24 July 2012

After watching Ichiro play against the Mariners for the first time last night, I sat on my couch reading the reaction of Seattle sports fans on the web. I came across this piece on Tumblr: There Was No Joy In The Emerald City. The author says:

I feel shorted as a baseball fan today. The game was better when Ichiro was ominously roaming the right field region at Safeco Field. It was a welcome dose of predictability in an unpredictable game.

I think this expresses well the overall sentiment in Seattle. We’re all just sort of reeling. Happy for Ichiro? Sure. He has a much better shot at getting a championship ring now. But he was a part of Seattle culture – as much as an athlete can up here. We had Ichiro bobble-head nights at Safeco Field, local commercials with every day workers mimicking his at-bat stance, and the “ICH-EE-RO” chant. Not to mention his face and name plastered all over the city – especially at the stadium.

Ichiro bowing as a Yankee

It was by Ichiro’s request, I understand. That the Mariners received a couple of minor leaguer pitchers in trade underscores this: the Mariners made the decision in order to honor Ichiro. That part of the story is great, and I wish Ichiro well. I really do. I’ll be rooting for him and his new team – hopefully all the way through the World Series.

There were also business and internal culture reasons the Mariners made the trade. Ichiro’s salary and veteran overhead are now cleared, making way for the youngsters to step up. That part I can understand, too. That’s baseball. That’s the game.

The part that stings, and the part I’m so frustrated by, is that Seattle continues to be burned by our sports organizations, who, in their attempt at trying to produce winning teams, keep messing with established culture; always looking to the future. They fail to understand the external, brand impact. They’re trying to make Yankee-like decisions in a non-Yankee city.

Here’s a news flash for Northwest sports teams: your fans aren’t really fans. We’re more like casual spectators, at best. If you want to win us over – have our money – you have to appeal to our emotions.

This is why, when we’re winning, Seattle gets really into it. Winning feels good. But after the winning season(s) ends, what’s left to get emotional about? I’ll tell you what: the brand – which is best represented by the players.

There might be a small segment of true fans, season ticket holders, and die-hards who were born here and have no choice but to take pride in their local professional teams. But those segments only make up an average attendance – for the Mariners – that equals the fifth-worst in the league. Not enough.

Seattle sports culture extends beyond the small amount of actual fans. It goes to the living room, coffee house, and neighborhood community, where the majority of people now can’t name a Mariners player on the roster.