Irsay-Manning saga dividing Colts fan base

February 16, 2012
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It’s difficult to say what impact the Jim Irsay-Peyton Manning saga will have on the long-term loyalty of Indianapolis Colts fans.

Over the last two days, I’ve been polling Colts supporters, and the responses are split right down the middle. Half—maybe slightly more—say they are on Manning’s side, the other half say they are loyal to Irsay and the team.

Putting fans in the position to have to make such a choice, though, is a no-win proposition for the Colts. Sooner or later that type of bad karma will catch up with the team and its owner.

There’s no shortage of fans who are convinced the Colts are waiting until March 2 to announce their decision on what to do with Manning. March 8 is the deadline for Irsay to pay Manning $28 million or cut him loose. March 1 is the deadline for Colts season ticket holders to pay for the 2012 season.

Colts Senior Vice President Pete Ward insists the season ticket deadline has nothing to do with any announcement concerning Manning’s future. That may be true, but the specter of it all has certainly taken at least a little shine off the horseshoe Irsay so dearly cherishes.

One thing is certain through my e-mails, tweets and phone conversations with Colts fans over the last two days. Their patience is wearing thin.

And while winning will erase a lot of bad memories, Irsay has burned though a bag of mulligans, and if his No. 1 selection doesn’t pan out and his new general manager, Ryan Grigson, can’t get the team back to its winning way within three years—max—the club’s season ticket waiting list will melt faster than an arctic glacier under the pressures of global warming.

The Colts have sold out their stadium for more than a decade primarily through season ticket sales. But the waiting list has shrunk from 25,000 to 9,000 in less than five years, according to Colts officials.

True, a chunk of that was due to the move from the 56,000-seat RCA Dome to the 63,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium. But that only accounts for about 7,000 of the 16,000 folks who have disappeared from the waiting list.

The Colts have two things going for it. The strength of the NFL brand and a new, richer league-wide TV contract that starts in 2014 and a resurging economy.

For now, Colts fans are sticking by their team. Season ticket sales this off-season are amazingly ahead of last year.

Still, even the strongest players can afford to make only so many missteps. And if we’ve learned one thing about Colts fans from the perfect season that wasn’t in 2009, it’s that Indianapolis football fans have long memories.

They may long recall this year as the one that divided the Horseshoe Kingdom that Irsay precariously presides over.

  • Impossible Conundrum
    I am a long time season ticket holder, and a big Manning fan. I would like to see the Colts find a way to keep Manning and draft Luck. Not sure that is feasible. The end of the Manning era is upon us; much sooner than later. That is the reality.
    Manning's current contract, which his agent engineered, has painted the Colts into a corner. Manning seems to be willing to work for other teams at a steep discount to what the Colts owe him. Implicit in that willingness is an acknowledgement of his true market value vs current contractual obligation from the Colts. Manning's original comments (which led to the ping pong match in the press), while heartfelt, were also very calculated. He started this debate, and continued it with release of medical info just days before the Super Bowl. Was that timing really necessary? Irsay, already in a contractual corner, had no choice but to respond. I can't help but wonder if this contractual morass is also a contributing factor to Chris Polian's dismissal (and Irsay certainly couldn't dismiss the son without the father). Of course Irsay can afford the $28M. That is not the issue. The issue is fielding a competitive team within salary cap restraints with both Manning and Luck on the payroll.

    These issues may resolve, and we may enjoy seeing #18 under center for a few more seasons with Luck waiting in the wings. Possible? yes. Probable? I am afraid not. Instead, we will see the inevitable release of Manning and his signing with another team. I wish him well, but he won't be the Manning of old, nor will he have the system/team surrounding him that has lead to his success. Better he go out on top, a conquering hero here, than try to recapture the magic elsewhere.
  • Colts article
    Spoke with you yesterday. Good blog.
  • Wrong Dates
    The actualy renewal dates are March 3. Get your facts straight before you print.
  • Fans With Long Memories
    Lets see you start with fans have long memories and end with ticket sales are better than last year, so maybe those memories are focused on past changes which got the Colts where they are today. Making changes might be the key to staying as one of the top franchises in the leaque.

    With the news release yesterday about a fifth possible surgery, makes me think it might be the right time anyway.

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