Ever since the Broncos debacle against the Colts on Thursday night, there has been a lot of finger pointing and declarations about what it means to be a “real fan.” We’ve all seen the fan forums where people post their Broncos tattoos, their cars stickered from end to end in orange and blue, and pictures of newborn babies wearing Broncos gear before they even leave the hospital.
This is fan loyalty.
These are fans who love the team no matter what. They bleed orange and blue and nothing - absolutely noting - will change that. They constitute about 90% of Broncos Country. People who love the Broncos.
Now, when national cameras caught the stream of Broncos fans exiting the stadium before the start of an overtime period that never should have happened, many in Broncos Country called their loyalty into question.
“How dare they?”
“They’re not real fans!”
“They need to stay for the whole game!”
Here’s the thing: These are people likely got out of work early to make it to a 6:15 game on a Thursday. They likely flew in from far away places or drove in from them. They then paid a premium to park (the Broncos Ride bus service isn’t running this year, so some lots are charging/gouging as much as $200 to park for the game). They probably bought some new gear, how about $80 for a sweatshirt or $45 for a hat? They got some beer ($8 for the cheap stuff), $6 for a hot dog, and lord knows how much for a tray of crappy nachos. Never mind the hundreds of dollars spent on the tickets themselves!
By the time Broncos Country sat down to watch their beloved Broncos do literally nothing on offense Thursday, their loyalty had already rung them up to the tune of many hundreds of dollars. Let’s ride.
...but there was no riding. There was no offense. Al Michaels and the entire Twitterverse were going out of their way to talk about how insufferable the game against the Colts truly was. How could you not be upset having paid through the nose to sit through that? Especially on the heels of so many other lackluster performances this season.
So, this is where we get to the difference between fan obedience and fan loyalty. When times are good, fans can be told to do just about anything and they’ll do it. Orange Friday before the playoffs? Done. In-Com-Plete chants? Sure. Sell out the stadium for decades? Absolutely!
When the wins stopped with a feeble whimper, especially after being force-fed hype about how great things would be with a new coach and quarterback, nobody should be surprised that fans acted differently. Until a competent and a steady hand returns to lead the Broncos, fans are under no obligation to do anything for a team that has done literally nothing for them in over a half-decade.
A few years ago, the Broncos ticket office started yanking tickets from season ticket holders who had them for generations because those tickets weren’t being used by the people who bought them. They had been sold on the secondary market, given to friends, or used however the purchaser chose to use them (the gall!). The loyalty of shelling out the cash to buy the tickets were no longer enough. The Broncos demanded obedience by dictating standards of use for property they no longer controlled. Those that did not comply, even those with medical of family reasons, were denied their appeal to get their seats back. They were slapped like a disobedient dog and lost their long-held season tickets.
Here’s the thing, fans are under no obligation to do anything to support a team whose product should be reported to restroom attendants. To call those fans out that left early on Thursday because they didn’t obediently sit there and watch the Broncos squander a game they had all but won is the height of hypocrisy. Considering how much they paid to be there, the sacrifices in their day to make it to the stadium, having to deal with no public bus transportation and plenty of crowds, they, like many of us sitting at home, had seen enough. They could listen to the inevitable collapse on their car radio and I’m sure most, if not all, did. Loyalty.
Those folks with Broncos tattoos got them because their love for their football team is as permanent as the ink on their skin. Fans will always be loyal, but, as we have seen with the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, and New York Jets, it’s gets a lot tougher for the team to ask much of the fans when the product on the field is better suited for the toilet. Fans shrink away and watch from the margins when the team is bad. That’s their right. The less Broncos Country concerns itself with what people in the stands or at home are doing, the more time they can focus their anger and disappointment at what really matters: The Denver Broncos.
Fan loyalty is forever. Fan obedience is earned.
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