Browns fans will return when the team starts winning
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns may not be the hot ticket in town, but history shows that if the team starts winning the fans will come back.
The Cleveland Browns have a problem with attendance at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Namely, the fans are slowly and consistently choosing to spend their Sunday afternoons elsewhere in the fall.
All one has to do is turn on a home game, or follow along on social media on game days, and everyone will be falling all over themselves to point out all the empty orange seats.
ESPN’s Pat McManamon put a number on it this week as he pointed out the average home attendance for the past season was the team’s lowest in 34 years:
"The eight games includes the team’s “home” game in London, where 74,237 saw the Browns lose to the Vikings. Remove London and the Browns averaged 62,403, the third-lowest since 1980 and lower than 1995, the year the team’s move was announced."
It gets worse, according to McManamon, as the Browns have finished 29th in the NFL the past two seasons by playing to just 85 percent of the stadium’s capacity in 2017 and 88 percent in 2016.
Those numbers are not surprising considering the Browns have rolled out losing season after losing season since 1999. Going 1-7 or 2-6 every year at home doesn’t exactly keep the fans coming back.
The bigger question, one that always accompanies talk of declining attendance, is if the Browns have permanently lost the fan base. The late 1980s where the last time that the Browns were good and exciting, so there is always concern about a “lost generation of fans” who have no idea how much fun watching the Browns can be.
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There is one simple and surefire solution to all this, and that is to simply start winning. There are those who will argue that even a winning team won’t help, but the history of sports team in this town reveal an entirely different story.
The Cleveland Indians drew a little more than 1.49 million fans in 1959, a season that saw the Tribe finish in second place in the American League for the sixth time in the decade.
But from that season up until 1986, the Indians would only draw more than 1 million fans four times — and the high mark was the 1.1 million who watched the team in 1974. During that time span, the Indians drew less than 700,000 fans nine times and had season-attendance numbers that seem impossibly low, including drawing just 562,507 in 1963 and 591,361 in 1971.
Let’s pause to think about that for a moment. Baseball teams play 81 home games, so to draw 1 million fans in a season they only need to average 12,345 fans per game. Yet year after year, and decade after decade, the Indians could not even come close to clearing that low bar.
But then what happened in 1995, when the Indians made it back to the World Series after a 40-year wait? Attendance skyrocketed and tickets were impossible to come by. Winning erased 40 years of bad memories and brought back multiple generations of “lost fans.”
The same thing has repeated itself numerous times with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Miracle of Richfield teams in the mid-1970s had people standing in the aisles at the old Coliseum. Ted Stepien buys the team, almost moves it to Toronto, and the Cavs were lucky to get 1,000 people a night.
The Lenny Wilkins-led teams of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty and company brought the fans back in the 1980s. The painfully dull teams of Mike Fratello drove them away. LeBron James brought the fans back not once, but twice, and they left when he did. (And will again, most likely, when he retires or leaves again in free agency.)
Winning. Solves. Everything.
This isn’t to minimize how bad the Browns have been and the problems facing the team. They still need a quarterback and a head coach, among other keys areas, and for all the praise heaped on the “football guys” who now populate the front office, it was football guys who helped contribute to the declining attendance during the past 20 years.
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But talk of a lost generation of fans who will never be seen again comes across as nothing more than pearl clutching.
Start winning and the fans will be there, it really is that simple.
Just ask the Indians and Cavaliers.