Survey: Fans still love Eagles; Phils getting more hugs

The Phillies have been feeling beaucoup de brotherly love the past couple years.
The Phillies have been feeling beaucoup de brotherly love the past couple years. (Michele Tranquilli)
Posted: May 03, 2010

NO SPORTS FAN in America has been as scrutinized, criticized and just downright pulverized as the loyal souls who support the Philadelphia teams. Somewhere along the line, we became synonymous with being hard-hearted, impossible to please and beyond the realm of uncouth. Whenever outsiders hear of someone such as the unpardonable slob who puked on the 11-year-old daughter of a police officer at Citizens Bank Park, a hue and cry goes out gleefully across the land: There goes Philadelphia again. By the sound of it, you'd think that the fans in New York, Washington and Dallas sipped tea at sporting events and kept their troublemakers under lock and key.

So we know what they think.

But what do you think?

Who is the Philadelphia sports fan and how does he roll? To get to the bottom of that question and a wide range of others, the Daily News hooked up with the Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University to perform a study of the Philadelphia sports fan through the opinions expressed by more than 2,300 respondents from across the Delaware Valley. The teams themselves do significant fan research but rarely make that information public and their results can be skewed to a small percentage of fans that are invested in a particular team. Our survey is independent and unbiased. According to SIRC director Dr. Aubrey Kent, the survey gives "more of a sense of the pulse of the average Joe and Jane sports fan."

Some of what we found will surprise you.

Some of it will confirm your suspicions.

And some of it will leave you arguing with one another over beers.

The initial survey was conducted from March 8 to 26, with a followup survey in mid-April. The Daily News then did e-mail interviews with more than 100 of the respondents in an effort to get a deeper understanding for who and what they like, how they spend and what they remember. Additionally, our sports staff fanned out across the landscape locally to interview team executives, players and former players for their perspective on the fans, who have supported the sports organizations with a passion that is unrelenting.

And this is what we found:

You love the Eagles.

But you have eloped with the Phillies.

* On the heels of two World Series appearances that included the 2008 world championship, the once woebegone Phillies swept the field in popularity, venue and a variety of other categories.

Asked to identify their favorite team, 54 percent of the respondents selected the Phillies. The Eagles placed second at 30 percent.

Citizens Bank Park, with 74 percent of the vote, also held far larger appeal than Lincoln Financial Field, the Wachovia Center and the Palestra, each with 8 percent.

A whopping 89 percent said the Phillies would be the next team to win a championship. The Eagles and Flyers received 5 percent each. Asked when that next title would come, the average was about 2 years.

As for favorite team apparel to wear, the Phillies again prevailed with 57 percent. The Eagles placed second with 28 percent. Respondents wear team apparel an average of 8 days per month.

And the Phillies fans just love manager Charlie Manuel. Close to 74 percent of the respondents who identified the Phillies as their favorite team in the city said they were "very satisfied" with the job Manuel has done. Close to 10 percent of those who said the Eagles were their favorite team said they were "very satisfied" with the job Eagles coach Andy Reid has done.

* As popular as the Phillies have become, Philadelphia is still a football town, which is to say the fans would like nothing better than for the Eagles to sweep them off their feet and win a Super Bowl.

Asked that very question, 70 percent of the respondents said they considered Philadelphia to be a football town, 43 percentage points higher than those who considered it a baseball town.

Given a scenario in a followup survey that only one team could win a championship in the next 10 years, 47 percent said they would prefer that it be a Super Bowl, 10 percentage points more than those who hoped it would be a World Series. Given that same scenario and asked what they think other people would say, 78 percent said their fellow fans would chose a Super Bowl, 58 percentage points higher than those who said their fellow fans would chose a World Series.

How eager are Eagles fans to win a Super Bowl? Asked if they could be guaranteed that the Eagles would win the title next season but would then miss the playoffs for 5 years, 71 percent said they would take the deal.

* Booing is not our favorite sports tradition, despite what outsiders would say. In fact, it is not even close. Our favorite sports tradition is . . . Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" at the Flyers games (43 percent). Our second-favorite sports tradition is the E-A-G-L-E-S chant (42 percent), followed by the Big 5 (39 percent). Respondents were allowed to choose three from a list of 15 choices

Booing came in seventh (16 percent.) So there!

* Spending on spectator sports remains a priority, even in a struggling economy.

Respondents spent an average of nearly $1,300 per year on spectator sports, which would include tickets, merchandise, game expenses and items such as premium cable subscriptions and Internet packages. A high percent also indicated that they would feel a part of their life was missing if they could not spend money and be involved in following their teams. The attachments are so deep that a majority use the term "we" when describing the team they follow.

* Going to games has become harder to afford.

Respondents reported that they have attended an average of three sporting events in the past year. However, an overwhelming percent said they find attending games to be unaffordable and have cut back going to games. Some of this would appear to be due to the struggling economy.

That said, 84 percent said the Phillies provided the best value for their dollar. The Eagles placed second at 8 percent.

* And which sports star would you invite over to the house for dinner if you could? We found that out, too . . . but you will have to wait until tomorrow for that.

No one is more aware of the ups and downs of running a sports organization in Philadelphia than Phillies president David Montgomery. In his 40 years or so with the club, he humbly acknowledges that there were years - a lot of them - when the survey would have been far less favorable to the Phillies. But while he says winning is the predominant factor for the surging popularity of the Phillies, he adds that there are also contributing factors: Key players such as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins were produced by their own farm system, and Citizens Bank Park has proved to be precisely what Montgomery had hoped it would be as a baseball setting. For years at Veterans Stadium, fans sat behind home plate and looked out at empty seats in centerfield. Now, fans look out upon the celebratory scene at Ashburn Alley.

"Having the right venue for us was so important," said Montgomery, whose team drew 3.4 million fans last year. "We were trying to get some of the intimacy that exists in minor league baseball, where fans are right on top of the action."

Told that the survey indicated Philadelphia was still basically a football town, Montgomery said the "reality is that it is just a tremendous sports town." He added that the fans of each of the franchises have incredible passion. "It was not that long ago that the Sixers were playing the Lakers in the Finals and this was a basketball town," said Montgomery, who said that places such as Philadelphia and Boston have "multigenerational fans."

"Not too far from here, grandparents, parents and then children are living in the same home that has been passed down to each generation. And they have passed their passion for sports down the same way."

Passion is the word that arises most often when talking about the Philadelphia fans, especially when it comes to the two most scrutinized teams in the city right now - the Eagles and the Phillies.

"The vast majority of people love both teams, but, right now, the Phillies are in favor because they are a winner," Kent said. "The data talks about one team being up as opposed to one team being down . . . The Phillies have answered the fans' expectations and the Eagles have not."

The Eagles have been doing market research since owner Jeffrey Lurie bought the team in the mid-1990s and said their recent results are different than what the Daily News found. Still, as Eagles president Joe Banner said, "that probably is the clearest thing that comes out of [the Daily News] results, regardless of who is in first or second - that there is a lot of passion about both teams." (More detailed analysis of each team's results will be in Part 2 in tomorrow's Daily News.)

So, in what ways is the Philadelphia fan unique? Flyers and Sixers chairman Ed Snider said "there are some great sports towns," but added: "Our fans are knowledgeable, passionate. We care." Snider said that the Phillies did not have "a whole lot of fans" during their losing years and added, "The Sixers are in that category now." While the survey indicated that 12 percent voted for the Flyers as their favorite pro sports team, Snider said the Flyers and Eagles fans "are more consistent, loyal."

Banner said Philadelphia fans "are not like everybody else." He said in only "relatively small number of cities," such as Boston, Chicago and New York, do "people even care as much." Banner added that in such a setting, "the highs are the highest and the lows are the lowest, so the compliments are the biggest and the criticisms are the biggest."

Speaking of which, the fans we contacted who participated in the survey had some of both. Ryan Dalbey, of Cherry Hill, said that while "football still rules this town - regardless of how well the Phillies are going - fans have more confidence in the Phillies' front office." He said that with the exception of the Cliff Lee trade, "the Phillies are doing everything in their power to win it all now." He added that the Eagles appear oriented to be "a moderate winner for the long term, make a lot of money, but not form a championship team."

Adam Mazzola, of Pitman, N.J., said that "the Phillies organization is trusted." He added, "If there were big changes in that team [coach Andy Reid and Banner], then the Eagles could easily win this town back."

Regardless of what the survey says, Joe Messina, of Philadelphia, believes that this has become a baseball town. He said the Phillies "are more popular because of their treatment of the fans and media . . . [The Eagles'] act has worn thin as they repeatedly come up short on their quest to win a championship."

Stephen Starr, of Ambler, echoed that. He said that the Phillies "are more fan friendly" and that "the Eagles exude arrogance at every turn - oozing out of their collective pores." But Starr added that "the Eagles [[regretfully]] are still the dominant team in this city, because pro football is the unofficial religion of America."

Rob Kilby, of Bordentown, N.J., said a baseball game has become a social event. "Citizens Bank Park is a great place to go to have some fun, but a winning team is a must for that to continue," said Kilby, who added that Philadelphia is a football town "because you only have those eight home games a year" - and that each game carries such significance. "The Phillies are my favorite team, I think, because the season is so long and the fact that there is a game nearly every day. You can get right back on the horse tomorrow."

So now we know what you think.

But what do you think of what they think?

Have you been unfairly characterized?

Some say yes.

Some say no.

Some yes and no.

YES: "Our passion is often mistaken for lunacy," said Rick Oswalt, of Allentown. "We appreciate and support hard work, effort and, most of all, caring. Win or lose, we want athletes who represent our city to leave it all on the field/court/ice."

NO: "Philadelphia fans are pretty bad in general," said Bill Sipe, of Berwyn. "Awful to visiting fans, and far too tough on their own players. After 23 years here, I am usually disappointed in the behavior I see at Eagles games."

YES AND NO: "We are stereotyped, but I am not sure it is unfairly," said Jeffrey K. Daman, of Elkins Park. "There are certainly elements that have brought a bad name to Philadelphia fans, with throwing batteries, snowballs and the like. Foul language is another major issue at sporting events if one wants to bring a child. Not sure that it is worse in Philadelphia than elsewhere, but it is a problem."

So . . . there you have it.

But please understand this survey is just a snapshot in time. Players come and go, teams go up and down. Only our bottom line remains unchanged, and it comes to us from Glenn Hunting, of Springfield, who quoted Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: "Just win, baby."

Daily News sports writer Phil Jasner and columnist Rich Hofmann contributed to this story.

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