Thursday, July 16, 2015

The NFL team with the most bandwagon fans: The Arizona Cardinals?

When you see it...
In the lull of the NFL offseason, you may have noticed a recent study conducted by Emory University regarding fan tendencies in professional American football. The study came in several parts, with fans reacting strongest to the ranking of fan bases—no surprises there. 

Claiming that their ranking was based off of factors of fan behavior, such as attendances, price of tickets and revenue, the Emory team released results collected over the past three years to a pretty familiar tune, featuring the blue-bloods and heavyweights as the best fan bases of the NFL. Cowboy Nation can claim supremacy over NFL fandom. Deflate-gate has not deflated the Mass-holes' enthusiasm for their regional English team. The Giants won the battle of New York, but not by much. And surprisingly, the Ravens came in at fourth. It's not terribly surprising how the Emory crew rounded out the top of their list since the teams have enjoyed recent success, multiple Super Bowl championships, and relatively modern, large stadiums. The surprises in the list come later, featuring the Cheeseheads and Steeler Nation at seven and fourteen, respectively. I was personally surprised to find the 12th Man of the Seattle Seahawks at an alarmingly low number 26 spot on the list. Given the new Nike jerseys, Beats and Oberto beef jerky sponsorships for Richard Sherman, the loudest open-air stadium in the league, and not to mention successive trips to the Super Bowl including the SB XLVIII win, the Seahawks still find themselves in the 26 spot. The defense to this ranking was that on average, Seahawks fans relatively do not spend as much money on their team as other fans do.

I currently live in Seattle and I'll admit, I went from owning just a Marshawn Lynch jersey when he arrived in 2010 to a full wardrobe of Wilson, Sherman, Harvin and two Lynch jerseys since the team started winning the big games. But I'm not the only one. Wilson, Lynch, Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas III and now Jimmy Graham have all enjoyed extended periods of time on the NFL's top 25 selling jerseys, meaning that football fans in general are willing to spend at least $100 for one item of apparel for the Seahawks. The rise in jersey sales led me to two conclusions: A.) the true Seattle Seahawks fan base is relatively small and B.) there are most definitely Seahawks bandwagon fans, but they are not incorporated into the study, or else Seattle would be higher on this list. Perhaps this is a good thing since Emory is willing to scope out the true fan bases, but then again, not all fans can afford to go to games because of financial reasons and the stadium's natural capacity. Could this explain why the Cowboys that play in a stadium that seats 120,000 people have the "best fans" while the proud Raider Nation only comes in at number 30 because they play in the small Coliseum?

This led me to question the credibility of the Emory study regarding the aspects of fan culture that they used. Are the fan bases in the study divided between the real and bandwagon fans? And if so, did they get it right? As a former Arizonan, I didn't think much of the list cause at least it meant that Arizona Cardinals fans are better than Seattle Seahawks fans, right?

Well not necessarily. While Emory was busy ranking all of the fan bases, they also took it upon themselves to find which team has the most bandwagon fans in the NFL. According to any sports fan you talk to, a bandwagon fan is someone who starts rooting for a team that has enjoyed recent success. According to their study, Arizona Cardinals "fans are most responsive to winning percentage in the NFL based on our [Emory's] statistical model of attendance." 

Upon reading a headline by CBSsports that a "Study says Arizona Cardinals have the most bandwagon fans in the NFL," I was honestly shocked. Recently before reading the aforementioned article, I saw a video on titled "Arizona- Our State of Football." It is a pretty accurate crash course for anyone who is not familiar with the teams relatively short tenure in the desert which began in 1988, 90 years after the club's inception. Many people tend to forget that the Arizona/Phoenix Cardinals, previously the, St. Louis Cardinals, the Card-Pitt, and the Chicago Cardinals are the oldest professional football club in the NFL. But that is not why they have "bandwagon fans".

For many, the Red Birds have the feel of a team that showed up late to the dance. For example, they were the last NFL team to join twitter and as a result, they have the fewest followers (191.4K followers). The futility in the hot Tempe sun at Sun Devil Stadium in the 90's was forgettable. The new team in the desert performed in front of essentially thousands of Cowboys fans that saw a mediocre St. Louis team lose week in and week out. Because of 100+ degree heat, the Cardinals oftentimes had to resort to wearing their white uniforms, a slap in the face to the visiting Dallas Cowboys that couldn't wear their infamous white uniforms in front of masses of Cowboys fans at Sun Devil Stadium. 

Longtime Arizona Cardinals fans will always remember the playoff run that the team embarked on during the 1998 season which saw Jake "The Snake" Plummer, an ASU product, lead the team past the Dallas Cowboys in the old Cowboys stadium during the Wild-Card round of the playoffs. That's the furthest the team got into the postseason until the 2008 season. By 2008, the Cardinals were already settled into their new University of Phoenix Stadium which opened in 2006, abandoning a shabby horseshoe stadium owned by a mediocre state school that held 12 sellouts in 18 seasons for a spaceship-looking, air-conditioned modern architectural marvel that has holdout every American Football game it has hosted. In terms of sellouts, the University of Phoenix Stadium has sold out every Cardinals' regular season game with an impressive streak of 92 games in a row, beginning with the first Cardinals game hosted at the stadium. 

Back to the Emory University study, the group mentioned that they based their rankings off of data that was mostly concerned with fan attendance to the responsiveness of winning and full stadiums. Considering that the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals went 100-188 during their 18 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium with only 12 sellouts, it would be easy to draw a correlation between losing and poor attendance. However, it is important to look past the losing factor because that is not what drove Arizonans out of the stadium. Let me ask you a question: imagine that your favorite team did not play in your hometown, but a new team recently moved to town. The new team is quite mediocre and play during the same time as your favorite team in 100 degree heat in a suburb that is a pretty long drive from your home. So would you rather stay at home and watch your favorite team play on TV with your family for free or would you rather spend a whole day in the baking sun while forking over several hundred dollars to see a poor excuse of a professional team?

When the Cardinals moved to their new stadium, they had been in the greater-Phoenix area for a generation. As a result, they brought a new uniform look featuring a mean cardinal mascot to the air-conditioned, indoor grass stadium for young, lifelong Cardinals fans. In typical Cardinals fashion, they christened the new stadium with a 5-11 record in the 2006 season, leading to the firing of head coach Dennis Green. The following season, new head coach Ken Whisenhunt chose to stick with the veteran quarterback Kurt Warner instead of the Matt Leinart. The decision turned out to be a winning move as Warner led the team to records of 8-8, 9-7 and 10-6 including a run to Super Bowl XLIII and one of the greatest postseason performances against the Green Bay Packers in the Wild-Card round of the 2009 season. But then again, what else would you expect from a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback?

So how did the fans react? For starters, the rebranding of an angrier bird logo was a hit in the valley. With two iconic faces of the franchise in Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner, many Cardinals fans bought their jerseys. Both of the players are true class acts and the Cardinals were blessed to have had them play together. Who could root against the unbelievably coordinated wide receiver who happens to be a single-father that donates $1000 to breast cancer research for every catch he makes in the month of October? What conservative Arizonan would root against a quarterback who loves Jesus more than football? Of course, the post-2006 Cardinals were not always peaches and cream, which brings forward the strongest argument against the Emory study. Kurt Warner definitely reinvigorated a mediocre franchise into winners, but when he did not start for the team, the team was it's usual wreck. In 2006, the Cardinals embarrassed themselves on Monday Night Football because "The Bears are who we thought they were!!" In 2010, a blow-out home loss on Monday Night Football to the rival 49ers was met with an agitated and repetitive, "That's fine" response by signal-caller Derek Anderson to the media. Two 5-11 seasons sandwiched a 27-21 regular season stretch, but you would not know it from looking at the capacity attendance attendance streak that remained intact at an impressive 40 home games.

Without Warner, Whisenhunt struggled in his last three season with the Cardinals, going 5-11, 8-8, and 5-11 as he failed to find a suitable replacement. The losing ultimately cost him his job, making way for Bruce Arians, a longtime assistant coach that finally got his shot at the head coaching spot during an interim period with the Indianapolis Colts. Arians is no fluke as he has led the Cardinals to 10-6 and 11-5 records during his two years with the team. 

Today, the Cardinals are a team that has experienced a brief period of consistent winning, a sharp contrast from how the team played in years past. They no longer hold an element of surprise to opponents and fans alike; however, I do not believe that these winning ways provide evidence of bandwagon fans. Sure, the 100-188 record with 12 sellouts at Sun Devil Stadium is put to shame by the 71-73 record with 92 consecutive sellouts at the University of Phoenix Stadium; however, that does not take into account that the team has undergone some major changes in recent years. The Bidwell family made winning decisions by building the University of Phoenix Stadium, signing Kurt Warner, hiring and firing Coach Whisenhunt and hiring Bruce Arians and Steve Keim. These are important decisions for a Benjamin Button-esque franchise that has been around forever but is only now going through its formative years.

So to address Emory, it is important to use data to measure fan tendencies; however, it is also important to understand and appreciate what it takes to win in the NFL and what makes the NFL the greatest American show on television. The move into an air-conditioned stadium undoubtedly helped raise attendance rates for the Cardinals, which just so happened when the team improved their talent. Lacking a high level of play in a few seasons at their new home, the Cardinals still managed to sell out 24 games when the team went a meager 5-11 for three seasons at the University of Phoenix Stadium. With the Red Sea guaranteed to make a full appearance in support of a greatly improved NFL franchise, these next few years will be the true indicators of whether or not more fans jump on the Cardinals bandwagon and if they in fact have the most bandwagon fans in the NFL.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Your 2015 Arizona Diamondbacks Are Bound to Surprise

If your problem with this prediction is that it is coming five games into the season, I’m glad that you didn't scoff too hard at the headline.

So why am I sitting here on my laptop on a beautiful Sunday afternoon writing about last year’s worst team in Major League Baseball? And why am I writing this five games into the season? Cause it’s not like two series are enough to judge a team, right?

Well, I am writing to you because I almost forgot I had a blog, so here I am. I hope you all didn't miss me that much, cause your favorite homer with four different homes is making a comeback during the 2015 season of America’s Past-time. 

This would explain why I give a damn about the D-backs, cause I pretty much grew up in Arizona in case you didn't know/couldn’t tell. I’ll admit, last year was extremely disappointing. And I know that might sound a bit odd coming from a fan of a small market MLB team when there are other teams that have lofty expectations that must be met if people are going to keep their jobs.

Last year, I think that the D-backs organization changed for the better. They developed a tougher skin by season’s end. One would think that with Kirk Gibson at the helm, a team would be rougher and tougher when they have him around. Except Gibby got fired with a week left in the season, a slap to the face of sorts. I think he was a good manager and I thoroughly enjoyed his time with the team, especially during the surprise 2011 season. However, I knew that things weren't going to end well during the height of the D-backs—Dodgers rivalry, c. 2013, because this was a small team baring its fangs at a billion-dollar club, and that’s a lose-lose situation. And the D-backs did lose. They lost their grip on that division to Puig and the Dodgers, who went on a historic tear, going 40-8 in a stretch during that year. Now I have no qualms about losing out on the playoffs when a team is that hot cause there isn't a whole lot that can be done. What I do have qualms about is when a team responds poorly, which the D-backs did.

In 2014, I was pretty excited to see the D-backs get that sorely needed fresh start to the season. They were going to play the Dodgers, who must have called off by now, in Sydney for some odd reason. They lost both of those games, which was no big deal at the time, but the must have been jet-lagged or something at the start of the season, because 30 games into the season, the snakes found themselves at 8-22. The offense was anemic and the pitching staff performed much worse than anyone thought they would. The D-backs could never really recover from that and the season was over before it really even began. Because, as the old saying says, you can’t win a pennant in April, but you sure as hell can lose it.

After shutting down Goldy and shipping out some players, including the weird hick pitcher Wade Miley, the offseason finally arrived. It was crew expendable from then on with the exception of America’s First Baseman. Gibby was gone. Towers was gone. In come Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart. 

The other day, I picked up a copy of Sports Illustrated to check out the MLB preview. I’ll admit, I was pretty pissed to see Max Scherzer and his heterochromia grace the cover, cause I remember when that guy was still a Diamondback. I don't blame him for getting traded or going to DC for the money, but I do blame Sports Illustrated for jinxing him, cause they're not going to win the World Series. And the Diamondbacks aren't going to finish with a 65-97 record.

Let’s take a look at the new-look snakes. I love the addition of Chip Hale. I think that he will be a good manager. Apart from the manager, I think that the most heavily scrutinized and criticized part of the team is the pitching staff, especially the starting rotation. When I heard that Josh Collmentor was going to be the opening day starter, I slowly shook my head and put my palm to my face. He’s a solid pitcher and I’m probably one of the bigger fans of The Tomahawk, so it was good to see he would finally get to shine in a starting pitcher’s role. However, he just isn't the guy that you want as a number one pitcher. He’s had success with an average fastball and good changeup all because of his goofy wind up. I think this is why he enjoyed success in the bullpen, because hitters would be confused in the batters box during the one at bat that they'd have against The Tomahawk. In a starting role, Josh will have to face these batters at least three times a game, and that won’t suit him well. There is already some evidence to his struggles when he allowed four earned runs in 4.2 innings.

This sounds pretty hopeless. A struggling top-of-the-rotation pitcher who is probably best suited as a utility role in the bullpen or as a lumberjack. However, there is hope, because after trading Trevor Cahill, the D-backs finally brought up Archie Bradley.

I love Archie Bradley.

I cannot stress how high I am on this guy. I think he’s everything one would want in a starting pitcher. He's strong, intimidating, and dauntless. Last night, he took to the hill against reigning Cy Young Award Winner Clayton Kershaw from those damn Dodgers. And Bradley dazzled. Over six frames, the debutante only allowed one hit. His counterpart struggled, which showed that this D-backs offense might actually be above average. 

I think that as this season progresses, Bradley will assume the role as the top pitcher in the rotation. I think by the time he settles into a groove, Patrick Corbin will be fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery. That’ll put the young lefty in the second spot of the rotation, bumping Collmenltor down to three, which is where he belongs. I think that Chase Anderson, another young pitcher, will do well enough to stay in the rotation. I think that if he ends up being in the number five spot, the D-backs will actually have a better fifth man than most other rotations. That being said, either Hellickson or De La Rosa would have to be bumped out. Then they both might be bumped out for the flexible freak Bronson Arroyo. I think it’ll be Rubby first. Sorry Rubby.

So Bradley, Corbin, Collmentor, Hellickson, and Anderson is the potential rotation this team could have by summer. Basically a young right-handed David Price, an aspiring Andy Pettite, a poor-man’s Lance Lynn, a young pitcher who might return to top form or lose his grasp on his career, and a young strikeout machine. Or you could easily replace Hellickson for a veteran like Arroyo. I am totally fine with this rotation then. Maybe they won’t be that good this year, but I think that this group, especially with Bradley and Corbin at the top is a cornerstone to this franchise.

The other cornerstone to this franchise is Paul Goldschmidt. I think he is one of the most complete hitters from a power position because he has shown great strength to all parts of the field, which is rare from a first baseman. He’s also a great defender who has some wheels—he can swipe a bag every now and then. The one question that people had about him was whether or not he’d be as strong after breaking his hand. This is why I needed a few games to answer this question for myself, even though I didn't have much doubt that Goldy would regain his form. So far, he has hit two home runs. So what. The significance of the two was that he was able to hit a homer to the swimming pool in Chase Field, showing us that he does have that opposite field power. If he can hit homers to right field, he can hit homers to anywhere in Chase Field.

Now for the rest of the team, I like Pollock in the leadoff spot, he has great speed and he is more than just a contact hitter. The rest of the outfield contains some combination of Inciarte, Trumbo, or Peralta. That’s a crowded outfield, but I think that having an extra bat out there is always a good problem as long as the manager can use the combination of the group to the best of their abilities. Inciarte is pretty intriguing and he has shown good contact and speed so far. Trumbo is going to have a productive season on offense because simply put, he’s one of the better power hitters out there and he’s bound to get a hold of a few pitches in the hitter-friendly Chase Field. Now that brings us to Peralta. I think he is one of the better young hitters out there. He has a certain swagger in the batters box that I like to see, plus he’s a strong left-handed hitter, so that’s always nice to have.

The infield looks pretty interchangeable. I think Chris Owings is a very solid defender who can work on either side of the middle infield. Aaron Hill is your typical aging veteran, but he does offer considerable power from the second base position. I haven’t seen enough of Nick Ahmed to judge him, but I’m sure the organization knows what they're doing by putting him out there. As for Jake Lamb, I think he is a solid young hitter. Maybe he’ll relish in the third-base position with Yasmany Tomas breathing down his neck. Regardless, the winner of that competition will provide the D-backs with decent power. I don’t care who wins out, but it’d be nice to see Tomas eventually contribute, or else the D-backs would look pretty stupid for throwing $68.5 million at a glorified bench warmer. And then there’s Tuffy at catcher. I think he’s a hard worker who definitely won't bitch as much as Miggy did.

Now of course, everyone can say “what about injuries?” Of course, I never wish to see a player get injured, but I think that for every group, except for starting pitching, this team has depth. The relief pitchers of Chafin, Perez, Ziegler, and Reed looks like it will be decent. I think Daniel Hudson is the new Josh Collmentor as the workhorse in extra-inning affairs. 

Ultimately, I know that the division is loaded with talent. My money would be on the Dodgers to win the division and the Padres (yes, I think the Padres will be a good team) to win a wild-card spot. But after that, I truly believe that this Diamondbacks team could manage to finish third in the NL West. I think that will be around 75-81 wins, which would be great for a team that is technically in a rebuilding phase. I think that through the process, they'll overcome an incomplete San Fransisco Giants squad that can always get hot at the right time. And then I think the Rockies are bound to give up either Tulo or CarGo at some point. I just can't stand it when young talent is not put in a winning position. Regardless, I don't think the D-backs are going to waste their young talent anytime soon. These young guns will win games for Arizona. But as always, this is just my opinion.

Thanks for reading.