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On bandwagon fans

From MLive's Patrick Hayes:

Anyone who has watched a Pistons home game this year has surely noticed the empty seats at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

I have no real data for this post, just a feeling that I've long had: Do the Pistons have an inordinate number of bandwagon fans compared to other pro teams in the state?

I mean, the reason being given for down attendance everywhere is the economy, which is certainly a factor, I'm not discounting that. Others have pointed out that Hi-Def TVs also play a role, it's much more comfortable to watch a game at home. [...]

Then last year, when the team stumbled and had a bad season (by their standards) for the first time in years, the place quickly became empty again, even during playoff games, and that's held through the start of this season despite new exciting players and a solid start.

Does the perception that the team is no longer elite make it a less desirable social outing? I mean, it's certainly not because the team isn't trying hard to sell tickets ... all the players even signed autographs in a special session after last Sunday's game and there seem to be a many more promotions than ever.

I really enjoy reading Hayes (and if you're a knowledgeable Pistons fan, you should, too), but you absolutely can't overstate the economy. If you live in Michigan -- a state that continues to lead the nation in unemployment -- you've either lost your job or you're worried you might. There's no middle ground.

With that in mind, "discretionary income" is a fallacy -- every frivolous purchase comes with a tinge of guilt. So when it comes to how that money is spent, I can't blame anyone for opting for something that offers more lasting (and guaranteed) enjoyment than a ball game.

Case in point: Buy a lower bowl ticket (and parking, and beer, and food) for a game and enjoy yourself for two hours (assuming, of course, the game stays competitive that long)? Or stay home, buy NBA 2K10 and get an entire season of enjoyment playing video games for about half the price? Memories are nice, but paying to see a non-playoff game against a non-playoff-caliber opponent on a weekday night is a tough sell, especially once you're talking about full-sized families instead of a two-person date night.

This might sound sacrilege to some, and it certainly doesn't apply to all (I promise you, when I was a basketball-starved pre-teen who could count on one hand the number of games I'd seen live, I would have traded anything for a chance to sit in the good seats for a game, even if I was watching Cadillac Anderson and Oliver Miller instead of Isiah Thomas and Vinnie Johnson), but it likely applies to most.

Of course, that value proposition has always existed; it's obviously not just about getting the most time out of your entertainment dollar or the Palace would never sell out. Consider this a rebuilding year not only for the talent on the court but also the confidence among fans. If you're reading this site, you're among the hardest of the hard-core of Pistons fans -- and I'm willing to wager even you have no idea from one game to the next if the Pistons will even make the playoffs, let alone make any noise once they get there.

It can actually be a fun process -- starting from scratch, taking nothing for granted and re-evaluating everybody -- so long as the only thing you're investing is time on the couch. Everyone agrees that expectations have been lowered, but unfortunately, expectations go a long way in convincing people to buy tickets. If I'm willing to spend a hundred bucks or two without having a damn good idea I'm going to go home happy (ie, win or lose, will the game at least be competitive?), well, I may as well take that dough to the casino where I'll at least have a chance to win some back.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not telling people to stay home or boycott the team until the playoffs -- I'm just saying I don't begrudge the fans who are cautious, who have decided they'd rather pocket that money for the time being, who'd rather spend their game nights watching on TV or a bootlegged internet stream while analyzing every play with their DBB brethren in a game thread. When the team deserves the attention, truly deserves it, the fans will turn out to watch it live. And that doesn't make them bandwagon fans, just realistic ones.