In the midst of a very exciting and (so far) climactic NBA Finals that clearly pitted the two best teams against each other – three of the five games have been decided by three points or less – Charles Barkley just keeps tellin’ it like it is. He recently stated that Miami Heat fans are some of the worst in all of basketball. According to this article from ESPN.com, Barkley was partially quoted as saying, “Yeah, they have the worst fans. No question.”
Now, for all his brash and blunt tendencies, Barkley is a smart man. He rarely speaks of what he does not know. So when he says something like this, you know there’s a lot of truth to it. Sure, Miami fans took offense to the comments he made, but deep down, I think any self-aware South Floridian resident would realize that Barkley is right. Unfortunately, he could say that about every franchise that calls Florida home. Which leads to my main argument: The entire state of Florida does not deserve a professional sports team.
Let’s break this down by sport, shall we? The four major ones, of course (MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL) and I’m going to do my best to not just cite attendance numbers, although those will mostly stand on their own. First, the two professional baseball teams:
The Tamba Bay Rays attendance woes were a much publicized problem during their playoff run last year. Everyone knows that the club had to give away 20,000 – if capitalization were possible with numbers, I would have done it there for effect – free tickets just to get people to come and watch a near 100-win team. This would have been fine if it were for a random game in June, but it was for the final game of the regular season, and the Rays were the best team in baseball. They made the World Series in 2009, and for them to have that much trouble getting fans in the seats in 2010 is unbelievable.
The Florida Marlins, located in Miami, have a similar story to tell. Despite having the best scouts of new talent in the majors, they can’t fill their stadium either. And it’s been going on for a long time. In 2003, the year they won the World Series, less then 20,000 fans were on hand to witness them capture the wild card en route to that Series crown. The Marlins are a consistently good team, and not only does no one go to the game, no one seems to care about them either. They may be getting a new stadium and team name next year, but I don’t think that will change anything in the long run.
Now for their NHL teams, starting with the Tampa Bay Lightning. According to an article in the St. Pete Times, they were able to increase their attendance this year compared to the last two years, when they were ranked in the bottom third in the league. This is a different situation, because the Lightning have not always had bad attendance. It’s just hard to not notice that the years in which it was good was when they were winning. They won the Stanley Cup in 2004, and during that season they had a near sell-out crowd every game. But their numbers the rest of the time do not speak well upon the fans.
The Florida Panthers have a woeful attendance as well, not to mention the worst TV ratings of any team in the NHL, citing an article from nesn.com. There’s really not much more to say there. Who in Miami really wants a hockey team anyway?
The NFL teams in Florida are probably the saddest part of this whole thing. The Jacksonville Jaguars have had every home game blacked out for two seasons in a row, and can only fill about half their stadium, no matter who they’re playing. They were in playoff talk up until week 16 last season, yet that still didn’t seem too help much. It seems not even 59-yard game winning field goals can encourage people to come to the games.
The Miami Dolphins, a once proud organization with a winning tradition, became the laughing stock of the league for a while, climaxed with their 1-15 regular season in 2007-08. But they rebounded quicker than a cockroach after getting hit by a rolled up New York Times, and won the AFC East the very next season. And during that season, they only ranked 20th in attendance. Pretty pathetic for a team with that quick of a turn-around.
Now for the NBA. The Miami Heat may be in the NBA Finals, but that apparently doesn’t mean anything to the fans. They may have plenty of fans in the seats, but there’s more to it than that. No one in the building actually cares. The game is like the precursor to a night on the town in Miami. They show up for the second half and then leave. As many Heat games were on TV this season, it was easy to tell that the “fans” there probably would not be able to tell you what happened in the game the day after.
The Orlando Magic are actually the lone bright spot in all of this, even though in 2008-09 and 2009-10 they ranked 17th and 18th, respectively, in attendance. That number jumped to nine for the 2010-11 season, but one can’t help but feel that as soon as Dwight Howard leaves, which he probably will, that the number will fall dramatically again.
So where would these teams be better suited, you ask? For the MLB, I think Charlotte would be a decent fit for a team. The Carolinas have such a rich history of minor league baseball, I’m sure they would support a major league team. The NBA could certainly use clubs in Kansas City (hint hint) or St. Louis, and I bet that Seattle will want a team back sooner or later. The NHL would be better off anywhere that the average temperature is not 75 degrees. And for the NFL, I really think Boise, ID would love to have a professional team. We’ve seen what kind of support the college team gets, I think an NFL team would thrive there. And Los Angeles wants a football team back in their town too.
A few minutes spent on Google will show you even more stats than I’ve just given you. It’s not that their attendance is poor; every team has trouble filling out the stadium when they’re losing. It’s that no one seems to care when the team actually wins. The term, “fair-weather fan” has never seemed more appropriate. Although I suppose we can’t blame them; they expect fair weather in Florida.