Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 5/23/12

Yesterday on this very web site there was an article written by AJ Kaufman in which he wrote about the lack of attendance at Cleveland Indians games despite the time being in first place.

His view was against the fans of Cleveland, and he essentially called them out while providing some rationale for why this fan apathy has developed over the last decade even when the team has been enjoying moments of success on the field.

The article is well-presented, but I happen to disagree with some of AJ’s opinion on the issue. In this post, I’ll present reasons as to why this disagreement exists.

Then-Jacobs Field during the fan support heyday when sellouts - and outstanding teams - were the norm. (Photo by Gus Chan, The Plain Dealer)

The misguided comments of Chris Perez

AJ’s article, and many like it, was inspired by the comments recently made my Cleveland closer Chris Perez. After a dominant performance in which he struck out the side to close the game, in front of 29,799 fans, Perez made his now well-talked about comments.

Perez cited his frustration with being booed, especially when it comes from a small crowd. All I could say to Perez is that he should be focusing on getting his job done instead of listening to a small group of fans who do not represent the majority.

He then went on to criticize the small crowds, citing the fact that the stands should be full for a first place team. The lack of visible support is due to a wide variety of factors, some of which were mentioned in the aforementioned article from yesterday.

The economy is a factor

The main factor has to do with the economy in Cleveland. There may be “a ton of disposable income” in and around Cleveland, as AJ suggests, but that does not represent the entire fan base in Cleveland.

Sport itself is a form of entertainment and is also a distraction from everyday life. In a blue collar town like Cleveland the majority of the fan base is not from the highest earning demographic. To say that every “fan” should be shelling out hundreds of dollars a year to support their team is simply ridiculous.

For a family of four to attend a game, the total costs, which include parking, tickets, food, and merchandise, could be anywhere from $70 to well over $100. This is not a problem that is unique to Cleveland fans, but rather one that is universal to fans nationwide.  In thi  new age of every game being on HD television, it is less important to spend all of this money at the actual game when it can be spent on things more essential to a family.

Browns ticket sales an unfair comparison

A Cleveland-specific argument, which was offered in yesterday’s article, deals with the fact that the Browns sell out all of their games, which are of a far less quality than Indians games.

Even offering up this argument is misguided.

There are only eight, once again the number is eight, home games in a NFL season. This is compared to 81 home games in a baseball season. The eight home games for the Browns are spread out over a four-month period, while the Indians played their first eight home games in the first few weeks of April.

If the Browns played 81 home games, which is obviously impossible, the attendance would surely drop off as the record got worse. It even drops off at the end of the year as it is, with paid attendance not nearly reflecting actual attendance.

Record should not be an immediate gauge of expected attendance (especially in Cleveland)

Simply looking at record as a reason for attendance is not fair either. Chris Perez failed to understand this, and he was even called out by Kenny Lofton on local Cleveland radio for not understanding how Cleveland is.

Lofton made it clear that Perez has no right to talk about Cleveland if he has only been here for a few years. Cleveland fans have endured, as everyone now knows, decades of torture from its teams. I need not list the the events that led to this torture as they are mentioned in seemingly every discussion of Cleveland sports.

The years of torture have led to a general negativity towards any team in the city. Why support a player if he is just going to leave and break the collective hearts of a city? Why cheer for a team that will trade the top players? The negative aspects of sports are focused on by Cleveland fans, rather than the positive aspects.

The Indians are in first, the Cavs are returning to a playoff-calibier team, and the Browns had arguably their best draft since returning in 1999. The negativity, no matter how promising a team may look, is just something that comes with living and playing in this city, and it will not change until a title comes to the town.

As someone who lives in Cleveland, the attendance is the same-old-story every year.

It starts off at very low numbers in April and May. However, once school is out and the weather clears up, the attendance reaches a normal rate in MLB standards. The average remains low due to the low attendance at the beginning of the year, as a quarter of the games are in April and May.

Cleveland is not like New York, where there are millions of people to attend a game. With a population around 400,000, Cleveland ranks near the bottom of population for MLB cities. It is a small market, with a small but loyal fan base. Loyal does not mean fans will be at every game, but they will come to games throughout the season.

The last Cleveland-specific factor that must be cleared up is the sellout streak of 455 games that lasted from 1994-2001 at Indians games.

The team opened up then-Jacobs Field in 1994, and a new stadium ensures large crowds througout the year. The fact that they had a fantastic season in the strike-shortened year of 1994 led to large crowds in 1995, which happened to be one of the best seasons in franchise history. Full stadiums are a given when the team is that good, and the current roster has simply not established a consistent winning culture.

It also helped attendance numbers when the Browns moved to Baltimore following the 1995 season. Cleveland is a “Browns town”, and the lack of their presence led to a massive fanbase seeking a new team to follow. Some of these fans may already have been baseball fans, but the lack of the Browns in Cleveland certainly shifted the focus to the Indians.

The attendance will continue to rise as the year progresses and the team continues to play at a high level. It is a topic of discussion every single year, but as long as the team wins, the fans will show.

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