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Theories on Bandwagon Fans

Patrick Hayes of MLIVE brought up a very interesting question the other day: Do the Pistons suffer from bandwagon-ism worse than any team in Detroit? This stems from the extremely sparse crowds at the Palace thus far this season. Just nine months ago, the Pistons were in the middle of a franchise record, 259 games, sell-out streak.

Matt Watson at DBB responded to this piece saying you can't overstate the importance of the economy and where people would rather put their money. I wanted to comment on both, but figured I'd save it for a full post since my response is somewhat lengthy. Bandwagon fans is something that always gets under my skin, more than anything else, so I wanted to talk about it and see what you think. After the jump.

Here's my take on the four major sports in Detroit: The Lions selling out for all those years despite not being any good is tough to put a finger on, but it's most likely because they only play once a week. Now it seems people are rebelling and flat-out sick of the losing, plus the economy in Michigan is especially woeful. Before 2006, the Tigers couldn't sell out a game unless it was Opening Day, a weekend match up on a nice day, and/or against a popular opponent. The Pistons' sell-out streak didn't start until the middle of 2004 when they were on the road to a 'ship. It ended in the middle of the "down year" last season. The Red Wings attendance, meanwhile, has been very steady over the past 20-years. In all sports, attendance is usually announced as being higher, sometimes a lot higher, than the actual turnout. This kind of validates Matt's points that fans are more likely to attend a game where there is a great chance of being entertained and seeing their home team win.

I don't think attendance is the only place we should be looking when trying to decide who are the bandwagon fans, though. I think it's a sign, but it's so tough to gauge given all the variables, most of which Matt brings up in his post. In this day and age, it can be surprisingly easier to see who the bandwagon fans are via technology. I remember in 2006 how many friends I never knew even liked the Tigers were all of a sudden putting up "Let's go Tigers" Facebook statuses, or messages of that nature.

Now that I have this blog, I notice a strong difference in page views on nights and the days following the Pistons losses (less), wins (more), and when big transactions occur (usually more). The non-bandwagon fans are the ones who come back daily no matter what happens.

Brgulker on DBB commented about how no matter what the state of the Pistons is, he'll always make comments and weigh in with his thoughts. I don't think that's true for bandwagon fans, although you can also get a feel for the fairweather fans by the type of comments they post; i.e., overtly negative remarks when things are bad and "OMG this team is awesome" when times are good. I'm also starting to see signs of it in the way fans tweet on Twitter.

Another commenter on DBB, Matt M, made a good point about geography, too. Detroit for a lot of people might be closer than the Palace, which is in Auburn Hills. Personally, I'm in Atlanta for law school. I pride myself on being a die-hard Detroit sports fan and, obviously, geography restricts me from attending as many Detroit games as I'd like. I used to attend double-digit games for the Tigers and a handful of Red Wings, Pistons, and Lions games each year I was home. Now, I just try to catch any game I can, which is few-to-none. I'm sure there are plenty of die-hard Detroit fans who have the same problem, whether they were forced out of Detroit due to the economy or merely chose to do so for other reasons. This is another reason why low attendance is tough to automatically pinpoint that people are bandwagoning.

Of course, "bandwagon-ism" exists and that's just the reality of some teams' fans, or people who pretend they are fans. Sometimes it's as clear as day and other times it's blurry. It's pretty clear when a long time friend never had a Pistons t-shirt until 2004 or Tigers t-shirt until 2006. Someone I knew had never been to a Tigers game before 2006! It can get to the point where you just shake your head and let them be. It's a sad reality and it's tough to really wrap my head around.

What do you think?