There’s a press release getting play here and there trumpeting a magical “index” of Sports Fan Loyalty, the kind of thing that comes around on the eve of a new season. It also tends to lunge at the native lingo by suggesting “it’s critical that team marketers do accurate scouting regarding the strategic ball they intend to pitch to fans,” as if anybody in baseball or the world has ever spoken like that. Nomenclature notwithstanding, this index claims to offer a handle on why fans are loyal to whatever degree they are to their team. Three of the four factors boil down to, essentially, “a team needs to win a lot and triumph noisily enough in order to sate a disproportionate share of frontrunners in its standard metropolitan statistical area.” In other news, the sun is coming up in the east tomorrow.
Yet the fourth factor cited in the release is one I find legitimately interesting.
History and Tradition: “[Are] the game and the team part of the fans’ and community rituals, institutions and beliefs?”
The biggest slice of the press release’s pie chart — 35% — is devoted to History and Tradition, implying that nothing could be more important in this particular scheme of things. Even if you put aside the unlikelihood that sports fan loyalty can be accounted for so neatly and accurately, it would figure intuitively that if you’re talking about the state of being loyal, you’d need something abiding to be loyal to. That, in turn, would seem to jibe with how deeply a given team and the sport it plays have burrowed into the local bloodstream.
And the M-E-T-S of New York town? They rank 26th of 30 MLB teams in engendering fan loyalty by this study’s standards and methodology, though I’m not sure if that’s supposed to mean Mets fans are to be considered the 26th most loyal in Major League Baseball, ahead of only the Mariners, Pirates, Royals and Astros. Since the company putting out this release wants to offer its services to sports franchises (so as to share the proprietary secrets of pitching better strategic ball, presumably), I’d say the fault lies not in ourselves, but in our star-devoid team, along with its implied failure to weave itself effectively into the indigenous culture.
Because if there’s one thing an actual as opposed to theoretical Mets fan is, it’s bleeping loyal. There may not be as many of us in and around New York as there were when the Mets won more consistently than they lost, but don’t imply that our “base” or “core” hasn’t outperformed the product it’s been sold these past several years.
The press release claims its index measures “intensity” of fan support. Well, who’s more intense than us? Who gets more wrapped up in this stuff than we do? The release invokes “emotional drivers” — who gets more emotional than a Mets fan? This identity isn’t based on quantitative factors like championships, playoff appearances and reflected glory. We love the Mets because we love the Mets. I wouldn’t call our love unquestioning, given that we are a relentlessly inquisitive bunch, but I would call Mets fan loyalty unshakable at its core and at its base. It will be on vivid display in a hundred different ways one week from today inside and outside a ballpark in Flushing, but all ya gotta do, really, is visit a hundred different sites, blogs and feeds to see it in action right this very minute.
(I can’t speak to the frontrunners among Mets fans. Given the prevailing competitive conditions, I haven’t seen too many in our ranks lately.)
It’s not us saddling you with a bad-looking grade in this press release, dear Mets organization. It’s you. We’re the history and tradition unto ourselves because we’ve had to be. On some counts you’ve caught up with us, but only after you allowed your brand equity to fade into the woodwork, rejecting too much history and too many traditions for too long. You’ve brought back some cherished iconography but only after you hid it away or forgot about it completely. It was we who questioned you and reminded you like it mattered to us…which it did. I’m glad you responded. I’m sorry you needed the nudge.
In the wake of the just-announced departure of Dave Howard (on whose watch certain traditions disappeared but, thankfully, later re-emerged), the Mets should soon name a new head of business operations. I hope that person — as well as the ownership to which he or she reports — views Mets history and Mets tradition as a living, going priority, not merely a box to be perfunctorily checked once in a while. Ya do that, ya get ticket prices in line and ya keep cultivating that young pitching, I’d say we’re a good bet to rise out of the bottom five any year now.