Nobody cares about Cleveland Browns fans, at least not yet. That’s nothing new for those of us who’ve been alive long enough to remember the way the league allowed Art Modell to move the team. It’s even more apparent with the hand-picked ownership of Jimmy Haslam – imported to Cleveland from his minority stake trial with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Browns fans are left a simple choice to either suffer or quit, and the league seems perfectly content with either outcome. If Browns fans are finally forced to love themselves enough to quit the team altogether, it could give a league – that’s hasty to allow its franchises to move – all the room they need to relocate the Browns again. This time, we might not even care that much.
I’m speaking in jest mostly. I don’t think the Browns are a threat to move. I do know that we’d care deeply if they moved this disastrous franchise again. I am just trying to illustrate the point of how little the league cares about Browns fans’ misery, especially as they continue to buy tickets. If the NFL did care, wouldn’t they do something? I’ve long said that if this were the NBA, the league would have stepped in by now, but even that has more to do with economics than the fans. It’s more focused on fans’ dollars than the fans themselves. The NFL for reasons that I’ll illustrate, has no incentive to care like the NBA.
In 2015, Brian Windhorst reported on the NBA ownership lobbying their commissioner to do something about the Philadelphia 76ers. According to Windy’s reporting, NBA owners were tired of the 76ers’ drag on basketball revenues in one of the league’s biggest markets. That paved the way for Jerry Colangelo to join the team and “The Process” that Sam Hinkie was running to the tune of 38 wins in two seasons was ended.
It hasn’t been all milk and honey for the 76ers, but now they’re starting a season with Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid, and some experienced veterans on expensive short-term deals to help the young guys develop. After bottoming out with 10 wins in a season, the 76ers won 28 while Ben Simmons missed his rookie year. The Vegas over/under for 2017/18 is set at 40.5. That’s not the be-all-end-all by any means, but it’s a different process that those fans just might be able to believe in over the next half-decade.
That means more fans going to the games where average attendance at 76ers games had fallen below 14,000 for two straight seasons. Now the team has broken its own record with more than 14,000 season ticket holders. It means more fans watching the 76ers on television. Philly.com reported a 111-percent increase over their 72-loss season. That’s meaningful in the NBA where the league has embraced dynamic ticket pricing and 76ers visits around the NBA don’t sell well on the primary market, let alone the secondary market.
The Browns aren’t creating a problem for the NFL yet because Browns fans are a combination of loyal and scared. Loyal because we have a rich family tradition of following this football team that spans decades. Scared because our traditions were flushed down the trough-style urinal back when they allowed one of the NFL’s least fiscally capable NFL owners in league history to move his team to Baltimore only to have to sell it once he failed to make the money engine turn there either.
As a result, we’ve given the league no reason to care that the Browns are the most disgracefully bad franchise in sports, let alone the NFL. We keep coming out and buying tickets as you can see from the chart below.
Considering how bad the team has been, it’s unbelievable that more than 64,000 seats are sold for every home game in a season like the team had in 2016. Sure, many of those seats go empty and unsold on StubHub, but they’re sold at least once. Considering one of those home games this year will take place in London, I expect the team’s average attendance won’t suffer all that much this year either, even as the team faces down another possible 0-16 year. Given that, it’s not likely the NFL would think anything’s really even the matter. Don’t mistake this as me telling you what to do with your time or money. I’m not trying to organize a boycott. I’m simply pointing out the facts of the matter as I see them. The Bucs, Broncos, Steelers and Bengals are just fine with the Browns as they are. It’s just us who notice what’s happening week-in and week-out.
There’s little doubt in my mind – and shouldn’t be any debate at this point – that the Browns are failing in all phases of football. I think Hue Jackson might have officially lost the team in Houston on Sunday. I know that the team that was built by Sashi Brown and his staff is unworthy of competing in the NFL. I know that ownership has almost no choice but to keep executing this existing plan due to the hangover from so many ridiculous firings and overall dysfunction. There’s no search company in the world that would ever have half a chance to recruit more help for the team unless it was a deal to supplant the owners.
And maybe that’s something the Browns can hope for in the 76ers model. That’s the only hope I can see for the Browns right now in their current predicament. The team has assets. The team has a few young players. The team probably can’t fire everyone, so maybe it’s time for an additional strong voice in the organization. And maybe that additional, strong voice can be one with a serious background in football. Sam Hinkie was a smart guy and knew about analytics, but he didn’t have the basketball credentials of the Colangelo family. The Browns have some really smart people and even some promising football people like Andrew Berry, but nobody on their staff has been part of putting together a competitive NFL team. Even if you think Andrew Berry can do that, he’s really young.
The Browns could use someone to come in and force the team to make decisions that bridge the gap between the present and the future without selling out the former for nothing but the latter. Maybe the Browns can find someone to force the incremental change to make their player acquisition strategies more effective. Maybe they can find someone to force Hue Jackson to add to his staff in ways that makes him a better gameday coach. Yes, this team once had Mike Holmgren steal millions of dollars from Randy Lerner. That’s not reason enough to declare that whole strategy ineffective. The Browns should be out there looking to make massive change even as they shouldn’t look to clean the entire house.
But that’s just my opinion and as I stated in the open, nobody cares about me or you or any of us. If they did, they would have insisted on doing something about this utter disaster that unfolds each and every NFL season like a distress flag on a boat lost at sea.