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Walking the Walk, Talking the Talk

Aardvark follows up on AB's commentary from yesterday by providing his own insight into what has happened at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Check it out, and talk about it in the <A HREF="">Fan Commentary Forum</A>!

Art's 12 Grain Harvest column was a must read. Let me throw in another two cents.

If you can't walk the walk, then trying to talk the talk is just... so... much... noise.

I'm a Browns fan, have been since the first year I could remember them, and that was Paul Brown's ill-fated final year. As a fan, I make no claims as to being the most knowledgable, loyal, trustworthy, etc.

It's time we as a group get off making the same claims. We are Browns fans, but we are not the most loyal, obsessed, knowledgable, crazy fans in the NFL. If others want to give us that label, fine. We don't earn that title by annointing ourselves.

Especially not after last Sunday. Oh, forget Tim Couch and whether some fans were cheering, booing or mooning his injury. When the head coach intimates days earlier that the crowd just doesn't seem quite as boisterous as it used to be in the old place, you know the fans reputation and smug satisfaction with itself is being called into question. The excuses came flying:  it's Carmen's fault, CBS is sterile, no signs are allowed, we can't tailgate and party like it's 19... 99. Wahhh, wahhh, wahh.

But the gauntlet had been thrown.

Then cames game time, and the fans are loud for a national audience... until the Ravens shut them up on the opening drive.  Then the Browns can't get up any offense, and the crowd quiets some more. Then the Ravens score, and the fans not only quiet down.... they start to get snippy, then eventually a little hostile.

But they save the worst for last: they leave. Sure, the Browns played badly, but they were also playing against a bad team.

This wasn't like being down to the Raiders or Dolphins 23-0. Four players aside, the Ravens defense was no longer the star studded lineup, and certainly a good defense could keep their limited offense in check. A rally was possible if only the Browns would quit shooting themselves in the foot.

And yet thousands had already poured out the exits in the third quarter. It would be interesting to see a minute by minute attendance at CBS through the 3rd and 4th quarter. We often see a stadium at half capacity on a wide shot coming out of a commercial when the visitors are up 31-7 at the two minute warning. We don't see that half empty wide shot when a team is down 23-8 with a whole quarter left.

What happened? How did it get that way? To me, we're seeing the fallout from a longstanding trend in which the percentages of fans is changing.

Let's say we have three types of paying customers at CBS, and for any other sporting venue for that matter. Art Bietz made a fine distinction between the fan and the spectators:

  1. The corporate customer - loges, psl's, prime seats. "The brie eating cell phone user", but also the guy who attends Touchdown Club functions. Can be a big fan, but uses prime seats to entertain and give to customers.
  2. The long time customer - season ticket holders for years. Sit next to the same bunch of folks: families, couples, brothers, neighbors. Cuts through most economic classes. For some, season tickets represent a huge cut of their discretionary income.
  3. The casual customer - the spectators. Some may be families who can only afford a once a year treat, others attend many games and may even have season tickets, but it's their release. They're not serious fans, but enjoy drinking, screaming, etc.

I'd maintain that the trend has been an increase in the first and third groups at the expense of the second.

No doubt teams have built new stadiums with an eye towards upping the numbers of the well heeled fans. The spectators come because it is an event, a place to see and be seen, and be part of the biggest happening in town. They may be willing to bite the bullet on prices since they only go once or twice a year. Others blow their money on making it a 12+ hour affair (tailgate/game/bar). They want to come as close as possible to living the embodiment of a Coors ad. They want to dress the part and get on tv.

And while we see an increase in those two groups, the long time fans may see their numbers dropping simply because the lower-middle class fans who could barely afford season tickets can do so no longer.

The end result is that the games are populated by perhaps a thousand more of the casual fans every year, and a thousand less of the knowledgable fans. It becomes less of a game and more of an event, a spectacle.

I think our views are also colored by where we can afford to sit. A casual fan may end up sitting just anywhere and be surrounded by other casual fans. For years, I couldn't stand going to more than a few baseball games every year because that was a game that requires more attention, and all around me were people who were clueless. It was nothing for people to get up and walk around while the game was in play. Wait until the inning is completed, wait until the put out, wait at least until the ball is fouled off. Nahh, it's two on, two out, 3-2 pitch, the pitcher looks for the sign, the runners are ready to take off-- and the fat ass stands up:

"Okay, who wants nachos?"

But it's not that way everywhere in a stadium. Go with someone who has season tickets, and you have a good seat, and are surrounded by fans who really watch and know the game. It's not an orchestra recital with stearn looks and sushing. People talk and laugh it up with their friends and neighbors.

Last year at the Chargers game, people would shout out their takes on the Browns predictable offense: "First and 10. Jackson up the middle," and everyone would laugh. My God, these are fans who may actually go to the concession stand only once or twice during the game because $5 for a watery beer just doesn't do it for them! For them, enjoyment is not contingent upon consumption. Al's already sticking it to them pretty good. They accept that. They don't have to drink his beer and buy his giant foam hands.

The few times I've made it up to Browns games have been courtesy of a friend's season tickets. It's a mixed bag. Most people are pretty good, but there's always a few people who are there to get loaded and vent. Old school meant that a guy who could hold his liquor was an admirable trait. Now it's like some badge of honor to be shit faced. Either way, I wouldn't care so much if they're clued into the game. But if they're not, go the fuck home and pass out in front of the set.

The best part of being a fan is being part of that group experience, like being in a crowded movie theatre for a great horror film. The shared experience is fun. When fans are tuned in on the same thing and realize just how significant that next play is, that's fun. But when a group of people are focused on 20 different things, when some guy is on a cell phone and a woman asks you to stand so that she can get by with her drinks just as the offense lines up for a 3rd and 2 at the 30, when one guy yells "YOU SUCK, GREEN!!" and another is talking about an Adam Sandler movie, and the stadium is throwing up crap on the Jumbotron at every timeout... well, then being a fan is more of a chore. One's better off watching in a bar.

I've been to enough baseball, football, basketball and hockey games in over a dozen cities to know that there is a real difference in fans. There is IMO a sizable difference between a hockey game in Pittsburgh (snooze) and one in Philadelphia (they can be unforgiving, but they're into it), between a baseball game in St. Louis and one in Montreal (they clap like its lawn tennis!), and the old Boston

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