One of the topics that has become hot this weekend with all dirt that Chris Perez stirred up this is that Cleveland sports fans are hypocrites. As we all know this fan base sells out Browns stadium year-in and year-out1 with an ownership group that has been almost 100% inept in winning football games since 1999. By comparison the Indians have done far better in their standings and certainly playoff appearances. There is no denying that. So the thought then is that Cleveland sports fans are hypocrites for supporting the Browns while not selling enough tickets for the Indians to be above last place in attendance in the major leagues when they’re also first place in their division. While that seems to make some sense on the surface, I find it to be a red herring.
It made me think of Best Buy. I have been fascinated by Best Buy and their downfall for a lot of the last year. I invested a little bit in them after a bad quarter of sales thinking I could make some money on the stock. It seemed to me that Circuit City dying could only help them and they were sure to turn it around quickly. I quickly learned otherwise, and sold the stock when I heard some scary things from company management. Best Buy was failing as an electronics retailer. There are lots of complaints about them and their business model, but the one thing that kept coming up was that they were angry with Amazon.com customers using Best Buy as a showroom so they could then order products online. They were also clamoring for a fair deal with regard to local sales tax which Amazon skirts in many states due to aging catalog rules. When I heard this, I instantly though, “Uh oh.” Thank goodness the Indians brass hasn’t said anything like this, but it is still troubling to hear it out of the fan base in Cleveland.
So, what does electronics retailing have to do with the Indians and the Browns? Let’s say the Indians are your local neighborhood Best Buy. The Browns are a division of Amazon.com, albeit not a very good one. The Indians franchise is run pretty well for a Best Buy, but they are a franchise store in a business that is far from thriving and faces struggles. The Browns aren’t the best division of Amazon, but they’re part of a larger company that people flock to.
The Indians can’t seem to get people to flock to them no matter how successfully they seem to take care of their business. To me, that means that the problems run much deeper. Certainly they run much deeper than to call Cleveland sports fans hypocrites for how they choose to value their entertainment dollars on an annual basis. Calling out Browns fans for loving NFL football enough to continue to pay for losing is not a good attempt to fix MLB / Cleveland Indians problems with the apparent value proposition presented by their tickets.
That value proposition, in the end, is what drives everything. For all the variables and factors flying around, Clevelanders are finding MLB / Indians tickets to be a much less attractive option. There is no “should” in business when it comes to customers. The Indians are in first place and fans “should” be flocking to the Jake. If they’re not then these are the appropriate questions. What are we doing wrong? What have we done wrong in the past? What can we do better? What should we do to turn this around? Is it the Dolans, Bud Selig, MLB as a whole, free agency, luck, weather, marketing, P.R., and competing alternatives? What can we do to overcome that?
Anything else pointed at the Browns and their lack of success with Randy Lerner at the helm is mis-direction and irrelevant with regard to the Indians. All it would do is further alienate potential customers that the Indians so desperately want to pull into the park this summer. That’s what was so troubling about Chris Perez’ statements this weekend, by the way. When it comes to the booing complaints, I can’t disagree with Perez. But really, telling Indians fans that they’re responsible for free agents not wanting to come to Cleveland in baseball is pure alienation and comes from a place of anger, not honesty.
In the end, honesty and common ground is what we should all shoot for. So let’s skip the false angles that seem like salient points, but really just distract from the issues at hand.
1 Some sell-outs were aided over the years, but the fact remains that these pitiful Browns teams have never been blacked out on local television since 1999.