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06 March, 2011

Saying "I Don't" to your team

Next to saying "I do" at your wedding, there may not be
a more sacred vow that you can take than committing your 
fandom to your team. 

Yesterday on Twitter I was asked the following question:

 Ben Mehl 
@ under what circumstances can you drop your local team?

It's a serious question. The importance of fan loyalty has been well documented. Root, root, rooting for the home team, or even just cheering for "the laundry", as noted by Jerry Seinfeld, is serious business.
It's personal. In most cases, very personal.

Some of the most serious arguments that you ever get into are about your team or a player on it. Fans feel an association with their teams that often is tied directly to how they feel about themselves. When your team is winning, you feel good. You have a bounce in your step. When they are losing, times feel a little tougher. You're less likely to don that ball cap or sweatshirt with your team's logo on it. Some fans feel "my team wins, so I'm a winner." Or worse yet, "my team loses, so I'm a loser." Cities like Cleveland and Buffalo seem completely absorbed by their loser labels.
When Forbes put out their list of the Top 5 Most Miserable Sports Cities, some Clevelanders bemoaned to me that they weren't in the top 5. "We can't even win that?!" they asked.
  So making that decision to cut ties is a serious one.
My first thought about it is this: if you do it, don't come crawling back when things get good again.
Don't be the boyfriend who dumped his girlfriend sophomore
year because there were hotter girls out there, or she just wasn't
giving you what you needed, but then comes begging when she
blossoms into a full blown hottie in her junior or senior year.
If you want out, you're out.
 When I was a kid I LOVED Dr. J. He was my idol. I had his
posters, I practiced his moves and I watched all his games with
an awe and love like I had never felt. Hell, I even tried to figure out how to grow an afro.
Because he played for the 76ers, I was a diehard 76er fan.
But something funny happened that I never saw coming.
When Dr. J retired I started to lose interest in the Sixers.
Charles Barkley kept me around a while. I was like the guy
who keeps coming back to his favorite watering hole even
though now it's under new management, they serve as
many wine spritzers as beers and the juke box has been
replaced with a guy on an electric keyboard singing Piano Man.
Once Barkley was traded to Phoenix, I was out.
The league was changing for the worse. My NBA interest, once
as passionate as anyone I knew, was fading faster than the novelty of saying "Winning!"
I was done. I was no longer a 76ers fan.
Something I could have never imagined in the 1980's.
I came back in the early '90s because I was working in Orlando when the Magic were born and I am a fan of theirs now.
I wasn't going to be that fair-weather guy and jump back on the Philly bandwagon.
I was going to take my lumps with the expansion Magic. It was the price I was paying for saying so long to the 76ers.
  As a diehard Mets and Broncos fan, there were similar opportunities to jump ship. As a 10-year old my heart was broken when the Mets traded Tom Seaver. He was my baseball hero. The Mets stunk. There was NO reason to keep supporting the Mets. They turned their back on the fans. Plus, Seaver had gone to the very successful Cincinnati Reds. It would have been easy to follow Tom Terrific to the Big Red Machine. I was only 10. But I didn't.
  The Denver Broncos went to the Super Bowl when I was 10, 21, 22 and 24 years old. They lost those games by a combined score of 163-50. John Elway or no John Elway, if ever there was a time to say, "I CAN"T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!" that was it. But, I stayed with them too. The Mets and Broncos  rewarded me with a World Series and two Super Bowls.
  So if you put a gun to my head, I say no, don't abandon your team. But there are extenuating circumstances that can make it acceptable.
1) Your team leaves town. 
Pretty simple one. If your team uproots and high tails it to some other market, then all is fair in love and war. I'm guessing there aren't a lot of Seattle basketball fans pulling for the Thunder these days. Conversely, you live in a town without a team and root for another, like an Oklahoma City resident rooting for the Bulls. If all of a sudden a pro team lands in your town, I think it's ok to jump on board.
2) Your favorite player is traded/retires/leaves for free agency.
I can't blame someone if they had a guy they just loved and then that guy is shipped off or even leaves as a free agent. I'm sure there are youngish fans in Cleveland who lost their sports idol virginity to LeBron and took their emotional talents to South Beach when LeBron left.
Imagine if Jeter had left the Yankees in 2001. I'm sure there would have been a portion of fans who would have taken their loyalties to whatever team he went to (unless it was the Mets or Red Sox.)
3) Your owners show no interest in making your team better. 
I sat in on two panels this weekend at the Sloan Sports Conference in Boston, both of which featured owners of teams as featured speakers. The message that kept coming back from them was this: it's important to reward your fans with a good product. It's important to make the game experience one they will fully enjoy. It's important to show your fans you are committed to trying to win a championship.
  If it becomes evident that is not your owner's agenda, then I can't blame someone for getting so frustrated they want out.

  In truth, I still can't see myself ever abandoning my teams.
Even though I bailed on the 76ers, that was more an indictment on the league combined with the retirement of Dr. J.
  So when a Mets fan wants to know if it's ok to kick his team to the curb, I say this; Hang in there.
Last year I didn't go to a single Mets game. In my mind, I felt taking my boys to a game and putting $200+ in the Wilpon's coffers was rewarding their incompetence. I watched the games on TV. I hoped they would win games and got upset when they lost. That's how you can show your frustration. That's how you can say "I'm not enjoying this relationship." It may not be terribly satisfying, but it's better than giving up.
The true test will come if the Mets hold a fire sale like Joel Sherman suggested in today's Post. If next year Beltran, Reyes, Santana, K-Rod, Bay and yes, even David Wright, are all gone, will you stay too? It would probably be the most severe test of a Mets fans loyalty since the Seaver deal.
  The other issue is, if not the Mets, then who? Last year I jumped on the Rockies bandwagon in September because I admired their style of play. But it wasn't the same. Plus, I have all this Mets stuff. T-shirts, hats, pullovers, posters, autographed pictures, ties, game worn jerseys, bobbleheads and so much more. I can't just put it all in a box and leave it at the end of my driveway for someone to come along and take away. I've been in this relationship for 38 years. It's been a volatile mix of good and bad. When it's good, wow do I love it. And even when it's bad, it's still kind of fun.
  So I'm suggesting you hang in there. I mean, ask Rays fans where they were in 2004 when their owner was more looney toons than Bugs Bunny and their team was a the laughing stock of the league. Or ask Rangers and Giants fans how they were feeling about their clubs 3 or 4 years ago.
  Go if you must. It's a personal decision. It's a really tough decision. But if the Mets get off to a good start and Bay and Wright are sockin' those home runs over the wall and Santana's rehab is progressing nicely, don't come tweeting back to me asking for forgiveness.

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