Some people in central Indiana still don't want to admit it, but the torrid love affair that fans have carried on with the Indianapolis Colts since 1998 is owed almost entirely to the football prowess of one Petyon Manning, quarterback extraordinaire and NFL legend. Before Manning, we simply were not a football-crazy bunch in the way that supporters of the Green Bay Packers or Cleveland Browns are, even though we were happy to have the Colts in town. When Manning went down in 2011, it didn't take long for us to turn a bit sour, and then a bit apathetic, when considering our team's fortunes. It was only when it became clear that the team was in the running to draft Andrew Luck that our ears picked up again, though most of us have adopted a wait-and-see attitude with regard to just how good the retooled team can be. All of which is why I found it surprising when the Colts told a local television station on July 10 that they plan to black out any games this season which are not completely sold out.
This announcement by the Colts smacks a bit hollow for a team looking to maintain and rebuild their fan base after a disastrous 2011, especially in light of the NFL's recent slackening of its own blackout rules. To wit, the league announced last week that teams are not required to blackout any game that is at least 85% sold out, a resolution passed by team owners. This move puts the onus of the go-no-go television decision squarely on individual owners, and it gives Colts head man Jim Irsay a chance to build a rapport between the new-look Horseshoes and its stung supporters. Instead, it looks as if the team will opt to use a potential blackout as leverage in luring fans to buy game tickets.
I completely understand why the Colts would want to ensure that their games are sold out, as the shiny (nearly) new Lucas Oil Stadium is an expensive proposition, and having as many people as possible downtown on game day is good for the local economy. But it's a really hard sell to get us to literally buy into the revamped team without any kind of results to back up that position. Again, this is not a football hotbed apart from our collective Manning crush, so there is some skepticism and caution. If we stay away to the tune of 10% empty seats, and IF Irsay chooses to blackout those games, then he is going to have a very hard time marketing Luck and the rest of the young guys to the folks who might eventually fill those seats. I think this could develop into an ugly cycle for Colts attendance numbers, at least until they start to win.
Maybe someday Hoosiers will overflow Lucas Oil just because we can't get enough pro football, whatever form it takes, but we're not to that point yet. After all, this is Indiana, and it's hard to pluck out our basketball core.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Colts fans since the team arrived in Indianapolis on a snowy morning in 1984. The Blue and White eventually replaced the Chicago Bears as his #1 team, and Super Bowl XLI was a dream come true.