Need to check the mirror. Business as usual is killing business.

[4] Dolans – Look In Mirror: The Athletics Don’t Win Championships, Neither Will You.

This series is not intended to bash the Oakland Athletics but to explain the Cleveland Indians decline. However, using a proxy like the Athletics helps to explain Indian fan support, which is what this series is about. Since 1992, the Athletics have participated in the Post Season 8 times (not including this year). That is 8 times in 22 years. Not too bad really. In fact, pretty darn good. However, in those 8 appearances from 1992 forward, they have won exactly ONE playoff series and then promptly lost in the AL Championship series 4- 0. No World Championships. Not even one American League Championship. And those teams were, in general, created by highly sophisticated drafting and analysis and not by simply getting the best players.

Obviously, since this time frame included the 90’s, the Indians did far better and did massively better in attendance and in success in the playoffs. The lack of a World Championship during that time was more based on the Baseball Gods than actual talent. Sometimes even the most talented teams do not win it all.

But in the mid 90s, Cleveland fans KNEW that the team was vastly talented and odds on favorites to win their division and always contenders for the World Series. In fact, the Indians were so good that it was kind of a sick joke on Cleveland that a Championship banner never flew during those years. And therein lies the secret to attendance and acceptance in sports. The fans have to perceive you have created a team that is built to win. The fans have to perceive you have created a team that is likely to win. But most importantly, the fans have to perceive YOU will do whatever it takes to win. That is how trust is built. That is how sports teams thrive. That is how customer loyalty is  created. Then, when the fans come and you match their perceptions with actual winning, you have a money generating machine that will continue even if you underperform for awhile.

BUT, if you do it the opposite way and build a team that the fans perceive is built to be competitive with a minimal chance at winning a championship. That the fans perceive is not likely to win but might win. And conduct business in a way that the fans perceive you won’t do whatever it takes to win but you would like to win.  Then, when the fans come and you match their perceptions by failing to win big games, you have built a money hemorrhaging machine that won’t bring fans even when you outperform for awhile.

This is why the Oakland model won’t work to bring in fans even when they have modest success. And this is why the current Cleveland model won’t work. A super close friend of mine and I were talking recently and he provided me with a simple but profound explanation for all of this.  You decide to go to a restaurant with a decent but not outstanding reputation hoping to get a good meal. When your meal does not meet your expectations, the owner comes up to you and says “I’m sorry the meal was not good tonight. But I promise if you just keep coming I will be able to afford better meat and you will eventually get a good meal.” How likely are you to return to that restaurant for a possibility that you might get a good meal? Exactly !!! Not very likely. That is my analogy for the Cleveland Indians model of attracting fans.

They hope that fans will see they try hard and might win someday and will forget that the ownership’s commitment to winning is based on marginal deficit spending “hoping” to win by outsmarting and not outspending the competition. That is actually a smart way to approach the Cleveland market except for one thing that has buried Larry Dolan ever since he said it. He said something like this “When the time is right, I will spend what is necessary to bring us a winner. And not just for one year but for multiple years.” That is the missing link in the way to change fans perceptions and then transform those perceptions into reality. Thus creating a strong bond between fans, management and ownership that will sustain not only success on the field but in the stands.

The Indians need to build a strong team that is built to challenge for a CHAMPIONSHIP and not challenge for a possible “play in” game as a Wild Card winner. The fans can see it as clear as day and like looking through perfectly cleaned glass. They see a Cleveland Indians team that, while clearly talented, has virtually no chance for a championship without wild unadulterated luck. That is not the perception that will bring attendance unless the team dramatically outperforms their talent. While playing very hard and caring, the team just doesn’t quite have the horsepower needed to challenge the big boys.  The Cleveland fans will not support that model. Isn’t happening now and won’t happen in the future. That is why the Dolans need to look in the mirror and make a tough decision this off season. The entire Indians franchise might be hanging in the balance.

Finally, we will talk some Indians baseball in my next post. I will explain how this could work out well for all parties concerned. There IS A WINDOW of opportunity for the Indians to jump through. But it will take a drastic departure from the current model to pull this off. Our journey will continue tomorrow.

Cleveland Indians 1948 champs

[3] Dolans – Look in Mirror: Oakland Model is Flawed

Well here it is in black and white !! The “Holy Grail” of baseball management !! The Oakland Athletics !!

What I have done here is to put together a simple chart of the Indians and the Oakland Athletics from 2007 to 2014. It shows the “mid-market” (which Oakland is not BTW), “stay within your budget”, “look for bargains using advanced statistics”, “trade away stars before they cost you an arm and a leg” and “strive to be competitive in certain years” model of baseball management. So called “Billy Bean” baseballnomics.

Cleveland Indians
Year      W        L        Pct         GB        Attendance    Salaries
2014    76      70      .521       4.5         1,323,848       82.5 mil
2013    92      70      .568       1.0         1,572,926       77.8 mil
2012    68      94      .420    20.0         1,603,596       78.4 mil
2011    80      82      .494    15.0         1,840,835       49.2 mil
2010    69      93      .426    25.0         1,394,812       61.2 mil
2009    65      97      .401    21.5         1,776,904       81.6 mil
2008    81      81      .500       7.5         2,182,087       79.0 mil
2007    96      66      .593         –            2,275,916        61.7 mil

AVG     78      82       .487    11.8        1,750,000        71.4 mil

Oakland Athletics
Year      W        L        Pct         GB        Attendance    Salaries
2014     81     66      .551       11          1,775,616       83.4 mil
2013     96     66      .593         –            1,809,302       60.7 mil
2012     94     68      .580         –            1,679,013       55.4 mil
2011     74     88      .457    22.0         1,476,781       66.5 mil
2010     81     81      .500       9.0         1,418,391       51.7 mil
2009     75     87      .463    22.0         1,408,783       62.3 mil
2008     75     86      .466    24.5         1,665,256       48.0 mil
2007     76     86      .469    18.0         1,921,844       79.4 mil

AVG      82     79       .509    13.3        1,650,000       63.4 mil

Now I am not going to spend the time analyzing these statistics to death. It is quite clear that crappy low salaries with mediocre performance does not translate into fan support. That doesn’t mean I am implying that salary level directly correlates to fan support either. I do not know that to be true and it is kind of a self-fulfilling prophesy anyway. What I am saying is that the Dolans may have been sent a strong message that they can be fiscally responsible and have a competitive team. If not every year, then some years. Oakland has won their division twice during those years and Cleveland once. Both teams are likely to get a Wild Card game out of one of these seasons as well (assuming Oakland hangs on). Regardless of this competitive reality, the attendance is still awful by any standards for both teams. Now you can point to that awful excuse for a ballpark in Oakland for some of it and the team across the Bay. But the area is still vastly more populated than the metropolitan Cleveland area so I feel those factors balance out. The model SIMPLY DOES NOT WORK when looked at from the perspective of fan acceptance and attendance.

In a future post I will explain why I think that model fails and what the Indians could do about it if they looked in the mirror.

cleveland-indians-banner 2

[2] Dolans – Look In Mirror: Baseball Is Not Dead (Except in Cleveland??)

Before we explore the defeatist psychology developed from the Dolan ownership, let’s take a look at some of the failed generic “excuses” that try to remove management and ownership from responsibility:

One of the most commonly repeated reasons for the anemic attendance in Cleveland since 2008 is that baseball isn’t popular anymore. Young people want the excitement of a fast paced sport. No one likes the pace of baseball. Who wants to sit in the stands to watch an untimed sport? Well, the answer to that question is easily answered by game attendance. You might call me on this and ask for TV ratings and the like. But as valid as that would be, attendance still measures how many people want to spend their hard earned money on sporting events. MLB attendance has gradually grown since 2009 from about 73.4 million to about 74 million paying fans per year. In the same timeframe, NBA attendance has stayed flat at about 21.40 million fans. Both sports were better in years just before 2009 for about three years. That seemed to match the economy. The NFL attendance in 2009 was 17.15 million, went down, and then recovered to 17.3 million by 2013. To be fair it would be harder to grow attendance over a 16 game season but those are the figures. Conversely, the shorter season also places tickets at a premium and inflates attendance on the basis of demand per game. So, in summary, 74 million paying fans watch the 81 home games per team per year in MLB while 38.7 million attend the 48 home games per team per year for the NBA and NFL combined. Baseball has slightly grown attendance since 2009 and the other major sports have stayed basically flat. I don’t think that the “baseball is dead” theory explains Cleveland Indians attendance (or any team’s attendance for that matter).

Well, what do we expect, Cleveland is a football town!! Baseball is an afterthought. If it wasn’t for the Browns leaving, the Indians would not have been so popular in the mid 90s. This theory is thrown around with more regularity than a laxative. Yet, there is not a shred of evidence to link the Indians attendance to the Browns attendance. Since the Browns have been back in 1999, the Indians had massive attendance in the first 4 years of the Browns return. Starting at 3.45 million per year in 1999 and dropping to a still massive 2.62 million in 2002. What happened, did the fans take 4 years to get “used to” the Browns again?? And why did the Indians draw 2.84 million fans in 1995?? The Browns were still in town. The answer is simple and blows this “Browns Town” theory out of the water. The fans of Cleveland are not idiots. They can tell when a franchise is worth watching or rooting for and when they are not. They might miss by a year or so sometimes, but the Cleveland fans will pay money for a winning franchise or one that they perceive to be striving toward that goal. Since there is no evidence that Cleveland fans are unwilling to spread their money around to all 3 major sports when worthy, I don’t think the Dolans can find solace that their failing brand is based on their being trapped in a football town.

So if it isn’t that baseball is failing …. And if it isn’t that Cleveland fans can’t support the Indians because the Browns exist ….. It must be that, well….. , the darn stadium is getting weathered and we don’t have a stand up open bar in the outfield where people can stand and converse and drink with their family, coworkers and friends. Or we need a larger play area for kids so that the parents and child can avoid the game as much as humanly possible. Who wants to sit in the stands and watch the actual game anyway?? On the first point, I don’t drink at the ballpark because it is too damned expensive. But I don’t object to those who want a drink. And I have two grandchildren ages 3 and 5. They sit in the stands EVERY game we go to and watch the game and the players and the scoreboard and cheer every home run and every run. They laugh and know the players names and their batting stances. Now that might have something to do with my daughter and son-in-law both being diehard Indian fans but who knows. My point here is that, while any enhancements made to Progressive field might be nice, the ballpark is certainly not the problem here. So the big hoopla around the stadium enhancements that we won’t have to pay for (actually being paid by the concession company – what does that tell you?) is nothing more than a smokescreen for the real problem with the attendance there.

You know, I never really thought baseball was dying or the Browns existence lowers Indian’s attendance or the stadium was a problem , WE ALL KNOW it is the depressed economy in Ohio and the Cleveland area. Well, while the economic changes after 2007 certainly took a dire toll on Cleveland, it didn’t seem to correlate with Tribe attendance all that well. Between 2003 and 2008, the Indians averaged about 2 million per season. Low was 1.7 million and high was 2.3 million. In 2009, the year of by far the largest scare when the stock market crashed to an ominous low in March, the Indians drew 1.77 million. In 2011, they drew 1.84 million. Right now the Indians are sitting at about 1.32 million with about 6 home dates remaining. If they draw at their current pace, which might be a pipe dream, they will end up at around 1.43 million. That will be the SECOND LOWEST ATTENDANCE SINCE 1992 !!! Topped only by 2010 which was 1.39 million. This is exactly 1 year after the team had a dramatic season ending rally and somehow got into the wild card game by winning 92 games! During years that the Cleveland and National economy is clearly improving, 2011 to 2014, the Indians attendance has been 1.84, 1.60, 1.57 and now 1.43 million. Throw a 92 win season in the middle of those years (2013) and you still have a progressively declining attendance that doesn’t correlate to the economy, the condition of the ballpark, the popularity of the Browns, or the popularity of baseball. In my next installment, we will begin to explore deeper into the current state of the Indians and what, if anything, can stop the free fall.

Need to check the mirror. Business as usual is killing business.

[1] Dolan Family – Look In Mirror: or Indians Support Doomed

Hey Paul………..  Hey Larry …………… If you refuse to look in that mirror in a critical way, your support will continue to dwindle and the Indians are a doomed franchise. This is a wake-up call to you both. I hope you listen.

Now I know this is starting out as another of the million fans serenade of “Can’t trust the Dolans”. But I intend to develop another theory around this debacle that has been the Dolan ownership of the Tribe. I don’t want this to be a typical “Dolan bashing” where they are portrayed as liars and cheap. As I try to look at this logically, I doubt either is close to the truth and both characterizations are almost certainly inaccurate. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are slowly killing the Indians as a franchise, even to the point of threatening it’s very existence in Cleveland. I just do not think that this result is intentional or deliberate in any way, shape or form. It is an inability, partly because of the advice around them, to accurately look in the mirror and decipher the slow decline of a proud franchise. As a lifelong Indians fan and supporter of the team, I will use my intuition and observational skills to develop a premise upon which the Dolans would be wise to take note.

The detail of this will be for later this weekend, but I wanted to throw this “hook” out to give our readers a sense of what is to come. I will likely do this in a series of posts or it will become a novel that few are likely to read. I have very strong feelings about the direction of the franchise and want to address some of the oft heard speculation as to why the Tribe is becoming a distant afterthought in the Cleveland sports landscape. I think most of these analyses are simplistic and overstated, although most do have some component of truth. Mine may fall into the same category, but I want to try and put all of this together with a coherent thread. Come on back later tonight and over the next few days. Should be an interesting journey!

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Browns Preseason Game 1: Manziel, Hoyer and the Offense

As everyone that watched the Browns first preseason game knows, it had a familiar feel to 2013 and many years since the Browns came back to Cleveland. They couldn’t get the ball in the endzone. I am not ready to pass judgement on the team yet and say the same trend will carry over to the regular season. Here are some observations on the quarterback battle and other parts of the offense.

  • Playcalling: I was a bit concerned with the heavy weight towards the number of pass plays called compared to run plays. Although I can’t get an exact number due to certain things like pre-snap penalties, these are the numbers I counted. For 3 drives with Hoyer in the game, there were 17 pass plays and 8 run plays. For Manziel’s 4 drives, we had 14 pass plays and 9 run plays. I am hoping this is due to the QB competition and not what we can expect during the regular season. With our defense, we need to run the ball more.
  • Brian Hoyer: Overall I thought Hoyer played very well for his first game back from ACL surgery. Yes he made a few mistakes early, but he didn’t seem to do anything to lose his starting job. He moved the offense and if he can cleanup his mistakes he should be ready. Some things of note:
    1. On his first drive, it started to look like Hoyer hadn’t missed a step. He made some good throws, but the drive stalled after an overthrow to Josh Gordon with his weight on his back foot and a failed rollout pass on the very next play. On this play, he had a relatively clean pocket, albeit collapsing, to step up and to his left to either run with the ball or pass it for the first. Instead, he rolled out to his right where the play had next to no chance of succeeding.
    2. The rest of his game was solid. He made a perfect play action pass to Josh Gordon for 22 yards, and the rollout pass to Miles Austin that was unfortunately dropped on the 5 yard line could be watched over and over again due to how beautiful it looked. I think if Austin comes down with that, the Browns punch it in the endzone.
  • Johnny Manziel: Let me start by saying that our 2nd string offensive line is not very good. Manziel had to deal with backups at the skilled positions as well the entire game. Despite these things, Manziel’s pro debut was mostly positive and it gives me hope moving forward. Some things of note:
    1. On 3rd and 1 on his first drive, a read option play was called. Just like he did in college time and time again, Manziel keeps the ball. The average observer (and I guess our color guy on NBC) might say that the DE crashed, which means you keep the ball so Johnny did the right thing. WRONG. On that play, the read is on the weak side linebacker who slow-played his blitz until he knew Manziel was keeping the ball. Either way though, Johnny was likely expecting Barnidge to not whiff on the defender and if he didn’t block air, the play would have been successful. In this case though, a handoff to West would have been a better decision as he could have ran just outside the left tackle for a first down. The next 2 read option plays were executed perfectly and resulted in big plays.
    2. I am not putting this all on Manziel because he might not be completely comfortable with audibles at this point, but on 2nd and 2 with Detroit showing 8 in the box looking to stop the run, the play wasn’t changed and West ran up the middle for a loss of 3.
    3. Manziel looked smooth off play action. His first attempt was a bullet in a perfect spot to Gabriel. Almost all other plays off of play action were positive resulting in either a completed pass or a QB scramble.
    4. Manziel’s 16 yard run was very impressive, but not because of the run itself. What was impressive to me were his progressions. He looked left to option 1, right to options 2 and 3, and then came back to option 1 for a brief second before taking off up the middle. Although there appeared to be a guy open about 16 yards down field, it was likely a dangerous pass. The run was the safe play with the blitzer closing in. Speaking of Manziel’s runs, he did a nice job sliding or getting out of bounds to avoid contact.
    5. Manziel’s only other notable mistake minus a couple errant throws was his scramble and run on 4th and 1. The fullback was wide open about 10 yards down field for a touch pass. Instead, he barely got past the 1st down marker.
  • Terrence West and Ben Tate: The jump cuts, the quick decisions and physical play of our running backs seems obvious. We have a legit 1-2 punch there. Neither guy dances around and they get up the field as soon as the hole presents itself. West’s numbers (ypc) didn’t end up great, but he had the joy of running behind the backup O-line and the lack of a couple audibles/blocking adjustments from Manziel.
  • MarQueis Gray: I can’t prove this on this blog, but before the game started, I told a friend of mine that Gray is going to be a big weapon on this offense as long as he blocks well. This will keep him on the field. The real gem comes in the passing game. So often do you see teams blow coverage on the FB because the majority of them can’t make big plays (or sometimes any play at all) in the passing game. Gray can. If Gordon doesn’t get suspended for the season, look out. Cameron, Gordon and Gray are matchup nightmares for any defense.
  • Starting Offensive Line: The line now looks like a completed product. Last year our pass blocking was solid and our run blocking was terrible. This year they have everything probably in large part due to the zone blocking scheme. It seems to fit our personnel well. If they aren’t one of the best groups if not the best in the NFL I will be shocked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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