Go ahead, jump on the bandwagon

Being a fan of a losing team isn't a sign of character. It's a consumer choice. So is newfound passion for the Phillies or Rays.

Published October 22, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)

Imaginary reader Gerald Nanker is back with another letter.

Gerald Nanker: If I'm imaginary, why is there a charge on my credit card from some place called the Night Before Lounge?

Gerald, we've talked about this. What happens in Lincoln stays in Lincoln. Did you have a question?

Nanker: Yes. I want to know about all these Tampa Bay Rays hats I'm seeing around town. Everybody's a Rays fan all of a sudden. Even Barack Obama tried to jump on the bandwagon. Where have these people been for the last 10 years?

You said yesterday that if the Rays had lost the American League Championship Series in Boston, their "fans" would have shown up at the airport to greet them. Are you serious? Those "fans" never even bothered to show up at the "games" until a few "weeks" ago. Just because this is getting dangerously close to you writing your own column, and heaven forbid that, I'm going to turn it over to actual reader cybyoung9.

cybyoung9: The Tampa Bay fan "base" is about 10,000 die-hards who had season tickets going into this year. The rest of the blowhards and bell ringers you now see prancing about, cheering for themselves, are distant relatives to the Yankees' front-running set ... or the talent-deprived Hollywood "stars" who now demand front-row visibility at Chavez Ravine (and Staples Center) ... Don't try selling any myth of Rays "fans." There really aren't that many true fans down there.

OK, guys. Got it.

You do have a point. We have here a team that in 10 years finished 14th in the American League, out of 14, in attendance seven times, and not much better than that the other years. Three times they failed to average 10,000 fans per game. They managed better than 15,000 only four times, and never as many as 19,000 per game.

You're right. It looks like there are about 10,000 hardcore fans in that town.

The town I'm talking about is Cleveland, 1983-92.

Then the Indians built a new ballpark and started winning. It wasn't until the 10th year at Jacobs Field that Indians attendance fell below 30,000 per game, still fifth best in the league. They were first in per-game attendance twice and second four times in those first nine years. Even with a 94-loss team in that 10th year, they averaged 21,358 per game, more than they'd averaged at the old Municipal Stadium since 1951.

We could do the same thing with a lot of teams. Check out the Giants' attendance at Candlestick Park vs. Your Call Is Very Important To Us Park. The Giants drew so poorly for so long they didn't look like a viable business. On two separate occasions they were all but gone, once to Toronto and once to -- get this -- St. Petersburg.

Unthinkable now, with fans packing the Dialtone year in and year out, even with the Giants fielding crappy teams lately. Gee, the lousy baseball fans of San Francisco sure became die-hards, didn't they?

Check out Seattle or Anaheim. As long as we're talking about the World Series, look at Philadelphia.

A funny thing happens to "bad" baseball towns with no real fans when the home team moves out of a dump of a ballpark, starts winning or both. They turn into good baseball towns with lots of great fans. Die-hards.

There are a small number of hardcore baseball fans in any city. I'd say 10,000 is a pretty good guess. Everyone else is a customer. If the product is good and the price is right, they'll buy in. It's not a measure of character to root for a baseball team or buy tickets to its games.

There's no such thing as a bandwagon. There's just people deciding that the product has become good enough to invest their time and money in.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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