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.

  • Upgrade
    I'm all for losing the fair-weathered fans for a season or two. Hopefully it will result in me being able to improve the location of my season tickets.
    • Economy
      I have been a season ticket holder for the Colts long before their winning streak. Unfortunately, my husband has been unemployed for three years and can't find a job. We had to chose between keeping our house or renewing our Colts tickets. I am so upset to have to let them go, but the economy has gotten the best of us. I'm sure we are not the only ones the economy has finally caught up with.
    • Colts
      If there are 9,000 on list why is this article appearing. Even if there a few seats left who wants to be on the top row relying on the jumbotron so you see what just happened while paying primo prices?
    • Colts
      Becky B...intersted in selling your tixs for 2012 season? Where are they?
    • Lower the ticket prices
      It's not about being a fickle fan - it's about so few people being able to afford to see a game. Prices (and salaries, etc.) have gotten totally out of reach. If you can get a ticket, then you can't afford the concessions. Greed, greed greed.
      • Combination of things...
        When you combine a small market and escalating ticket prices in a poor economy, you have a soft market for tickets. Basic economics. The Pacers just have a lot of PR homework to do.
      • Pacers games are boring
        Assuming Luck is as good as advertised, the Colts will get back on track and ticket issues will not be a problem. That cannot be said about the Pacers though. Even if they are averaging just 13,000+ per game, the atmosphere is boring and nonchalant. 13,000 people can still create noise and get into the game. Yes the crowd does root for the home team but there is very little passion from the live audience. Any basketball fan craving a rabid, live atmosphere would most certainly prefer to go up to Mackey Arena or down to Assembley Hall. The crowd excitement at an Indianapolis Indians game is not a whole lot different than a close 4th quarter game at Banker's Life these days. Fans do not want to spend loads of money for a live experience that can best be described as lackluster.
        I guess this begs the question as to why fans don't care about the Pacers even though they are good again. I believe that it reflects on marketing and ultimately the ownership. Nobody really cared that lifelong Pacer Jeff Foster retired. Most fans were hoping Danny Granger would be traded for young talent before the year started. The Pacers organization needs to market their top players and let Indianapolis see that these are good people and people worth rooting for. The Colts did a great job of this over the years and the city fell in love with Jeff Saturday, Bob Sanders, Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, etc. Unfortunately, there is no player wearing a Pacers uniform that is "untradable" or that gives the Pacers their identity. Instead, the team is just a random group of guys...which is better than the previous all thugs roster. Looking ahead, nobody will come out of the east other than Miami or possibly Chicago for the next few years. During this time, the Pacers either need to acquire some players that the city can become emotionally attached to or drastically improve their marketing efforts for their young nucleus such as Hibbert, George, etc. If the Pacers fail to do this, it will be the same issue and the same 13,000 lackluster fans at the games.
      • Please leave
        I love the Colts but not nearly the Pacers fan I was growing up. The NBA game is an ugly game to watch and until recently the Pacers have been a bunch of thugs. Are you really that surprised about the Colts? They just got rid of their franchise quarterback and most of the named talent - all during a down economy in a mid-size market. Fair weather fans? OK - I am fine with that title. The article falls right in line with the athlete's mentality - as if we owe THEM something. We do not and it is their job to make it entertaining and affordable and fun to watch. Pacers don't really meet that criteria for me and the Colts are so expensive I can't really afford to take my family - well I should say choose to spend my dollars elsewhere.
      • It takes Two to Tango
        To your article, my story line is that "It takes two to Tango". With the Colts, I think that others may have the same assessment as I, which is as follows:

        The Colts: Back in the early 2000's, the team was very good, I had returned to Indy from North Carolina and bought a 2 x 1/2 season tickets. So, I had 4 games, but no requirement to buy pre-season tickets. A couple of years later, prices increased each year, but 1/2 season tix were no longer offered. So, I picked up 2 season tix for 8 games, which of course, included the very uneventful "starters don't play" preseason games. I stayed with it, but the next hit I received was the move to Lucas Oil, in which my ticket prices were once again raised, but the ticket location was significantly less advantageous. But I yet stayed 2 more years. The last impact was the infamous "we don't try to win" games if we are 14-0. So, my final business assessment was, despite the fact that the product was still strong then, that I was being taken advantage of, and that of the 8 games I purchased, only 5 were of winning consideration by the Colts. So, at that point, I no longer purchased season tix. Frankly, I think it was shortsighted on the part of the Colts to mis-manage their customers in that matter, and now they find that the loyalty is no longer there. But what was their loyalty earlier. Goes around comes around??

        For the Pacers, most of our town was proud of our product, regardless of the season record, but it was alway very good nonetheless. When I traveled out of town, people always talked about our class players, with Reggie, Rick, Mark, the Davis boys, Keyes, etc. It seemed that management assessed not only the basketball skills of any new players, but equally and maybe even more importantly, their character. Then, in what seemed a quick-turnaround, the character card was no longer played (e.g. the character data was available but not used??) and we picked up Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Tinsley, all of whom really needed help from a behavioral standpoint; we also added Jermaine O'Neal, and like the proverbial tin man from the Wizard of Oz, and despite having incredible talent, Jermaine never had the heart for the game. A nice man, but just not much of a competitor. It can be argued that Stephenson is of that same ilk as the first 3, although his issues may even be deeper.

        Currently, I think we have returned to the weight of the character(nice work to Pacers' management on this turnaround), and a very competitive team, but old wounds heal slowly, so it will still take some time to get the fans back after the management lapses. I really don't think you can turn on the fan commitment like a water spiquot, especially, like the Colts, the Pacers management too just forgot their customer orientation.

        The economy is an issue, but less so, but the over-riding factor in my mind is that our Pro Teams just overlooked the importance of being fair to the fans, and that is the price that is being paid now.

        The fan commitment will come back, but memories are long, so it may take yet some time.
      • My thoughts exactly...
        Yes - thank you to the Colts fans NOT renewing...I'll be able to get my season tickets the first year I'm on the list.
      • Peyton fan
        I'm a transplant to Indianapolis. But as I hear it, a lot people were Bears fans until John Harbaugh and Peyton came around. And now that they got rid of Peyton the way they did, why would the Bears/Colts fans remain Colts fans? Personally, it was the team, not the Colts I was following. And they're not here anymore. Don't tell me they couldn't have been loyal to Peyton. He would have accepted the same deal with the Colts as he got from the Broncos. 28 million for the Billion he brought to the Colts?!? I bet they lose 280 million in the next few years BECAUSE Peyton is no longer a Colt. As for the Pacers... a lot of people stopped watching them after the Detroit game/year. Duh! I'm warming up to them now, but the NBA is not like the NFL. They don't have a chance to win it all for at least a few more years because it's the NBA. They don't have the chance to turn things around the way the NFL does. And finally, are you really putting us down because we're fair weather fans?!?! If that's not the biggest load of crap to try to sell tickets! They're games, not real life. Are we still kids? "I'm a better fan than you are because I stick with my team through thick and thin." Maybe you are. But you're not a better person than I am. At least not for that reason. I can't believe adults actually entertain that line of thinking.
      • Fiddle-dee-dee
        Win or lose, the Irsays and Simons are laughing all the way to the bank.
      • Not Simon
        I don't think Herb Simon is laughing all the way to the bank. It's pretty well documented that the Pacers are a money losing operation.
        • College/High School Fans
          Been here 21 years and I have observed that this is much more of a college/high school sports fan base. Nothing wrong with that, just an observation. Pacers and Colts win, the crowds show up. Both clubs have a solid nucleus of uncoditionally loyal fans, but alot of fair weather ones too. The emotional investment made by many goes to the colleges and high schools, not the pros.
        • Soft Fan Base= True
          Most Indy fans are soft! It makes me really mad everytime either the Pacers, Colts, or local college teams have a hiccup and the local fans bail! It is called loyalty people, other markets seem to grasp ups and downs. What kind of person gives up at the first sign of adversity? Tired of our wimpy fan base!!!!!!
        • Put down the ticket and step back
          Parroting the baloney that national talk shows throw out does not a relevant column make. The natural inclination of fan bases is lower attendance following losing (or prospective losing) seasons.The spectre of
          not being entertained seems on its face to explain the current situation with the Colts
          and Pacers. But to put things in perspective,
          lots of much larger markets don't always support their teams. Remember the Cubs during
          the 80's (500 in the stands), Boston in the
          decade before the '67 Red Sox, LA hasn't had
          an NFL team in how long?? True fair weather
          fans may get a pass (San Diego, AZ, Miami)
          but the Marlins have won a couple of series in the last decade, and still don't draw. What about those die-hards in ATL and Tampa. Peaks and valleys happen everywhere, and saying NY or Philly fans are SO much more passionate are red herrings because of the larger populations (if you can't sell out 8
          football games a year in a metro of 6, 8 or 14 million, what does that say). And don't forget - the Colts came here not only because they had a crappy stadium, but because they sucked and the RABID Baltimore fan base stopped showing up.
        • Bored
          Maybe people are finding better things to do with their time and money than pay a bunch of money to sit and watch millionaires play a game, if they are so inclined to perform on that particular day.
        • Simons
          Simon never offered an audit to prove the Pacers were losing money. All we got was his word. So, Indianapolis is giving him millions and millions of taxpayer's money every year to offset that "loss."

          Besides he makes money off of every event at the Fieldhouse so he's making plenty of money. Plenty.
        • Value Proposition
          I feel that the issue is really the value proposition that professional sports poses for fans. I had upper deck seats at LOS and paid $69 per game for bad seats. Then, add $7.50 for a beer. Come on...something is wrong with this when I can pay my months cable package, buy a case of beer and have a better viewing experience with friends at home. One day, I hope that teams and stadiums figure this out.
        • Well...
          As a die-hard Colts fan I wouldn't buy season tickets either. Why? Because I'm a fair weather fan? No. Because I can't afford them. And living in Indianapolis where gas is $4.30 a gallon I would guess that neither can a lot of people. Maybe even some of those "6%" that aren't renewing their season tickets.

          I used to LOVE the Pacers. Then they started losing...... no wait..... that wasn't the reason. I stopped being a fan because they hired, and kept, criminals. And a lot of them. I would rather my teams be terrible than classless. And as soon as they can show me that they are more worried about whether or not their players are good role models than how many wins they get, I will continue to not be a fan.
        • Rational Hoosiers.
          It's not called being fickle or soft, it's called being pragmatic. It's just the way Hoosiers have always been. The majority of Hoosiers put sports in proper perspective. We like the Colts, or Pacers, or whomever, but we don't live or die with "our team".

          I've had Colts season tickets since 1992 and I scream my heart out when they're on defense and have fun, but if I ever needed the cash for something else I would cancel my tickets in a heartbeat without batting an eye. It's just a football game.

          I used to be a Pacer season ticket holder in the 90's when it was just me and my wife, but now with the lowest price for decent tickets being $90 I just can't afford five season tickets and the $18,000 hit. Oh well.

          I have a friend in Pittsburgh who allowed his truck to get repossessed so that he had money for his Steelers tickets. Most Hoosiers wouldn't make that trade-off.

          Season tickets to the Pacers to make me happy or memberships at the Indianapolis Zoo and Children's Museum and Conner Prairie and Indiana State Museum and Indiana State Parks to make my entire family happy? That's an easy choice for a typical Hoosier.
        • St. Pete
          You guys hear the IndyCar season started last week? Guess not. Plenty of time 'til May, I guess.
        • Its NOT THE ECONOMY
          First can we stop blamaing the economy. The fact is Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota, etc are all making things work with attendance that is higher than the Pacers and the economy has hit everywhere, not just Indy. Its not the brawl, its not the economy, its not about wins, its about the experience of watching in person has changed in the past 10 years. The at home experience has gotten cheaper with big HD tvs lowering in price while in person ticket prices for "good seats" going up. I have friends that are die-hard Pacers fans but would rather watch at home than spend a decent amount of money to get lower level seats on a work night when they live outside of the downtown area.

          I keep hearing that tickets prices are being offered 2 for $10 or $5 seats or special deals being ran for walk up tickets etc. The fact is most wouldn't go to a game for free if their seats were anywhere above club level if they really wanted to watch the game when they have the option to stay home and watch the game on a HD big screen.

          The home viewing experience is 10x better than it was late 80s early 90s. Also, the fact that the team is winning does not matter. People want a reason to go to the game instead of staying home and watching on TV. They want someone on the team that makes you say "i want to watch that guy in person" The Pacers don't have a superstar. No Reggie Miller. Top that off with the NBA atmosphere where it doesn't get exciting until the final two minutes only if the game is close, and i don't blame people for staying away.

          As for the Colts, the fans are annoying. The article was put perfectly. The perception by fans of other teams about Colts fans is that they won't support a team that loses and I'll agree. Sure there is a waiting list for tickets. The team has had the most 10 win seasons in the past decade or "Manning era". If this team continues to lose the bars will be half full and season ticket line will be no more. If that stadium didn't have a roof I'd hate to see what attendance would be in a down year. I will agree that NFL ticket prices+parking+concessions are way too high even though the atmosphere is actually better in person (debatable). The prices are starting to take their toll on NFL fan bases.
        • Hey Charlie
          If the "home experience" for NBA fans keeps them home, couldn't the same be said for NFL fans? This is being addressed by the league.
          Why do you find Colts fana annoying?
          Just curious.
        • Upgrade
          I agree, Brian. We are hoping to add a seat or two.

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