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SPORTS: Nice Colts fans? That's OK-if they're loyal to team

January 15, 2007

In the last couple of weeks, I've been interviewed by reporters from both the Kansas City Star and the Baltimore Sun.

Both were pursuing the same angle: Indianapolis as a pro football town vis a vis Kansas City and Baltimore, and support for the notion that our citizenry in general and Colts fans in particular are "just too darn nice."

My response to both was, well, yes, our folks and fans are nice, but that's not necessarily a bad thing if the opposite of "nice" are the rude idiots

who inhabit NFL venues in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Oakland and the like.

Certainly, there has been an ever-increasing passion for the Colts as they have evolved from laughing stock to annual contender. But, for the most part, that passion has been for the locals and not against the opposition ... or their fans.

The RCA Dome is one tough place to play in for the visiting team, but it's because of the noise and not because someone is chucking batteries or dog biscuits toward the enemy.

And visiting fans can be relatively assured they can come and go without endearing anything much worse than some good-natured ribbing. Why, Colts owner Jim Irsay even sent out a letter this year asking Colts fans to be respectful in their behavior. Somehow, I doubt if Al Davis has ever done likewise in Oakland.

Yet, we still have a ways to go before we can be more in control of the environment, and that was readily noticeable when my daughter and I journeyed downtown for the Colts-Chiefs game and quickly noticed our city had turned into a tourist attraction ... for Chiefs fans.

Then, inside the Dome, what seemed to be a large number of seats-I'm guessing 5,000-6,000, which would be a 10th of the house-were occupied by red-clad

Chiefs partisans.

My daughter, who lives in Denver, said, "What gives? ... I thought the Colts sold out their games?"

To which I answered, "Free-market economy."

In other words, to some, loyalty to the Colts has its price. And if there is a dollar or two to be made selling those pricey playoff tickets, then so be it.

It also is highly likely that there are well-established ticket-brokers among those who hold season tickets. Buy-lowsell-high (or, in the case of professional sports, buy-high-sell-higher) is how these guys make their dough.

Also, interestingly enough, a thousand tickets went on the market a week before the game. Presumably, those came from season-ticket holders who chose not to buy playoff tickets.

Having never been to another NFL stadium for a playoff game, I can't say whether 10 percent of the house is routinely filled by opponents' fans. Distance would be one determining factor and for K.C. partisans to get to Indy, it was a pretty easy seven-hour drive.

But would they make the trip without tickets in hand, or the likely prospect they could buy their way into the house via the street market? Without question, decreased supply might discourage some if word was that Indy was a "tough ticket" that forced exorbitant prices to be paid for seats, even the poor ones.

I saw one television report, however, where one of the street marketers was complaining that the Colts-Chiefs game was a buyer's market, with some tickets going for face value or less.

So Indianapolis-and its fan base-still has some growing to do. I recall the playoff game with Tennessee from a few years back when there were so many Titans fans in the building that Peyton Manning had to change to a silent count. Even last year, for the biggest game in the Colts' Indianapolis playoff history, it seemed Steelers fans showed up in considerable abundance.

How many Packers fans bail out on a home playoff game, even if they can turn a tidy profit? I think not many, but I could be wrong.

Home-field advantage at any level is difficult to come by, and all the K.C. fans in the Dome still couldn't keep the Colts from feeding on the frenzy, fueled by the energy in the building.

The best way to control the environment is for the home team to play so well, visiting fans have little to cheer for.

And, yes, by the interaction I observed around me, Colts fans were nice to the Chiefs' backers.

My daughter said we should follow the football golden rule.

"Treat them," she said, "like you would want me to be treated when I wear my Peyton Manning jersey to Colts games at Mile High."



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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