UPDSR In-Depth: Atlousyanta
Mark Bradley asks that age old question: is Atlanta a lousy sports town?
In a word —–> yes.
Greetings one and well… one probably, Jubbo here and I have to admit, its not very difficult to find a good time in Atlanta. I’ve spent a lot of time there through the years and a lot of it has been because of sports. I’ve been to old Fulton County Stadium, Turner Field, Philips for a Hawks game and to the Dome for the SEC Basketball Tournament. I’ve gotten drunk downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, you name it. I’ve run the Peachtree Road Race and navigated through Hartsfield, hell I’ve even ridden the MARTA, something I don’t think anyone else has ever done.
But I’ve always been pretty down on Atlanta as a sports town.
Mark Bradley from the AJC, predictably, isn’t. Sort of. And away we go:
Should the Thrashers leave for Manitoba, ours would become the first American city to lose two NHL franchises. Word of the pending sale has spawned yet another round of Atlanta-is-a-lousy-sports-town boilerplate harrumphing, and again I pause to ask: Are we a lousy sports town?
The Thrashers were 28th among 30 NHL teams in attendance last season. The Hawks were 22nd among 30 NBA clubs. The 2010 Braves made the playoffs for the first time since 2005, and their attendance ticked upward from 15th to 13th among the 30 baseball teams. (The average Turner Field crowd grew by 1,685 year over year.)
OK this, to me, is a huge foundational piece to a city being declared a lousy sports town: people essentially don’t go to games. Keep in mind Atlanta is a MASSIVE city, the metro area coming in at right around 5 million people. That puts them into the same conversation with cities like San Francisco, Boston, Philly and Houston, cities that I would say have few if any problems supporting their teams. And its much larger than non-lousy sports towns like Minneapolis, St. Louis (ugh) and Cleveland. Losing two NHL franchises is pitiful. I also don’t think its a stretch to say that no one would give 2 shits if the Hawks went to Winnipeg as well based off that attendance number. And the Braves? Meh. They draw pretty well on the weekend but some of those weeknight games are embarrassing from a crowds perspective. (They average about 31K a game and are at 62% of capacity, ranking 17th in MLB)
Of note: The 2010 Falcons, who had the NFL’s second-best record, were 15th among 32 teams in attendance and 19th in capacity at 95.3 per cent. But the Falcons’ average gate was 67,850. Put it this way: Over their last full seasons, the average Braves, Hawks and Thrashers crowds together still fell 6,000 below the Falcons’ yield.
So a not-too-well-supported NFL team outdraws the other pro franchises COMBINED? And the Falcons coming in at 15th in attendance yet 8th in NFL market population is shameful. This is all sounding pretty lousy to me.
No it isn’t.
Since 2004, Hawks and Thrashers fans have faced a shared dilemma: Do I buy tickets and support the team even if it means endorsing the maladroit Atlanta Spirit? Since 2007, the Braves have been owned by faceless Liberty Media of faraway Colorado. (Last week Liberty Media offered $1 billion to buy Barnes & Noble; the Braves’ payroll remains under $90 million.)
Ah yes, that always well thought out idea of Hey, I hate the ownership of the team I love therefore I will show ownership the way I feel by depriving myself of the joy of seeing the team I love in person! Yes, thats exactly what I’ll do! I will stay at home and watch from afar, with my absurdly-priced jersey on, surrounded by other various team paraphernalia that I purchased back when I went to games and also… meh you get it. This is a really awkward paragraph from Bradley.
See, he acknowledges his rambling pointless blathering by attempting to reign it all back in.
The only local pro sports owner who inspires any confidence is Arthur Blank. We’re more inclined to support the Falcons because we believe they’re well run. About the other teams, it can be tough to know. Example: Frank Wren signed Derek Lowe to a four-year contract paying $60 million in January 2009 and was trying to dump him 10 months later. Another: The Hawks paid $120 million to keep Joe Johnson in the same summer they promoted Larry Drew to head coach at a cut-rate price.
Oh, I see. Actually, I think Atlanta is more inclined to support the Falcons because its a city filled with front-running transplants who no matter what only really care about football and baseball. And has Bradley ever heard of, just off the top of my head, Virginia McCaskey or Mike Brown? Those are two pretty bad owners yet Chicago is ranked 4th in capacity at over 100% and Cincy is down with Atlanta at 22nd (they won *FOUR* games and play cold weather football). My point: why can’t a 13 win team in a town of 5 million get 68,000 people out to a game 8 times a year? My answer: a lot of Atlanta doesn’t give a shit.
My question: If we have qualms about a team’s management, are we wrong for keeping our money in our wallets? Isn’t that essentially what Americans do every election — vote our pocketbooks?
My answer: No, that’s douchey and a way to spin Atlanta’s apathy to its sports teams.
Addressing Thrashers fans, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on a radio show Thursday: “I understand that there may be dissatisfaction [with ownership] there, but demonstrating your dissatisfaction by not going to games is an interesting strategy. It’s your absolute right. But if it becomes a turnoff for anybody who might want to buy the franchise, the long-term consequences could be severe.”
So Bettman’s recommendation would be to spend money on a bad product just so somebody else might come along and snap it up? In what solar system is he living?
News flash: Money’s tighter than it was in 2005, or in 2000, or in 1995. For a family of four, a game at Philips Arena can run more than $200. (A trip to Turner Field can be done for less.) At a time of lower income and higher prices, the issue becomes: Do we need to go watch this team play in person? For many Atlantans, the teams that meet that criterion tend to be based on college campuses.
He waited until he was damn near pissing himself to bring up college sports (read: football). Yeah hoss, no shit it costs a lot to go watch pro sports. But just like any other city, the ATL (ugh) is *FULL* of rich assholes who love dropping coin on fucking off. They just don’t spend it on Atlanta’s shitty franchises because THEY DON’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT THEM. The thing that rubs me the wrong way about this piece (or blog entry, whatever) is I think Bradley knows all this, he’s just harrumphing civic pride for whatever reason (to sell papers? I truly don’t know. Hey look, this guy Bradley likes us all here in Atlanta, I’ll be sure to visit ajc.com and occasionally purchase a physical paper because I too have civic pride!) and its not even really believable at all.
Whenever I’m hit with the Atlanta-is-a-lousy-sports-town line, that’s my rebuttal: We might not be the best pro sports city, but we’re the absolute best for college football. All you need do is drive around the Perimeter on an autumn Saturday morning and you’ll see the festooned cars bearing Fulton and DeKalb and Cobb and Gwinnett plates headed for Athens and Auburn and Knoxville and Tuscaloosa and Clemson and Columbia and Tallahassee and Gainesville. (And yes, for North Avenue, too.)
Wait… (and this is shockingly stupid) Because Atlantans *LEAVE TOWN* en masse to watch college football in the Fall, this is what makes Atlanta a great sports town? Did Bradley really just type this? Good lord.
In our love for college football, we’re different from Boston or Philadelphia or New York or Miami or L.A. (Among big cities, Dallas would be the closest to us, but it’s not really close.) Our sporting priorities are those autumn Saturdays. As Gary Stokan, the president of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, says: “Our two biggest pro teams are Georgia and Georgia Tech.”
You’re different from those towns because they care about their sports teams for the most part (and Miami could possibly unseat Atlanta for “Worst Sports Town in the Country” by the way, LA isn’t a great sports town either). I haven’t spent an autumn on the East Coast but I have in Chicago and I think the two areas are at least somewhat comparable and Chicago is *CRAZY* about college football. Seriously, walk down Clark or Belmont or any other major street in the Fall and there is nothing but college flags hanging out front of all the bars… Iowa, Michigan, OSU, Michigan State(!)… hell there is a massive bar FULL of Alabama alumni and fans right under the EL tracks on Clark Street. And yet the next day, those same bars are filled with (gasp!) NFL fans. Bears, Browns, Lions (!), hell even Green Bay (vomits). My point: being a fan of a college football team and a NFL team aren’t mutually exclusive. In other words, Atlanta doesn’t care about pro sports. Thats fine, neither does the rest of the South. But these are YOUR teams. If Atlanta doesn’t care about them, who the hell does?
Last year I asked Michael Adams, Georgia’s president, how Sanford Stadium kept playing to capacity crowds in an uncertain economy. “For our folks,” he said, “[football tickets] are second to the mortgage.”
Again (and this is so stupid) Bradley asks someone who lives in Athens why attending sporting events IN ATHENS is important to the city of Atlanta. That Sanford Stadium sells out seven times a year is somehow a testament to the greatness of Atlanta as a sports town. Why is he doing this? In what solar system is he living?
It would be nice if a pro team grabbed us by the lapels and made us care — the Braves did it in 1991, and the Falcons did it with Michael Vick — but that’s the job of the team. It’s not on us.
So a team has to be a championship contender (or even worse, a champion) for Atlanta to give a rip? I got that right?
That more folks haven’t turned up to see the Thrashers lose doesn’t make us lousy civic stewards. Gary Bettman might not be happy with us, but he has to admit we’re savvy shoppers.
SPIN, all of it. You all aren’t savvy shoppers, you’re all front runners who even when you have a team to bandwagon with, the Falcons currently, you don’t even do that great a job of it.
Bradley essentially asks a two-part question here: Is Atlanta a lousy pro sports town and/or is Atlanta a lousy college sports town?
And Bradley hackedly throws in Georgia Tech and their 50-something thousand seat stadium on the side of 14 lanes of interstate and selling out (I guess? He doesn’t really mention their attendance) 7 games a year as some proof that Atlanta cares about sports. That and that thousands of alumni leave town every Saturday in the Fall to spend money on their alma maters (and spend money out of state/city for whats it worth) as yet more proof that Atlanta is a viable sports town. I think you, me and even Mark Bradley knows that just isn’t the case. Pro sports, college sports… who in Atlanta really gives a shit? (Happy Gilmore’d)
Atlanta isn’t a lousy sports town; its a miserable one.