This series will take a look at the ever growing perception of the exaggerated "problem" of Colts' fanhood. Specifically that the Colts' fan base is fair-weather and weak when compared to similar markets such as Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and Kansas City. While I find the outcry over the slightly lower rate of season ticket renewals to be very exaggerated (and way offbase), it's impossible to argue that the Colts' fan base is comparable to the near-rabid fans of the Packers, Steelers, or Chiefs. So, over these pieces, we'll be connecting these franchises, finding their similarities and differences in how their fan bases grew to what they are today, and figure out how the Colts and their fans can emulate that.
So far in this series, we've covered two important steps in growing a consistent, passionate fanbase.
First, we discussed the importance of a strong winning period that "hooks" local, national, and international fans into the team. The Colts have accomplished that step by having a decade of dominance with recognizable faces and a championship win.
Second, we examined the importance to outperform (or at least keep pace with) other professional teams in the area, so as to keep fans' attentions despite other options. The Colts have been largely successful at this so far, but the next five years will be interesting to watch, with the Pacers growing stronger, and the Colts in a rebuilding period.
Today we look at a part that is a less related to what the Colts do on the field, but what they and their fans do off the field. The key word here?
The customization is two fold.
1. The Colts' must customize their franchise so it embodies the city and state in a way that local fans (and displaced fans) can connect to.
As readers ECB, AJ_, and buymymonkey pointed out in the comments of the previous installment, the Colts' reputation as employing "good guys" has been extremely valuable in connecting with Hoosiers, and fans around the country.
Just as the Steelers tough, hard-nosed teams paralleled the rough industrial economy of Pittsburgh, or the old Green Bay Packers' teams could handle cold just like any native Wisconsinite, so the Colts' must find a way to personally connect with Hoosiers, to create a link between the two.
The easiest way, it seems, is to aim at the good-natured, down-to-earth, respectable natures stereotypical to Hoosiers. By employing "good guys" like Tony Dungy, Gary Brackett, Jeff Saturday, Peyton Manning, and Reggie Wayne, the Colts have done that quite well over the last 10 years. This, in my opinion, is one of the key reasons why the state has embraced them so thoroughly: while Hoosiers, like any fans, enjoy winning, they enjoy it a lot more if it is done "the right way."
Humbly, with class, and legally.
Hoosiers balk at loud mouths, braggarts, and distractions, while respecting the quietly efficient, humble winners. The Grigson era-Colts would do well to attempt to build off of that, keeping a link between the team and the Midwestern people.
Of course, this doesn't mean that the team has to be all choir boys and quiet, low-key players. In fact, a healthy mix of personalities would be just perfect.
However, the cornerstone guys, the new Saturday's, Clark's, Manning's, and Brackett's must be respectable. They need to be the kind of guys who won't say controversial things, get in trouble with the law, or things that would embarrass the club in general. With Andrew Luck being picked first overall, it seems the Colts are headed in the right direction.
When it comes to coaching, Chuck Pagano is a different kind of coach than Dungy and Jim Caldwell have been. But, in a good way. Pagano isn't Rex Ryan or Jim Harbaugh, but he still gives off a fun personality and more willingness to open up in interviews and press conferences. That will be interesting to follow the longer Pagano is head coach.
2. The Colts and their fans must create something unique about the experience in Indianapolis that creates a sense of unity and excitement for home games.
Every great fanbase has a shtick. Something that is uniquely theirs that not only gets fans excited but gets players excited as well.
Sure, being loud is important. Great fanbases know how to create a home field advantage due to noise, just as the Colts have done over the last decade, especially in the old RCA Dome. Heck, look at the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had a massive home court advantage throughout the playoffs due to their terrific crowd. But, every fanbase wants to be loud. That's pretty generic. In order to get to the point where fans are united as one, a unique home field feature can often be inspiring for fans and players.
The Steelers have the Terrible Towel. The Packers have the Lambeau Leap and cheese-heads. The Chiefs have their infamous Sea of Red, as well as the altered ending to the National Anthem. Even those famous Thunder fans, who grew in recognition due to their decibel levels, had those bright blue shirts that flooded the stadium every game.
But what do the Colts have? What can we have? What can make going to a game in Indianapolis unique? Thoughts?
Two attributes Indiana fans tend to value very highly are hard work and playing smart. Think of our biggest heroes here: Peyton Manning, Larry Bird, A.J. Foyt. It was a theme of the "Hoosiers" movie. Look at the enthusiasm for Butler's recent NCAA runs. Even Bobby Knight, though his national reputation was a chair-throwing bully, was loved locally because his teams always played great fundamental basketball & had high graduation rates. I sense that Irsay recognizes that and is bringing in people who will develop that kind of team. Andrew Luck so far seems to exemplify those values.
I, for one, have always found the Chiefs changing the end of the National Anthem to be disrespectful.
We are the land of the free because of the brave, and to omit them so that you can insert the name of your favorite sports team, IMHO, seems like a smack in the face to all the men and women who have made the necessary sacrifices for our country. It could be just me, maybe I'm a bit too sensitive on that.
Secondly, any type of shtick needs to develop naturally, or it won't work. Sure, marketing minds can get together and come up with something they think will work, but utimately it comes down to the fans.
Anybody else still have the "Touchdown Monkey" sticker on their car? Anyone?
@kc6624 I agree. I remember when the Chiefs came to town for the playoffs. They did their "home of the Chiefs" thing in our house and it pissed me right the f*** off! It's one thing to disrespect the national anthem, even more disrespectful to do it in someone else house!
But we spanked their butts and went on to win the super bowl!
@kc6624 I agree with the National Anthem. Some things necessarily must be left alone. If they want a song, find another. The Bengals have their "Welcome to the Jungle" that seems to work for them.
Re, Schtick: Honestly, I wouldn't worry about it. Those things develop organically, and must never be forced. And even if they don't develop on their own... well, look at examples of "No Schtick" (*grin*) venues: Indiana University basketball at Assembly Hall has got to be one of the most generic setups and seating arrangements possible with frills straight from the 50's: A pep band, standard cheerleading squads, etc. There's no schtick there either (I would never, ever stoop to calling all the banners hanging "schticks") but it's still a rather enjoyable experience in a very identifiable venue, despite the generic setup. The point I'm making is that we shouldn't have to worry about any such schtick. The real draw that made the Colts unique during the Manning era was Peyton being a maestro on the field. Just wait for the game day personality to develop on its own. There needs not be anything else to make the Colts unique other than the horseshoe on the helmets. Anything else is gravy.
This is a good concept, but I believe this needs to stem from the general make up of the team & it's personalilty. We will need to see more from the Coach & players regarding how this team will be structured and play. If it is more aggressive, then the fans can & will pick up on that. This topic may have to wait for the season to start to further it along.
I know now almost all fan bases do it... but didn't Colts fans take the whole "jersey wearing" thing to new heights... with virtually every one in attendance at home games in a Colts jersey?
the "first down" and arm motion that was happening a couple years back when i was still a season ticket holder was pretty fun to watch develop. a soccer-style crowd chant, or series of songs/chants, would be outstanding. of course, for as long as 87's catching bombs, we'll also have the Reggie, Reggie chant...guess they need to draft another skill position player named Reggie to allow the torch to pass from Miller to Wayne and to...whom?
As much as I like the idea that the Colts are a humble and classy team, there are times when I wish the team had just a bit more attitude. Play with aggression (at a respectable level of course)
I think the Colts need some kind of chant that the fans could scream in unison, signifying that "This is our house!" I don't know what that chant would be yet. But whenever I watch a game from some of the other teams and they have that "thing" that they do in the stands, I tend to get a bit jealous.
Whatever it is, the Colts need that. If I get any ideas as to what, I will get back with you.
@workingdan Of course, the idea that a team is humble and classy can only be taken so far. If you're losing or getting pushed around, people get tired of it. It's a fine line.
@Kyle Rodriguez A team full of classy bad-asses! Like a bunch of Ray Lewis types! Be mean, play aggressive, while maintaining the integrity of the sport!