Following the Warriors victory over the Spurs, TNT host Ernie Johnson said words never before uttered on national television: he said the Spurs now faced the challenge of “winning at Oracle.” Johnson's assessment is now conventional wisdom: the Warriors are said to have the noisiest fans and biggest home court advantage in the NBA. And what baseball team is already viewed as having the best stadium fan base? The San Francisco Giants. And while the noise from 49er fans does not match Seattle's ability to interfere with opposing team’s play calling, both they and Raider fans are known for their rabid support. Here’s why a region not historically known for sports fanaticism broke stereotypes and spawned the nation’s strongest sports fan base.
Oracle Arena will be jumping Friday night, as the Warriors seek to go up 2-1 in their very winnable series against the Spurs. ESPN will again be trumpeting Warriors fans as the NBA’s best, an honor earned through their loyal attendance in the face of two decades of futility.
How has the San Francisco Bay Area, an area known for its arts, culture, technological innovation, ethnic diversity and wealth become a sports hotbed? Here are five reasons.
1. A Competitive Fan Base
The Bay Area is a very competitive economic environment. It attracts people who are passionate about winning in all areas of life, including their professional sports teams (and also their kids sports teams, but that’s a separate story).
The Bay Area disproves class-based stereotypes about fan support. The ones that have “blue-collar” fans the most dispassionate while white-collar professionals and those working in high-tech are more interested in being seen at games than in cheering for the home team.
Joe Lachob, the Warriors super-rich, Republican team owner, epitomizes how out of date are such stereotypes. Lachob was so outraged by a terrible foul call on the Warriors during the Denver series that he began to run out on the court to argue with the referee until he was restrained by a team official.
Lachob, like Mark Cuban and other wealthy team owners, bring the same intensity to rooting for their team as they use in their work environment. So the fact that Warrior, 49er or Giants fans may be more upscale than those in other cities has not decreased the passion of their fan bases.
2. A Fan Base of True Fans
Unlike many fans in Los Angeles, New York City and Miami, few go to Warriors, Giants, 49ers or Raiders games to be seen, or to be part of a scene. Instead, they are there for the game alone.
3. Owners Committed to Winning
All of the above teams have owners committed to winning. The one Bay Area team that lacks such ownership, the Oakland A’s, does not draw big attendance and lacks fan support. A’s fans came to games in droves when the Haas family owned the team, and many believe that fan base will be reenergized when Lew Wolfe and John Fisher sell the team. New owners are expected to build a new stadium and keep the team in Oakland, spending what it takes to win rather than seeking to profit from luxury tax payments from the Yankees and other teams.
4. Winning Teams
Winning teams produce ardent fans. And while the Warriors were not winning during the long and troubled Cohan years, many fans had been energized by other Bay Area success stories like the 49ers, Giants, Raiders or A’s.
It’s hard to think of consistently ardent fans for consistently losing teams. The Chicago Cubs regularly sell out games but that’s part of a social scene; the fans are nowhere near as loud as Giants fans.
Since moving to AT&T Park, the Giants have not had a succession of bad years. The 49ers did go through a rough period, but fans had enjoyed too many great years for their ardor to wear off. Raider fans have been remarkably tolerant of a consistently losing team, which again shows that there is something special about Bay Area sports fandom.
5. Great Marketing
Sports is part of the entertainment industry, and boosting fan spirit for a sports team is similar to building enthusiasm for the next Iron Man film. This means marketing all types of product tie-ins (Pablo Sandoval “Panda” attire likely outsells the full outplay of merchandise for some teams) to build fan identification with players and the team’s fortunes (note how fans wore their Warriors “We Believe” T-shirts from 2007 long after belief was warranted).
The Giants particular genius is selling attending games as a communal experience. The Giants are regularly credited for uniting the Bay Area's ethnically and racially diverse communities, and Giant games may be the most regular communal event in the region.
Fans attending Yankee or Celtic games may feel a sense of community, but the high cost of tickets to the former and the overwhelmingly white demographic of the latter makes the crowds unrepresentative of their cities as a whole. But from the Warriors to the 49ers to the Giants, fans see support for the team as support for their community, which is why Bay Area fan ardor perseveres through tough times.
And before I hear from Sharks fans feeling left out of the praise, San Jose fans still have a way to go to exceed Detroit Red Wings fans in the annals of hockey fanaticism.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. He grew up in Los Angeles rooting against the Dodgers, Lakers (unless they played the Celtics), and Rams (unless they played the Packers).