renewal rate this off-season is 87 percent, six percentage points below last year’s rate. It’s the first time in more than a decade the renewal rate has dipped below 90 percent, Colts officials said.

The decline comes after a 2-14 season, the Colts first losing season in 10 years. It also comes in the same off-season that saw Peyton Manning depart for Denver.

Luckily for the Colts, they have a 9,000-long waiting list for season tickets. But the list has been shrinking and my math shows that 13 percent of Lucas Oil Stadium’s capacity of 63,000 will eat up most of what’s left.

Of course, if Stanford’s Andrew Luck is as good as scouts say he is—and Colts fans are as fair weather as people label them—you can probably expect the team’s following along with the demand for season tickets to bounce back at least to some extent. But if Luck falters, you have to wonder if Lucas Oil Stadium will become as empty as Bankers Life Fieldhouse has been at times in recent years.

The Colts might remember the Pacers sold out every game during the 1999-2000 season when the blue and gold chased an NBA title.

Not even re-emerging as a serious playoff contender, it seems, is enough to lure back Pacers fans. Despite a 29-19 record this year, the Pacers are still 29th in the 30-team NBA in attendance, with an average of 13,901 attending the team’s first 22 home games. The Pacers are only one of two NBA teams to average fewer than 14,000 fans per home game.

Maybe locals have long memories. Maybe they’re just frugal. Maybe they can only support one major league team at a time. Maybe they demand a championship caliber team.

Or, as difficult as it is for us to admit, maybe Indianapolis does have a soft sports fan base.

One thing is certain, and it’s a scary certainty for this city’s home teams.

The fans in this town are easier for a team to lose than they are to win back.

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