Raiders, Sharks Have Most Fanatical Fans
Sharks games Ė for those who can still remember them Ė are the loudest, most frenetic of any local sports events. Their fans have been extremely loyal, which is why I think the franchise will recover nicely from the idiotic, year-long NHL strike/lockout. They have a very narrow fan base Ė a marketing guy from the arena once told me that about 40,000 fans bought up almost all the tickets Ė but theyíre primarily upscale fans who can afford the ticket prices, highest of any of the professional sports in this country. So, the fanatical fan base works for the Sharks.
It does not work for the Raiders, because potential fans are turned away by the bozos who wear simulated armor to games, who abuse others around them, who canít seem to speak in anything but profanities. The Black Hole is the worst, but there are too many of these lowlifes scattered through the stadium. Thereís no telling how many potential fans have gone to one game and been so disgusted that they donít return. Iíve certainly heard from many of them.
It wasnít always this way. In the Ď60s and Ď70s, the Raiders fans were boisterous and very supportive of their team, but they were also well-behaved towards those around them. It was the 49ers fans, sitting on uncomfortable seats with no legroom in Kezar Stadium, who were the rowdy ones. The 49ers had to put a wire netting over the tunnel leading from the field to the locker room to prevent fans from tossing beer cans at the players. Ultimately, they had to stop the sale of beer in cans at the stadium.
At that time, the main difference was that the Raiders were selling out on a season basis and the 49ers were not. At Raiders games, the same people sat next to each other at every game. It was an extended family, and fans treated each other with respect.
That changed when Al Davis moved the team to Los Angeles. In the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum, the Raiders were able to sell season tickets only for those seats between the goal lines, about 30,000 of the 90,000-plus available. Single game tickets were bought by the exhibitionists who started this practice of outrageous clothing and outrageous behavior. When games were televised back to the Bay Area, many younger fans who had not been part of the Raiders crowds in Oakland saw that behavior and took their cue from that. The TV watchers of the Ď80s and early Ď90s are the ones causing the problems today.
To compound the problem, the incredibly inept marketing strategy when the Raiders returned to Oakland resulted in the stadium being only half sold out on a season ticket basis. People who are season ticket holders tell me that those sitting in their sections are well-behaved. The rowdies are ones who can buy single game tickets and donít have any concern for their neighbors.
ITíS A SHAME because this behavior keeps fans who would otherwise enjoy the games away and also promotes home game blackouts, so a Raiders team which should be in playoff contention wonít get the attention and support it deserves.
This should be a very exciting team, a return to the Raiders roots in a sense because it will feature the long passing game that Davis has always preferred, and which he brought with him from the San Diego Chargers, where Sid Gillman had installed it, when he was named Raiders coach in 1963.
The Raiders have all the offensive ingredients this year. Quarterback Kerry Collins is an excellent long passer, and heís in the offense that suits him best. The Raiders are also very deep at the position. Fifth-year quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, though heís better suited to the type of offense Jon Gruden ran, is a strong backup. Rookie Andrew Walters, who set Pacific-10 passing records at Arizona State, has great size (6-6) and a strong arm. Despite his impressive showing in the exhibition season, he would struggle if he had to play now, but he doesnít, so he can learn from the sidelines this season. By next season, he could be in the mix for the starting job.
Randy Moss is the best receiver in the game, and he seems to be comfortable playing for the Raiders, who have never worried about the side issues that consume some teams. The Raiders have had some injury problems at the position, with Jerry Porter, Doug Gabriel and Ron Curry out at various times. Porter is still questionable for next Thursdayís season opener in New England and Gabriel is also out, but Curry has returned and second-year receiver Johnnie Morant has stepped up with big games. Overall, this could be the Raiders best receiving group ever.
Though everybody remembers the passing game from the early Raiders years, the best teams always had good running, too. In the early days, it was usually from the fullback position: Hewritt Dixon, Marv Hubbard, Mark von Eeghen. NFL offenses have changed, with fullback being primarily a blocking position now, but the Raiders picked up an excellent running back, Lamont Jordan, to complement their passing game.
The defense is still a question mark, but there are at least two reasons to think it should be better: (1) Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has returned to the 4-3, which makes the best use of his players; and (2) With an improved offense, there should be fewer of those three-and-out series, so the defense wonít have to be on the field so much.
With the salary cap, itís very difficult for any NFL team to be strong on both offense and defense. The Raiders have chosen to work on the offense.
Yet, that offensive excitement probably wonít translate into sellouts because too many potential ticket-buyers are turned off by the behavior of the most rabid fans.
THAT BEHAVIOR also hurts the Raiders in another area: selling luxury suites. Thatís especially important to the franchise because teams donít share suites revenue, as they do with regular tickets.
The Raiders have had trouble selling those suites because the people who would buy them donít like to walk through the parking lots and stadium to get there because they canít avoid the rowdy fans.
It would be smart for Davis or some high-ranking Raiders executive to make a statement to try to get these fans to cool their jets, so they could broaden the teamís market base, but donít hold your breath.
NOTE: I am a panelist for ďThe Last Honest Sports ShowĒ on KBHK (44) at 6:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday night. Also, like many of you, Iíll be taking the Labor Day holiday, so my next column will be Tuesday.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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