Whenever fans look at how teams can get better, they consider what superstar players they can get or what new head coach they can hire. But if you watch any NFL game, it can never be underestimated just how big the impact fans can have on any game.
The shouting from fans can distract a basketball player from making a free throw, throw an offensive lineman offside or run onto a baseball field completely naked. In the same way, the attitudes of fans can have a dramatic impact on the success of a team.
Well that depends on what kinds of fans you have. What kinds of fans are needed to win a championship? What kinds of fans does Cleveland have? What kind of fan are you?
(1) Fair-Weather Fan: Every team has these and every hardcore fan hates these types of fans. Being labeled one of these is like a curse. For those who do not know, these are the fans that cheer for their team in the good times and split and lose interest during the rough times.
A perfect example is with the Cleveland Indians of the 90’s. The success of the Indians led to 455 straight sell-outs between June 1995 and April 2001. In three of those years all home games were sold out before Opening Day. Compared to the old Municipal Stadium, where you could walk in five minutes before a game started and sit anywhere you wanted, this was amazing.
Anyone remember the old cartoon at the old Municipal motivating the crowd to cheer by ramming the empty seats down on each side of you? That was only 1993. How did the stadium go from that to six straight years of sell-outs? Well, fair-weather fans came out in great numbers when the Indians were winning and then left by 2001, when they shed payroll and began to lose once again.
Let's fast forward to 2010 and the Indians have the lowest attendance in baseball. So what kind of effect do fair weather fans have other than annoy hardcore fans? Money and lots of it.
Especially in baseball, but also in other sports, they influence the payroll drastically and any businesses around it. It’s the never-ending cycle: team loses, fans don’t come and when fans don’t come, team continues to lose.
PROBLEM: Who motivates the team to win when fans don’t come?
(2) Hardcore Fan: Before you yell out, “This is me!” Remember that there are good sides and bad to this type of fan too. The good are obvious. Their loyalty is unmatched and they may as well have gotten married to their team. They will stick to the team through thick and thin. These are the sparse fans you see going to a Cavaliers game in the middle of the 15-game losing streak or the last game of a Browns season after they have already gone 5-10.
These are also the fans that predicted the Indians to be in first place, the Cavaliers to make the playoffs, and the Browns to go 10-6 this year. They were great sentiments, many of which are echoed through the fair-weather fans.
Well, that is until one month into the season, when the reality of the situation sets in. Anything wrong with this? Of course not, for the individual fan! But what if the fans as a whole are like this?
That is a major problem. When fans believe these teams have no need to actually improve. The Browns can go 2-14 one year and 4-12 the next, and these fans will be ecstatic and expect playoffs. Then when “surprisingly,” the Browns fail to reach the playoffs, they fire their head coach, rehash many players and these fans believe the team is Super Bowl-worthy.
Do you remember ranting of the Pro Bowl greatness of Tim Couch in 1999? Kelly Holcomb in 2003? Jeff Garcia in 2004? Charlie Frye in 2006? Derek Anderson in 2007? Brady Quinn in 2008? These are the same fans raving about the greatness of Colt McCoy in 2010.
PROBLEM: Who drives the team to win?
(3) Realistic Fan: This is the most difficult and rarest of fans. These are the ones who watch the team for the love of the team, even though they know the team will lose. They buy season tickets admitting that the team is horrible. They watch the team fully knowing that the team will lose by at least 20.
But nonetheless, they watch anyway.
They will be called traitors, hopeless, down on the team. They will be laughed at, teamed up on by other fans. But when the game is played and the season is over, these fans are the ones who are right. Why is it important to have fans like these? These are the fans that pull teams out of the gutter and make them win.
Great examples of these fans are owners Mark Cuban and the late George Steinbrenner.
Before Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, the team only won 40 percent of its games. In the last 10 years, although they have not gotten the championship ring, they have gone to the playoffs every year since, building a winning culture. Nonetheless, Cuban is commonly reviled by many for being that dedicated realistic fan.
Steinbrenner, who was born and raised in northeast Ohio, attempted to buy the Indians, but was rejected. He took a then-fledgling Yankees team and turned them into champion-caliber team for many years. Again reviled by many fans, he refused to accept losing.
When many other teams were satisfied with a second place finish, he commonly dismantled the team.
When fans are realistic they do not accept another mediocre player when a great player is needed.
These are the fans that can drive a team to become a true championship contender.
Which fan are you? Have you seen each of these fans?