I had a conversation with my dad the other day that went something like this:
“So how are the Jazz doing this year?”
To which I hesitantly responded, “ummm…not…great.”
“Oh, so pretty much like normal then?”
I don’t remember what happened after that, but that last question pretty much said it all.
It is a tough pill to swallow, but at the same time, no real secret. The Jazz have been bad for a while now. We can sugar coat it all we want, but that’s the truth of it. Not to say there haven’t been bright spots, as pointed out by Ben Dowsett yesterday, but generally speaking, any time a team goes on an 9-game losing streak, it’s bad.
When your team is winning, it’s easy to be a fan. That’s why there are so many Lakers fans everywhere, or Heat/Cavs fans as of late. In basketball, more so than other sports, fan attendance seems to be directly related to the on-court product. In football for example, it takes a lot longer for fans to stop caring because of the ritualistic, weekend tailgating nature. Not basketball. It can happen relatively quickly. By halftime of last night’s game against the Kings, the Jazz were mathematically one-fourth through the NBA season, but it took even less time than that for many fans to cast this young team aside. After so many years of the same results, it’s hard to blame them.
Let me give a caveat for my dear old dad first. He is by no means a die-hard sports fan. If anything, his first love was baseball. I think he only slightly cares about the Jazz because he grew up in Utah. But the reality is that my dad probably isn’t that far off from a lot of people in the Jazz fan base. They were spoiled by the glory years of the 90’s. If it’s not playoff basketball, they’re not going to watch.
When a team starts losing like this, something interesting happens within the fan base: divisions start to form. Just like the saying, “When times get rough, you know who your real friends are,” the Jazz are finding out who their real fans are. Some expose themselves on Twitter, others in regular conversation, and some by simply not showing up to games anymore. There’s no right or wrong way to be a fan, but sometimes it’s just important to know where you stand.
Here’s the fan breakdown I’ve noticed:
These are the blue-collar workers of the Jazz fan base. The upper crust. No matter what happens, they are going to cheer for their team. These are most likely the ones that have season tickets and never miss a game, the ones that purchase NBA league pass (and not just the 5-team version), and the ones who talk, read and tweet insatiably about the Jazz. They also spin everything about this team into a positive in one way or another. Quite honestly, if you’re reading this article, you’re probably in this group, or at least in the upper echelon of the first few.
This group might watch as much basketball as the first group, but they have a different motive. They love basketball, but the Jazz are never quite good enough for them. This group is of the mindset that Trey Burke is already a bust, that Gordon Hayward was overpaid and that this Jazz team will never win with their current roster. And I may have been wrong about the people reading this article, some of you might fall in this category. The comment section has a tendency of exposing you. But haters gonna hate.
The Casual Fan:
The bulk of Jazz fans probably fall in this category, because without wins, being a Jazz fan is a proactive behavior. They have to seek it out. They are interested but not watching consistently. They might have seen Hayward’s game winner against Lebron and the Cavs, but they had to see the replay of Trey Burke’s shot against the Knicks. They go to a game or two every year and maybe buy a Jazz hat while they’re there. There’s nothing wrong with being a casual fan, these are the people that keep the NBA operating. If anything, these are the people that fill out Energy Solutions Arena and make it one of the toughest places to play in the league. This group is also the most fluctuating. It’s easy to move higher or lower on this scale based on team performance, and it includes new groups of fan bases like Australians and Michigan Alumni for example.
By combination, this would be a casual skeptic. They don’t watch enough to know why the Jazz are struggling, but just enough to use it as an excuse not to. They complain about the young core not getting enough time in previous seasons, but are the first to declare the youth movement a failure. They probably still think Ty Corbin can be blamed for something, even now. But when the Jazz finally start winning again, they stay close enough so they can easily whip out their bandwagon ticket and dust it off, only to become skeptics again.
This is an interesting group. I say that because this is probably where my father falls in line. They base their knowledge of the headline of the sports page, thus the name, but don’t bother to read the details. They know the top stories of the year, but might struggle to name more than just a few players on the actual roster. And no, Deron Williams isn’t still with the team. If they watch any games, it will be during the playoffs, which makes it difficult to support the Jazz in recent years because of their obvious absence. 1
The Glory Holes:
This group is one of the most difficult to crack, because they have fallen furthest from the tree. Most of these fans were once Diehards, but a light turned off inside them after the Stockton/Malone era. The Jazz were so close for so many years that they’ve been emotionally stunted to anything except championship basketball. They can’t live with the burden of being a Jazz fan anymore. Imagine, for example, if Frodo had decided the ring really was too much to bear. Competing in the Western Conference won’t be enough for this group, it’s championship or bust.
The Lost Cause:
The name says it all here. Chances are, these people don’t have anything against the Jazz, they simply might not care for sports like we do. They might never be classified as “fans,” but that’s not to say they won’t ever cheer for the Jazz. Imagine the Jazz ever start winning like the Spurs, consistently over several years, even Lost Causes will start supporting you then. That’s when winning becomes a social motivation.
This is merely an observation, but holds true in my personal experience. We can probably all find examples of friends in each of these. There are no doubt several other micro-factions that could be included in every category. Am I forgetting any?