As you may know, I rarely stray from writing about baseball. But on this occasion, I have to ask the question, when will New York fans erupt and lay claim to the deluge of faltering New York City teams currently populating the sports capital of the world?
We all know the recent and painful history of our New York City teams. The New York Giants just finished their worst season ever. The New York Jets are still searching for their next Joe Namath. The New York Knicks tease us and then fade. The New York Mets continue to flounder with no visible plan of recovery. And the Brooklyn Nets – do they still play in Brooklyn?
My question is this: Why are we so kind to these bumbling franchises? Why is the Garden sold out every night, regardless of how well or poorly the Knicks are playing? Why will more than 25,001 fans travel to MetLife Stadium in the bitter cold of a Northeast winter to watch Eli Manning get beat up again eight Sundays a year?
How long can we expect the Knicks to pretend to be fringe contenders? The Mets? Does anyone believe they’re in it to win it? And by the way, where has Jay-Z been lately? Has there been a sighting in Brooklyn since the big splash a few years ago?
You get the picture, and I get the fact that any franchise which takes on the responsibility of being associated with the Big Apple has their work cut out for them. New York fans are knowledgeable and sophisticated, and they demand the best.
These New York City teams don’t seem to get that, and they’d rather make countless futile attempts to bamboozle their fans with pie-in-the-sky platitudes about how hard they are trying to get better, when in fact they are not. They are not trying because they don’t need to work as the money keeps pouring in.
It makes for good talk radio but not much else.
New York fans know there will be peaks and valleys for any team that competes at the highest level. And over small doses of time, they are willing, though never eager, to take a pass on a championship season. That trust comes with this caveat, though: There needs to be a visible plan emanating from the front offices of these teams that points (precisely!) to a rising in the not-so-distant future.
Kudos to the Knicks for finally parting ways with the pseudo-god of basketball, Phil Jackson. We’ll see how far that gets them with the leadership they have now. But that’s it, folks. All New York teams at the moment, save for the Evil Empire, are stagnant. They have no life. They have no buzz.
I also get that attending a New York City professional sports event, whether it be an NBA, NFL, or MLB contest, is about watching athletes do things on a playing field or court that few can do. And that alone is worth the price of admission. But I would also venture to say that’s not the reason most New Yorkers attend a game. New York City teams are about winning. Just winning. We don’t watch exhibition games.
And the curious thing about New York City teams, for me at least, is how long they can go on with living in the past. Yes, Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, and the Mets went to the World Series in 2015. But that was then and this now, and make no mistake, New York City is a “now town.” From Wall Street to Broadway, the pulse of the city is the biggest year-end bonus or the latest play everyone is seeking tickets for.
Meanwhile, the Nets in their infancy are beginning to resemble the Mets in their early days. And the Knicks haven’t won a title in more than a half-century when Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, and Dave DeBusschere formed the nucleus of the last NBA team to populate the New York City sports scene.
A good portion of the trouble, though, probably stems from the sheer dominance of population in the New York City metroplex. When you are drawing from a potential of 14 million “customers,” you can get away with a lot more than you can if you are a team in the neighborhood of Kansas City or Milwaukee.
And if you are an owner who is not named George Steinbrenner, what the hell do you (really) care, so long as asses are in the seats every night?
It’s the American sports business folks. And until we can tune in to watch home games that are glittering with empty seats, we have no legitimate reason to complain.