Give San Diego Sports Fans What They Want: an Anchor

Give San Diego Sports Fans What They Want: an Anchor

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Around the time the Chargers were using threats to sell tickets to their Monday Night Football game against the Indianapolis Colts, I got into a Twitter debate about San Diego’s sports fans. This is not a rare occurrence. What is rare is that I walked away from the debate feeling like I had solved a riddle. Allow me to explain.

John Gennaro on SportsFor years, many have tried to find reasons for the poor attendance at Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park. There were the easy answers, such as the fans hating the coach, or the team not having star players on the roster, but those are easily dismissed. Plenty of fan bases sell out game after game for a bad team with a worse coach, such as Romeo Crennel’s Kansas City Chiefs, or the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies.

How about the theory that there is so much to do in San Diego that not as many people will choose to go to games? Well, the sunny beaches probably don’t have much to do with the Padres having 30,000 empty seats on a Wednesday night, and they didn’t have much to do with the Chargers’ inability to sell out the game against the Colts. Also, the other side of that theory is that fans flock to games in areas where there isn’t much else to do. But that doesn’t explain why the Kansas City Royals and Buffalo Bills rank among the worst in their respective leagues in percentage of tickets sold to their games.

I know why the fans aren’t filling up the stadiums in San Diego, and I can thank a random tweet for giving me the best term to describe it. San Diego sports fans need emotional anchors. An emotional anchor is a memory, not just of a night but the experiences of an entire season or longer, that continually brings them back to their favorite teams. Something that won’t let them move on.

I could never love another baseball team, because no baseball team would ever be able to give to me what the 1998 San Diego Padres gave to me. Not knowing much about sports, my father purchased season tickets for him and I, and I learned what the game meant every night. I learned how to play center field by watching Steve Finley. I learned how to hit from Tony Gwynn, and how to hit home runs from Greg Vaughn. I learned how infectious good pitching can be from Kevin Brown. I learned that Jim Leyritz is magic. I learned, from Ken Caminiti, how to make each play and play each game as if it was your last.

I’ll never forget the night the Padres clinched the division against the Dodgers, with 60,000-plus fans swinging their free T-shirts in unison. I’ll always remember the hot chocolate and the cookies my dad bought from the concession stand for me on cold nights. I learned what heartbreak was for the first time by watching the New York Yankees celebrate their World Series victory on the field in front of me.

While I didn’t go to church much during my teenage years, I had my own Sunday tradition. Surrounded by my dad, my uncles and my grandfather, watching a small TV in my grandparents’ living room, I learned how to love a bunch of losers. I watched a rookie running back turn into a Hall of Famer right before my very eyes. I saw a basketball player trying to play tight end, eventually becoming one of the most skilled players to ever play the position. I cheered on the Chargers for 16 weeks while they finished 1-15. A few years later, I flew across the country to make sure I was with my family to watch as San Diego narrowly missed going back to the Super Bowl.

These are the emotional anchors that will forever tie me to these franchises. These are the bonds that take a person from a casual fan of a sports franchise to a diehard fan, someone who will support the team through all of the ups and downs for the rest of their life. These types of memories are the ones that fill the seats when the team isn’t winning games.

The Padres can change their colors, they can move the fences and they can buy free agents, but they’re not going to turn this generation of casual fans into the die-hard fans that every team needs until they can get to the playoffs and win a playoff series. The Chargers bought some goodwill from the fans by firing A.J. Smith and Norv Turner, and replacing them with the amiable Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy, but those fans haven’t had an emotional anchor to bring them back to the team in five years. For fans of the Padres, it’s been 15 years.

It’s not up to San Diego sports fans to start supporting their team. They don’t have much reason to. What drives the best sports fans is their hearts, and the anchors attached to them. Unfortunately for the Chargers and Padres, the anchors of their franchise seem to be nothing but a distant memory.

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John Gennaro

John Gennaro

I'm John Gennaro, contributor to Active Voice and managing editor of Bolts from the Blue. You can tweet me @john_gennaro or email me directly at boltsfromtheblue@gmail.com.

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28 comments
Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Doug, San Francisco is a pretty good sports town. Candlestick was a poor location for baseball. The winds there are horrific. The new location is terrific. There's a lot to be said for a ballpark you can reach easily on public transit, and after the game there's plenty of places to party afterward, which 'Frisco is also good at. Wrigley Field is another great spot. Hasn't worked yet for Petco, though. Here you need a winning team to draw.

David Benz
David Benz

I don't think you can compare the Padres problems with the Chargers problems. MLB is structured so the small market teams, like the Padres, have very little chance to compete. The NFL is structured as an even playing field with revenue sharing and a salary cap. It's amazing that the Padres have been to 2 World Series while the Charges have only been to one Super Bowl while being the older franchise. The Chargers have had two incompetent ownership groups since Hilton sold in 1966. The Spanos family are cancers to San Diego, their only interests are to bleed San Diego to death. My first game was in 1964, I'm a native, and I will never go to another Chargers game as long as the Spanos family owns the team. I hope they sell or leave San Diego because I will not support their horrible greedy family who are leaches padding their pockets with welfare for billionaires.

David Benz
David Benz subscriber

I don't think you can compare the Padres problems with the Chargers problems. MLB is structured so the small market teams, like the Padres, have very little chance to compete. The NFL is structured as an even playing field with revenue sharing and a salary cap. It's amazing that the Padres have been to 2 World Series while the Charges have only been to one Super Bowl while being the older franchise. The Chargers have had two incompetent ownership groups since Hilton sold in 1966. The Spanos family are cancers to San Diego, their only interests are to bleed San Diego to death. My first game was in 1964, I'm a native, and I will never go to another Chargers game as long as the Spanos family owns the team. I hope they sell or leave San Diego because I will not support their horrible greedy family who are leaches padding their pockets with welfare for billionaires.

David Benz
David Benz subscriber

The new Padres ownership had a ton of giveaways in 2013. Many more than what we got under Moores.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Rivers is a classless act. When things don't go his way he cries and blames everyone but himself. He has the skills, but he just isn't good enough inside, where it really counts, to be a real champion. Even if someday all the other teams collect enough injuries for the Chargers to win a superbowl against a third string competition, Rivers will still be a crybaby. BTW, must be something that Spanos likes about the Broncos, now if the new head coach can just get rid of Rivers and get a decent team captain on teh field, one with a little class, the Chargers might graduate up from "Also showed up".

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

Although I largely subscribe to the “too many competing attractions” idea, the track record of both franchises is of poor ownership and dumping popular players. Basically, the product isn’t very good. With the Pads, when their stars get to the place where they can command big bucks, they’re outta here. Jake Peavy, Adrian Gonzalez, Trevor Hoffman, etc. Do you think Tony Gwynn would have played his entire career here if he’d demanded what he was worth? John Moores who, in the opinion of one local sports writer “saved baseball in San Diego”, just wouldn’t pay his good players for fear that he wouldn’t get his money’s worth, meanwhile building a bureaucratic monstrosity in the front office. The result is a nice, new, centrally located half empty stadium most of the time. The Pads are nothing but a farm team for “larger market” teams while places like Oakland, Saint Louis and Milwaukee produce contenders most of the time. The farm system has consistently been a joke. Until quite recently, they haven’t cultivated Latino talent. The new ownership looks better and maybe, at last, we’ll get and keep some players. The Chargers’ ownership has been so obsessed with getting the public to buy them a new stadium they’ve neglected the team, keeping obviously incompetent general management as the team flounders. Both Bobby Beathard and A. J. Smith committed terrible blunders in their drafts, their coaching choices and in player retention while the Spanos’ continued to whine for a new stadium. We’ve watched top performers and popular players like Rodney Harrison, Junior Seau, L.T., MIchael Turner, Vincent Jackson, Shaun Phillips and Luis Vasquez let go with little to show for it. Now that they appear to have finally (using a consultant) hired a competent GM and field coach, Dean Spanos is grooming his two sons to take over operations. Not a good sign.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Although I largely subscribe to the “too many competing attractions” idea, the track record of both franchises is of poor ownership and dumping popular players. Basically, the product isn’t very good. With the Pads, when their stars get to the place where they can command big bucks, they’re outta here. Jake Peavy, Adrian Gonzalez, Trevor Hoffman, etc. Do you think Tony Gwynn would have played his entire career here if he’d demanded what he was worth? John Moores who, in the opinion of one local sports writer “saved baseball in San Diego”, just wouldn’t pay his good players for fear that he wouldn’t get his money’s worth, meanwhile building a bureaucratic monstrosity in the front office. The result is a nice, new, centrally located half empty stadium most of the time. The Pads are nothing but a farm team for “larger market” teams while places like Oakland, Saint Louis and Milwaukee produce contenders most of the time. The farm system has consistently been a joke. Until quite recently, they haven’t cultivated Latino talent. The new ownership looks better and maybe, at last, we’ll get and keep some players. The Chargers’ ownership has been so obsessed with getting the public to buy them a new stadium they’ve neglected the team, keeping obviously incompetent general management as the team flounders. Both Bobby Beathard and A. J. Smith committed terrible blunders in their drafts, their coaching choices and in player retention while the Spanos’ continued to whine for a new stadium. We’ve watched top performers and popular players like Rodney Harrison, Junior Seau, L.T., MIchael Turner, Vincent Jackson, Shaun Phillips and Luis Vasquez let go with little to show for it. Now that they appear to have finally (using a consultant) hired a competent GM and field coach, Dean Spanos is grooming his two sons to take over operations. Not a good sign.

Vince Vasquez
Vince Vasquez

I think you've zeroed in on the issue, John. Demographically, San Diego County has a lot of transplants, people who weren't here in 1998, or any other particular banner year for local sports. We don't share the same strong emotional experiences that locals did at those times. It would be interesting to compare the percentage of our county population who first moved here after say 2000, and how that compares to other major sports markets. All that being said, I think so much more could be done to change the marketing of the Chargers and Padres. So much time and money is spent by the teams trying to make them likable, trying to introduce them to the community, rather than create compelling narratives about either the team or the individual star players. Narratives are interesting, engrossing, emotional. When we do have narratives, you have to find them, you won't learn about them passively as a sports fan or non-sports fan, like you would in other markets.

Vince Vasquez
Vince Vasquez subscribermember

I think you've zeroed in on the issue, John. Demographically, San Diego County has a lot of transplants, people who weren't here in 1998, or any other particular banner year for local sports. We don't share the same strong emotional experiences that locals did at those times. It would be interesting to compare the percentage of our county population who first moved here after say 2000, and how that compares to other major sports markets. All that being said, I think so much more could be done to change the marketing of the Chargers and Padres. So much time and money is spent by the teams trying to make them likable, trying to introduce them to the community, rather than create compelling narratives about either the team or the individual star players. Narratives are interesting, engrossing, emotional. When we do have narratives, you have to find them, you won't learn about them passively as a sports fan or non-sports fan, like you would in other markets.

doug evans
doug evans

If you can crack the mystery that is the San Francisco Giants' fandom, then you'll have your answer. But I don't it's the lack of an "emotional anchor." With poor attendance at Candlestick Park for many years, the opening of PacBell Park in 2000 brought sellout crowds, and they've consistently sold out every home game since then, even with poor performances. Many of the better players were not that well-known, and even their stats weren't league-leading, so there very few emotional anchor players. Sure, there was Bonds, and Rob Nen, and Rich Aurelia, as top players, and perhaps Dusty Baker, and now Bruce Bochy that are revered coaches, but each of them has an equal number of detractors. Giants' fans know that their favorite radio announcer, Duane Kuiper, considers watching the Giants as "torture," because they've had so many close calls with the Padres and Dodgers. Maybe the Padres' fans don't like so much torture. When I go to Padres games, the home crowd is often so small, that it seems like the out-of-town fans dominate-especially when Boston, SF, Arizona , and even LA are in town. Maybe Robert Cohen is right, in his previous comment, that since SD has such a large number of transient residents, due to the large military, hospitality, and tech sectors, there is little to drum up support for a large Padres, or even Chargers home fan base. On Wednesdays, the Padres have, historically, their highest win percentage of the other days of the week, yet their attendance on that day is the lowest. There could be many other reasons, like high ticket and food/beverage costs, scarce downtown parking, the fact that Petco is a "pitcher's" and not a "hitter's" park. Add the fact the the Padres (I'm not sure about the Chargers) have among the lowest payrolls, with little brand-name players, and the recipe is set for low attendance.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Sara, the Broncos are a league above the Chargers in maturity, both in the fans and in the players. The steelers and the raiders are worse fans than the chargers, but that's only because there are a lot more steelers and raiders fans in attendance, per pound the chargers fans are the worst bunch of drunken children I have ever seen at a stadium. As far as players, watch Rivers, losing he throws fits, someone drops a pass he throws a fit, a penalty gets called against the chargers he throws fits, a penalty not get called against the opponent he throws fits, and winning he gloats, he just acts so unprofessionally it's an embarrassment. True that Cutler was almost as bad when in Denver, and what that got him was a ticket out.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Rivers is a crybaby. How can someone come to this city and become a chargers fan when the head of the team acts like a spoiled child when things go south for him? The Chargers have sent several players to other teams, where they usually exceed what they did here in their prime, indicating there is poison in the locker room. It is a huge turn off. The fans at the games are also bad, almost matching the drunken thuggery of Raiders fans, albeit with lower density. I took my wife to one game, she will never go back. We lived in Denver for a few years and the difference in the fan maturity and decorum at the games is profound. All I can say is if I hadn't lived in Denver long enough to be a Broncos fan, I'd give up football, because you can't root for a team you can't look up to. A team that is graceless both winning and losing and hordes of obnoxious drunken fans do not make for a successful franchise, it could be overcome by victory to gather the fair weather fans, but the teams dysfunction prevents that.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Rivers is a crybaby. How can someone come to this city and become a chargers fan when the head of the team acts like a spoiled child when things go south for him? The Chargers have sent several players to other teams, where they usually exceed what they did here in their prime, indicating there is poison in the locker room. It is a huge turn off. The fans at the games are also bad, almost matching the drunken thuggery of Raiders fans, albeit with lower density. I took my wife to one game, she will never go back. We lived in Denver for a few years and the difference in the fan maturity and decorum at the games is profound. All I can say is if I hadn't lived in Denver long enough to be a Broncos fan, I'd give up football, because you can't root for a team you can't look up to. A team that is graceless both winning and losing and hordes of obnoxious drunken fans do not make for a successful franchise, it could be overcome by victory to gather the fair weather fans, but the teams dysfunction prevents that.

Robert Cohen
Robert Cohen

A transient population with sports fans from other cities keep loyalty to the local teams limited. Also San Diego does not rank high in disposable income for it's residents because of the high cost of living which keeps people from buying season tickets, which are the ultimate showing of support for a team.

Robert Cohen
Robert Cohen subscriber

A transient population with sports fans from other cities keep loyalty to the local teams limited. Also San Diego does not rank high in disposable income for it's residents because of the high cost of living which keeps people from buying season tickets, which are the ultimate showing of support for a team.

Gabriel Pina
Gabriel Pina

Good giveaways help drive attendance, and that has been lacking over the last couple of year at the Padre and Charger games. I'm a die hard San Diego sports fan, due to the economic times, I had to give up my season tickets, but I still enjoy going to the games, and I pick the games that have the best giveaways, and there are not much to chose from.

David Crossley
David Crossley

Petco Park is anything but centrally located. The park that is centrally located is still there, in Mission Valley.

David Crossley
David Crossley subscriber

Petco Park is anything but centrally located. The park that is centrally located is still there, in Mission Valley.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

Doug, San Francisco is a pretty good sports town. Candlestick was a poor location for baseball. The winds there are horrific. The new location is terrific. There's a lot to be said for a ballpark you can reach easily on public transit, and after the game there's plenty of places to party afterward, which 'Frisco is also good at. Wrigley Field is another great spot. Hasn't worked yet for Petco, though. Here you need a winning team to draw.

Mr. Rey
Mr. Rey

Jim Jones, you just sound ignorant and arrogant...you just seem to be talking out your Bronco-hole...I'd rather have a fiery and fierce competitor like Rivers, who also happens to be a class act off the field...then corporate phonies like the Mannings.

geigage
geigage

Jim Jones, Sounds like youre more of a fit in Denver. Heres an idea, leave San Diego, go back to where you came from. We have a good thing here and locals are tired of kooks like you coming here running your mouth. San Diegans are loyal to their city, youre just an out of towner that doesnt belong.

James Weber
James Weber

Rivers is emotional because he cares about the team. All Manning cares about are his personal records and his paycheck.

joerockt
joerockt

Wow Jim, way to sound like a bona fide douche. I've seen Manning throw plenty of hissy fits multiple times during his career. Pot. Kettle. Black, just like Sara said. Brady does it as well, Rivers isnt the only one. Here's Manning, acting so classy, even his own team mates were ready to beat his ass: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_-Lypb5QZc

Sara J.
Sara J.

You're a Broncos fan and you're calling out the Chargers for being graceless (both winning and losing) and having hordes of obnoxious fans???? If that's not the pot calling the kettle black I don't know what is.

James Weber
James Weber subscriber

Rivers is emotional because he cares about the team. All Manning cares about are his personal records and his paycheck.

David Benz
David Benz

The new Padres ownership had a ton of giveaways in 2013. Many more than what we got under Moores.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Rivers is a classless act. When things don't go his way he cries and blames everyone but himself. He has the skills, but he just isn't good enough inside, where it really counts, to be a real champion. Even if someday all the other teams collect enough injuries for the Chargers to win a superbowl against a third string competition, Rivers will still be a crybaby. BTW, must be something that Spanos likes about the Broncos, now if the new head coach can just get rid of Rivers and get a decent team captain on teh field, one with a little class, the Chargers might graduate up from "Also showed up".

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Sara, the Broncos are a league above the Chargers in maturity, both in the fans and in the players. The steelers and the raiders are worse fans than the chargers, but that's only because there are a lot more steelers and raiders fans in attendance, per pound the chargers fans are the worst bunch of drunken children I have ever seen at a stadium. As far as players, watch Rivers, losing he throws fits, someone drops a pass he throws a fit, a penalty gets called against the chargers he throws fits, a penalty not get called against the opponent he throws fits, and winning he gloats, he just acts so unprofessionally it's an embarrassment. True that Cutler was almost as bad when in Denver, and what that got him was a ticket out.