Why ESPN is Wrong – Atlanta is Not a Bad Sports Town

I had the idea to write this post a while ago but I’ve been putting it off because not only is it a huge undertaking, it really gets my blood boiling.

I quit watching ESPN (aside from live sports games) years ago. I’d had enough of the ludicrous non-stories, the TMZ-quality reporting (not a compliment), the “embrace the debate” formatted shows, the obsession over certain sports personalities (Favre, Tebow, Brady, Rex Ryan, etc.), and finally, the ridiculous northeast bias.

Those of you on the west side of this country call it an east coast bias. I can assure you, however, there is no bias south of DC when it comes to the “Worldwide Leader.”

The latest example? The constant – and blatant – barrage against Atlanta sports fans.

Some background: I’m from Atlanta. I’ve lived here half my life. I’ve been to many many sporting events in this city. The only Atlanta teams I’m a fan of are the Braves and Georgia Tech. I’m a fan of rival teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Florida Gators.

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Michael Wilbon thinks Atlanta should be stripped of its sports teams.

Yet when I see things like this article, or hear Michael Wilbon bang the table on PTI about how bad of a sports town Atlanta is (which he’s been saying for years), or see this video that the official ESPN twitter account pushed, my heart starts pumping and I black out with rage from the ridiculous false reporting and “creative editing” from A NATIONAL “NEWS” SOURCE!

I’m a video producer. I can go (and have gone) on a huge rant on how one can be tricked by basically any and every video you see on TV and online…and even in the movie theatre with documentaries. I can give examples of “trusted news sources” manipulating interviews. I can mention how a professor in one of my film classes told me to redo a documentary treatment because I’m supposed to “take a side.” I can talk about how even segments like Jaywalking and Jimmy Kimmel’s Lie Witness News can be/are cut in a way to make people sound dumber…but that’s not what this post is about.

Let’s say the video above was not creatively edited. Let’s say it wasn’t meant to attack Atlanta fans. Let’s say it wasn’t an obvious attempt at furthering an ignorant viewpoint to get laughs.

Let’s say it is indeed provided as “proof” that Atlanta is a terrible sports town.

Fine. If that is the case, let this blog be “proof” that it’s. Dead. Wrong.

So let’s start with going over the reasons people give for saying Atlanta is a bad sports town…

“Atlanta doesn’t sell out playoff games.”

The place that people who follow this narrative point to is the Braves’ numbers during their run of 14 consecutive division titles. What they tend to forget is that Atlanta has now lost in the first round of the playoffs every year they’ve reached since 2001. That is indeed a popular rebuttal by the natives. MLB playoff series are multiple games that span over a month. Why pay a large sum of money for games in a round that Atlanta has failed for 15 years?

But let’s ignore that for now. Let’s instead look at actual numbers.

Turner Field’s capacity was 49,586. That’s the 4th largest stadium in baseball. When you watch a Braves game on TV and see some empty seats in the upper deck during a playoff game, you should realize that they’re likely pulling in the same numbers (or better!) as the Philadelphia Phillies, whose capacity is 43,647 in their stadium.

The last time the Braves were in the playoffs (2013 NLDS vs the Dodgers), Atlanta fans would have sold out Citizens Bank Park in Philly in both home games.

The attendance for their appearance in the first ever Wild Card play-in game was 52,631. A sellout. The ballpark in Philadelphia would not have been able to contain the amount of fans. In fact, in EVERY playoff game since 2002, Atlanta fans would have more than sold out Citizens Bank Park (with the exception of two, which would be just under by around 1000…which is still considered a sellout).

When the Braves open Suntrust Park, the new capacity will be 41,500. I guarantee you they will sell out every playoff game in that stadium.

But hey, I’m not going to say that Atlanta is a better baseball city than Philadelphia. Baseball in the northeast is unreal in popularity. Mind you, this is not a post on why Atlanta is the best sports town in America. It’s a post on why Atlanta isn’t even close to being the worst, and doesn’t deserve the ridicule it’s received for decades.

So let’s look at other sports’ playoff numbers, shall we?

The Georgia Dome has a capacity of just over 71,000. Every playoff game the Falcons have had may not have reached 71k, but always topped 67,000, which is the capacity of Qualcomm Stadium in Seattle. You know, where the famous 12th Man live.

I don’t bring up Seattle to make a point that Atlanta is better, or that Seattle couldn’t fill the Georgia Dome. What I am saying is that they are bringing in the same numbers, but since there are a few empty seats, people think Atlanta is a bad sports town.

The issue people should be looking at is NOT how many sellouts a team has, but average attendance and size of the home stadium.

“So what about regular season support?”

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta rises up.

The Atlanta Falcons have been in the top half of average attendance in the NFL every year this century, beating teams like the Eagles, Patriots, and Steelers. Again, when you look at stadium capacities, you’ll see that it will always be larger than some of those teams. If Atlanta had small capacities like these teams, they would always sell out and no one would bat an eye.

 

“Yeah, but the NFL is always popular. Atlanta is a bandwagon town for other sports.”

Well, yes and no.

The Atlanta Braves’ numbers are more up and down during the regular season, sure. One can certainly point to a correlation of how the team is doing and how many tickets they sell. Also, baseball is nowhere near as popular as football, especially in the south. On top of that, there are so many more games, most of which fall on a weekday. So there’s no denying when the team is bad, fans don’t show up. When they’re good, they do.

But how does that compare to the rest of the MLB?

Let’s look at last year, when the Braves were one of the worst teams in the league. Their average attendance? 24,949, according to ESPN.

Ouch. Yep, basically no one in Atlanta was doing the chop last year. They were in the bottom ten of attendance. That’s pretty much the nail in the coffin, right? I mean, they’re down there with the Rays, the Marlins, the Phillies…

Wait, what? The Phillies? A team that finished ABOVE the Braves in the standings? The team that is in the northeast, where baseball is the most popular sport? The team that’s in a city that is notorious for its overly passionate fanbase?

Yep. The lowly Phillies finished out the year 23,643. Hmm…sure sounds bandwagony, doesn’t it?

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LOL, Atlanta fans…oh wait, that’s Philly.

That’s not all. The Braves drew in more fans over the course of the year than the Cleveland Indians. Excuse me…I mean the AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPION Cleveland Indians, who drew in an average of 19,650 per game, according to ESPN’s own website.

Yet no one is calling Cleveland a terrible sports town. In fact, that city has a reputation of being loyal in spite of being perennial losers. Well, they must prefer losing because they aren’t showing up when they’re winning.

Yet Atlanta is a bad sports town.

“But what about the Hawks?”

Okay, you got me. Attendance for the Atlanta Hawks has been pretty poor, compared to the rest of the NBA. The Hawks have been constant playoff contenders, and still can’t pull in big numbers from the city.

There are a few things that could explain or excuse this, but honestly I’m the wrong person to do so. I hate the NBA. I’m part of the problem.

Yes, the Hawks are always in the playoffs. But I have never once thought they could actually win it all…and that’s kind of why I’m disinterested. The NBA playoff system is so diluted. When you only have to be in the top half of the league in order to make the 37-week  NBA playoffs, it doesn’t exactly instill excitement with your team.

It’s so easy for NBA franchises to be caught in the black hole of being just good enough to make the playoffs and miss out on the draft lottery, but not good enough to contend with the powerhouse teams. I don’t blame Atlantans for preferring football and baseball over the NBA.

But that’s for another blog. 🙂

Simply put, the NBA attendance numbers in Atlanta are poor. It’s probably not because they’re disinterested in basketball, though, like me. Frequently the NBA Finals have high viewership in Atlanta.

Maybe the reason, then, is a reason you hear a lot of locals complain about…

Atlanta is a transient city.

This also can explain why Florida teams consistently have poor attendance in sports. Let’s face it, the South is awesome to live in. Mild winters and hot summers are just too appealing to those who live in northern states. That’s why a lot of them migrate south. I get it. I would too, if I was in their position.

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Steelers in ATL with their patented, “Terrible Vertical Videos”

What happens when they move down here is that they take their sports loyalties with them. You don’t see many Atlanta Falcons fans in Pittsburgh, because the only people who move from Atlanta to Pittsburgh are those whose jobs take them up there. They have to.

But when the Steelers are in town, half of the stadium is black and yellow. That’s because people find new jobs just so they can live down here, but still hold on to their sports loyalties.

Atlanta is a booming city that has grown exponentially, coaxing much of Hollywood to set up shop here, as well as many major corporations. Pick out any five people in this city, and maybe two of them will be actually from Georgia. Maybe one would be from Atlanta.

I am a part of a dynasty fantasy football league here in Atlanta. There are eight of us. All of us live here. Only one is a Falcons fan…and he doesn’t even care that much. He cares much more about his Georgia Bulldogs. This is pretty common here.

College football is king.

I don’t see anyone slamming UGA for not filling seats. Same goes for any major SEC school near Atlanta. Why? Because college football is the #1 sport down here, and you bet they always sell out. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone hear who prefers NFL to college in the South, and finding someone who likes baseball more than football is either a unicorn or a northerner.

In fact, most people I know that moved down here from the North have adopted UGA as their favorite college team because they recognized that if you live here long enough, you will be forced to choose a school to root for in the fall. It is part of the culture here.

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Saturday down south is a religious experience

Okay, so UGA isn’t technically Atlanta. Georgia Tech is. However, Athens is just an hour and a half away and I guarantee you the majority of those who fill the seats in Sanford Stadium on Saturdays drove up from the Atlanta area. The same could be said about Auburn and possibly Clemson. These are people who are traveling to support their team.

It’s just not like that for pro sports in the South.

So does that make Atlanta a terrible sports town? I don’t think so. I think I’ve displayed that Atlanta just doesn’t support all sports equally. The thing is, there is no city that does.

Why isn’t Mike Wilbon slamming New York for not showing up to Syracuse football games? Why isn’t ESPN calling Philadelphia a terrible sports town for not filling up Lincoln Financial Field for Temple games? Or better yet, why aren’t they highlighting the fact that the Phillies were in the bottom five of attendance last year?

Yeah, I don’t know either. I see an enormous double standard and northeast bias that I feel that even those in Bristol, Connecticut can’t see. Maybe if they “embraced the debate” less, and actually focused on facts, they wouldn’t be seeing such a major dip in ratings and subscribers right now.

Hmm, ESPN doesn’t have as many people watching anymore? They must be a terrible sports network.

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