Saturday, May 09, 2009

I Swear, this was not Going to be a Rant about ESPN when I Started Writing

In this morning's edition of the AJC, Christian Boone tackles the oft-discussed question of why so many Atlantans root for non-local teams. This subject has been tackled repeatedly in a number of outlets, including this one. Because the story is coming from a local source as opposed to Michael Wilbon or Bill Simmons, I'm not going to be defensive, but let's take a look at the evidence anyway:

1. LeBron and Kobe jerseys are bigger sellers than any Hawks jerseys. This would have the be a function of: (1) the NBA marketing players as opposed to teams; and (2) the fact that the Hawks don't have an especially good track record of producing teams that have even come close to winning a championship (hence the stat that until last Sunday, the Hawks had not won a seven-game series since the 70s). I'd imagine that LeBron and Kobe jerseys sell well in other NBA cities, but point taken.

2. There are a lot of Cowboys, Steelers, Yankees, and Red Sox fans in the stands when those teams come to town. Boone tries to address the argument that the city is full of transplants, but does so a little weakly:

The “everyone who lives here is from somewhere else” rationale has been used to explain Atlanta’s divided sports loyalties for years, and while there’s some truth to it, the numbers don’t add up.

According to the 2000 Census, of those living in Georgia at the time, 46,975 were born in Massachusetts. Roughly 25,000 more hailed from the New England states, where the Red Sox fervor runs just as deep.

So are we to believe one-third of those natives flock to Turner Field whenever Boston invades, or has Atlanta become over-run with front-runners?

It's too simplistic to say that there are 72K people born in New England in the area and therefore that that is the only population that would come to Turner Field for a visit by the Red Sox. Those 72K people are probably not all sterile, raising the possibility that they have offspring. It has been known to happen that offspring will cheer for their parents' favorite teams. Also, looking solely at the metro area is short-sighted because the Braves draw fans from a multi-state region, especially for weekend games as the tilts with the Red Sox always are. Do you think a Nashua, N.H. native living in Birmingham or Greenville isn't going to drive two hours to see the Sox play at the Ted?

That said, I'd be lying if I said that Boone doesn't have a point that there are plenty of people who have no connection to New York or Boston who become fans of the Yankees or Red Sox. We're going to see more and more of this as sports fans turn with increasing frequency to national news sources as opposed to local ones. A city like Atlanta with relatively young teams is going to be especially vulnerable to this phenomenon because the ties between its teams and fans won't be as tight as the bonds in other places. This is what's annoying about ESPN devoting excessive coverage to certain favored teams. If ESPN is going to play a bigger role in shaping rooting preferences, then they have a responsibility not to push those rooting interests to two or three teams in every sport. ESPN would no doubt claim that they are simply giving the viewing/reading/surfing public what they want, but that underrates the WWLIS's impact in shaping those preferences to begin with.

One other problem with Boone's article: any piece about sports preferences in the Atlanta market that doesn't discuss college football is, by nature, incomplete. I recognize that newspaper pieces are subject to strict word count requirements, but an article like this that argues that Atlantans aren't very committed to the home teams ought to address the fact that this market is full of college football fans who support their teams with religious fervor. The major problem that I have with outsiders who criticize Atlanta as a sports town is that they have only one conception for what a good sports town is: a city that is fanatically devoted to its pro sports teams. They don't recognize that there is merit in a market that follows college football more intensely and is full of large fan bases for about ten different programs. Boone's article feeds into that flawed mindset by treating the sale of Hawks jerseys as the measure of this city as a sports mecca.


JR Suicide said...

it should also be noted that the Hawks unis totally suck and what 16 year old kid wants to rock an ugly jersey? when i was a kid i bought an Expos hat because it looked cool, it didn't mean that i wasn't still rooting for the Braves.

PatinDC said...

Compare to the DC area. Everyone here is really from somewhere else. Lots of Loyalty for the home teams, but fervent loyalty for the out of town locals.

I think it is more a phenomonon of the fact that ATL and WAS are growing so much and have such an influx. Also if the local teams are stinkers, less fans will go towards them.

DC wanted a baseball team for 40 year snad finally got one. Just two years in, they stink and so does attendance at the new ball park.

I try and like the NAts, but am still a Braves/FAlons fan at heart.

You are right about the college vs pro aspect. No big college fanbase in DC b/c of the types of local schools, number of imports and a general large distance from major sports school. VA TECH is a 6 hour drive south. It is actually closer to ATL than DC. UVA, well, a unique fan base there. IMHO College sports rock.

chg said...

This is based merely on observation, but a much higher percentage of Atlanta's native born population is demographically prone to support frontrunners.

Anonymous said...

At least Atlanta does it up right for the Thrashers.

Seriously, are people concerned that the Thrashers appear to be a target for relocation?

Caelus said...

I am originally from Michigan and lived in Atlanta during the 70s. Was transferred to Seattle where I lived 26 before I retired and moved back to Georgia and now live on Lake Oconee.

I am a huge Michigan football and basketball fan with U of Washington as my second team. Locally I root for Georgia football and Tech basketball. I live and die with the Braves and am starting to follow the Falcons since Ryan became their QB.

But I wouldn't watch a NBA game to save my life and would love to attend Thrasher games if I didn't mind tossing almost $100 at them every game. If there is a local MSL team, I dont know nor do I care.

Klinsi said...

Another simplistic aspect of the AJC "analysis" is that it assumes a BoSox fan at the Ted is either born in Mass./New England or a bandwagon frontrunner. Modern American geographic mobility is much more complex. Plenty of people fanatically support teams located where they may have only a slight geographic connection. As Michael well knows, even though I've lived in Atlanta for 12 years and follow the Braves faithfully, I still live and die with the Cincinnati Reds and VfB Stuttgart, despite not being born anywhere near Ohio or Germany.