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Philadelphia Fans – A Picky Lot

Living here in London, I have had a few chances to reflect on the nature of Philadelphia fans. Two instances stand out in particular.  The first, and more obvious it is the fervor that is found in football/soccer fans.  Besides the traditional hooliganism and beatings of opposition fans, there is the unconditional support shown for your home club.  Each match is serenaded by team songs, chats and the collective battering of the visiting club.  Now this is not to say fans are not critical of their players and teams, they are certainly are in the media and in person.   But in essence, most fan behavior has become institutionalized for the long-term; whereas it seems Philly sports fans are more keen to ride the success and failure of their respective teams.

The second example which helped to put Philly fans in perspective occurred early one morning as I was watching the Eagles-Seahawks Monday Night debacle.  For some reason they don’t have commercials during NFL games here, so they instead kick it back to the studio for instant analysis and the reading of viewer emails.  This game in particular heard a smattering of boos rain down from the crowd, which caused the studio anchor to comment that Philly fans were the most intolerant fans in American sports.  I wrote the guy an email which was subsequently read on air that said, "Philly fans arent the most intolerant, we’re the most passionate – get it straight.  We expect winners and settle for nothing less."  So basically, if we boo a lot, it’s due to the fact that we don’t win very much.  Of course for those not old enough to remember 1980, (or died before then) this takes on an especially significant meaning for Phillies fans.

Phillies fans while maintaining this latter characteristic of putting winning first, do not in my opinion have the same loyalty as described in the first paragraph.  Phillies fans are much more ephemeral.  David Montgomery in fact is banking on this tendency as he just hired Scott Palmer win back some of those strayed fans.  Palmer was previously on a six month consulting contract but is now officially the Phillies Director of Media and Public Affairs.  As Marcus Hayes put it, "Montgomery enlisted Palmer to make the fans and the media happier. "

One of Palmer’s first actions upon joining the Phils back in September was to forward to Montgomery all the negative Ed Wade emails he received.  Wade was fired a month later much to the pleasure of the Phillies fan base.  Palmer is also now hosting "Behind The Pinstripes," the Phils’ new weekly television magazine which intends to "give fans an up-close look at some of their favorite players."  Marcus Haynes also mentions that Palmer will be encouraging players to speak with reports more frequently after games.  Supposedly this will benefit fans by allowing them to hear more directly from players who had an impact on the day’s game.  Therefore looking at these examples, the question is: will these tactics work if the Phillies can’t produce on the diamond?

Not to doom Mr. Palmer’s new job to failure, but I will have to say no.  Evidence of Philadelphia fans’ commitment to winning can be found just down the road with the Sixers.  In reference to the declining attendance at the Wachovia Center, Ed Snider was recently quoted as saying, "[The fans] know what they’re going to get. And they’re not happy we’re an up-and-down team, a .500 team, win one night, lose the next, and they just say, ‘We’ll watch it on TV.’ "  The Sixers claim they are pulling out all the stops in trying to attract fans, including spending money on big time players like Chris Webber.  Snider went on to say, "We are working very hard to build our attendance and, you know, I don’t think we could do a heck of a lot more than what we’re doing. The Sixers staff are tearing their hair out trying to come up with the answers."  I think the answer is clear, Ed, win games.  No matter how much money they spend on players and promotions, fans will not pay to see an average team.  Sports executives in this city must eventually come to terms with the fact that fans react to substance, not procedure.  From a fan’s perspective, claiming that you are trying hard to win but not winning is simply an excuse for failure.

Thus the addition of Scott Palmer will not significantly improve the fan’s perception of – nor money spent on – the Phillies unless they at least make the playoffs.  As said many times before by many people, winning solves everything.  The Phillies brass needs to realize this and stop wasting time trying to sell a defective product.  After all, there is increasingly less hair left for them to pull out.

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