Rockies Roundtable: Can Denver Ever Become A “Baseball Town?”
Last week, Rockies Roundtable made its debut with a discussion about the most exciting September call-ups for the Colorado Rockies. This week, we sat down to answer this question: Can Denver ever become a “baseball town?”
Here’s what our writers had to say…
Nolan Lees: Denver’s eligibility as a “baseball town” depends on how you define that term.
If/when the Rockies are competing for playoff spots again, I don’t doubt that there will be plenty of people willing to pack Coors Field.
“Bandwagon fan” is one of the biggest insults in sports fandom, but the truth is that nearly every team has fewer fans when they struggle and more fans when they’re successful. There’s no reason to believe that a Rockies return to the playoffs wouldn’t generate the same type of excitement we saw in 2007 and 2009.
That being said, if you’re asking me if I think the Rockies can become the most popular team in Denver consistently, and not just for a few months … well, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but I definitely have my doubts.
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If you’ve spent more than about five minutes in this state, it’s pretty obvious that the Denver Broncos are the kings of the Colorado sport scene. Every year, right around this time, local interest in the Rockies tends to wane as the NFL season kicks into gear.
The Broncos are beloved for two main reasons: They’re usually at least above-average, and perhaps more importantly, they have a long history with the state. Generations of Colorado families have passed down a love for Broncos football for more than 50 years. The Rockies just haven’t been here long enough to create that type of bond yet.
The fastest and most effective way to turn any city into a “baseball town” (or any kind of “sport town”) is to put a consistently excellent product on the field. I think most of us at the site believe the Rockies are getting closer to doing that soon, and that should help in establishing the team as a Colorado institution.
But Denver right now is absolutely a football town, and I don’t think one good Rockies season, or even a couple of good seasons, will be enough to change that.
Kevin Henry: Turn on Denver’s main sports radio station any time of year and you’re going to hear something about the Broncos. After all, as the station proudly states, there’s never an offseason for Broncos football.
I’ll never forget the day that Jeff Hoffman was called up to pitch for the Rockies. I was driving into Denver and turned on the radio hoping to hear their take on Hoffman and what he brings to the table.
Instead, I heard this station tell its listeners that Hoffman was starting the next day (wrong) and then they dove into a discussion of the new backup tight end the Broncos had just signed. They had all sorts of stats and intel on this new Bronco, but couldn’t tell you anything about a guy who was expected to be one of the cornerstones of Colorado’s baseball future.
As I write this, I’m sitting at a Tuesday night game in downtown Denver with the Giants and Rockies squaring off in front of a very sparse crowd. It’s a beautiful night and many of the key pieces of the Rockies’ future, including David Dahl, Raimel Tapia, and Tyler Anderson are out there. The best third baseman in the game is manning the hot corner for Colorado. Yet there’s a lot of orange in the crowd, and it’s because of the Giants, not the Broncos.
It’s going to take a streak of consistent winning seasons for Denver to turn into a baseball town … if (and that’s a big if) it ever does. I predict winning baseball next season and a real shot at the postseason for the Rockies. Denver will start caring and will hop on the bandwagon, but it won’t be the year-round obsession that the Broncos are.
Can Denver be a baseball town? From time to time, sure. Will it ever be consistently? No. Like the Avs, Nuggets, Outlaws and Mammoth, the Rockies are the second-most interesting sports team in Denver … and probably always will be.
Trevor Irvine: Denver will never become a baseball town.
The Broncos started in 1960 and took the town’s sports fans with it. They played in an AFC Championship Game and had the “Orange Crush” defense before the Rockies even existed. The Rockies started 33 years after the Broncos and that is history which can never be made up. The long-time residents of Denver have always been football fans first. They are passionate about the Broncos. If they are true baseball fans, they are also passionate about the Rockies, but truly how many of these people are out there today?
I went to the preseason game against the 49ers a couple of weeks ago and over 72,000 were there to watch preseason football, for a game that had no bearing on any actual standings. The Rockies only fill their stadium when they play the Cubs, the Yankees and when fireworks are on, and the majority of people who go to these games are just there to watch the fireworks.
Coors Field is an awesome ballpark but most people who go there go for the atmosphere, not to watch baseball. The Monforts built the Party Deck to satisfy these people. Only a small majority truly care about baseball and they buy season tickets or go to a majority of the home games. There are far too many occasions when the opposition supporters either outnumber or out-vocalize the Rockies fans. Just last night when the Giants took the lead in the ninth, all I could hear on ROOT’s broadcast was the chant “Let’s go Giants!” Just pathetic.
Most casual sports fans love a winner. They all jumped on the bandwagon in 2007 when Rocktober fever took hold, and they stayed on it until the dismal 2010 season and they all jumped off again. The Rockies have made the playoffs three times in their franchise history – the Broncos have won three Super Bowl trophies. It’s obvious who the better run franchise is and who spends the money – and that is what the casual fan sees. They don’t care about a farm system or who is being developed. They want to see who is on the field today and whether they are a winner or not. The Broncos are considered winners, and the Rockies are considered losers.
Until the Rockies perennially contend for division titles and win on a regular basis and can start comparing favorably with the Broncos, the majority of Denverites will care less about the Rockies excluding the die-hards. Once people see the Rockies as a “winning” franchise they will start to care and perhaps will become true fans and not just jump on the bandwagon. However, even if this was to occur, the Rockies simply cannot make up the lost history and at best they will always be Denver’s No. 2 sports team.
The only possible way this could change were for the Rockies to turn into a dynasty and win multiple World Series. But with Denver’s passionate football community, this may not even be enough to sway the hearts and minds of the masses.
Tim Engquist: Denver in the 1990s could have been considered a baseball town to a degree. When the Rockies first opened up play here, they set records in attendance per game and home attendance in a season at nearly 4.5 million people in 1993. They were on the way to do so in again in 1994 before the lockout shortened the season.
Both of these seasons featured the Rockies playing at Mile High Stadium so there were more seats available, but the fact remains that Denver residents were willing to come out in force for every game. Coors Field opened the next year and continued to draw large crowds averaging over 45,000 people for every game in its first four seasons of play.
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Since then, the Rockies have only drawn attendance numbers under league average five times and have been over average attendance since 2009, even though this was one of the worst stretches in terms of on the field product. My point here is that while Denver hasn’t been one of the top cities in the MLB, they have been above-average regularly throughout the franchise’s existence.
In 2016, the Rockies rank 11th in average attendance per game, just above the reigning World Series champions in Kansas City. This is, in part secondary to the fact that Coors Field is a wonderful place to spend a summer evening regardless of if you are watching the game, but still impressive considering how bad the team has been over the past couple years.
To further my points from above I want to include another thought. I am constantly impressed by how active Rockies fans are on the internet these days. It could be because it is the Rockies are the closest team for a wide geographical area, but there are a lot of people willing to devote their time to watching the Rockies on a nightly basis.
I have no experience in another team’s Twitter universe but I am impressed with how many people #RockiesTwitter includes. Most of who are extremely knowledgeable on the subject of their favorite team, and motivated to discuss and share opinion on the team.
I guess my major point here is that Denver will never be considered a “true baseball town” but I do think it is a very strong “sports town.” The Broncos have had the most success and with the NFL’s gigantic popularity it is not surprising (although unfortunate) that the coverage is so lopsided.
I do believe we are about to have an increase in the Rockies popularity as the team becomes better. Good or bad, it will bring a lot of “bandwagon” fans to Coors field every night but will also increase the number of hard core Rockies fans in Denver.
I believe that 2007 and 2009 heightened a lot of people’s love for the Rockies and if they are able to have this kind of success a couple more times more and more fans will be added as Denver adds to its number of fans that would fit in if it were a “baseball town.”
James Keating: I have to go with Tim here.
Denver is an amazing sport’s town. The Broncos will perhaps always lead the charge, the fact of the matter is that winning and tradition can change everything. The Broncos have always competed consistently for championships since the mid-80s and will continue to do so in the future. Not to mention the rich tradition that the Broncos have with the likes of a hometown legend heading up its front office.
The Rockies on the other hand, have never consistently been competitive, and the one year they were (2007) caught everyone by surprise, but I remember playoff excitement filling LoDo that October. Currently, I live very close to Kansas City and have seen first hand how winning has transformed that city into clinging onto baseball for a sports identity. However, there is one major difference between KC and the Rockies, the Royals have tradition.
Everyone needs to remember that Colorado is still the youngest team in baseball, and prior to this year ( and despite losing season after losing season), the Rockies drew quite well for a low market team. Also, we should take into account the recent frustrations from the Front Office. Despite a history of losing, fans have only recently (last few seasons) been starting to turn on a far too loyal ownership that appears unwilling to relinquish control and accept mediocrity.
All of that being said, yes, the Broncos will always have the keys to the city, but when the Avs, Nuggets, and Rockies produce winners, the city will always cling to them with pride. I firmly believe the Rockies can be a major source of pride for the city if the organization can build its tradition and formulate a decade of consistent positive play. Denver may never be a “baseball first” city, but it is great sports city that knows how to support their teams.