To his friends, he might seem a fossil. Andrew Naab is a 25-year-old who loves the Reds. He has been to 21 consecutive Opening Days, which is nothing compared with the 34 straight his parents have attended. He recalls the Findlay Market Parade of 2003, when grand marshal Sparky Anderson pulled him from a crowd of adults, signed an autograph and posed for a picture.
When Naab talks about baseball, you can see Joe Jackson, walking in from the corn. Wanna have a catch, Dad?
Did someone say Dad? Andrew Naab says Riverfront Stadium “is where I got to know my dad.’’ Man, someone dig up the 1975 time capsule and put this guy in it. Then I ask him this:
“It’s a nice Saturday night in the summer. You have $20 to spend on either a Reds ticket or a ticket to FC Cincinnati. What do you do’’ That’s when Andrew Naab crushes the hardball fantasy like Joey Votto squaring up a hanging curve:
“I’d go to an FC game, at least for now,’’ he says. “For the experience. The fans are passionate. The (team is) new. There’s energy there that’s not anywhere else.’’
That’s where you stand, Redlegs. And really, all of baseball. The millennials might love you for what you’ve meant to them, but. . .
“Ten of my friends will go to an FC game. Maybe I can convince one or two to go to a Reds game,’’ Naab says.
The dispassion isn’t directed just at the Reds. The Bengals get it, too. When the Bengals solicited Naab for season tickets, he turned them down quicker than you could say, “no playoff wins!’’ They proceeded to entice him with the prospect of a locker room tour. To which Naab replied, “If I’m not buying your season tickets, why would I be interested in a locker room tour?’’
The millennials, they’re different from you and me. They don’t talk much about “winning.’’ They prefer to be “entertained.’’ Cheap tickets and beer, a group of good friends, some laughs. The game? Oh yeah, that.
I wanted to pursue this notion. I wanted to know how the extended losing of the Reds and Bengals since last century had affected the sports passions of people ages 21 to 35, who’ve never witnessed how a championship can electrify a city. I asked my pal Greg Olson, CEO of Urban Sites, to deliver an e-mail blast to his clientele. Urban Sites, per its website, “curates living experiences for urban seekers. We’re here to help you find a home, a place of business, four walls to call your own.’’
That would include a lot of young adults, for whom Reds and Bengals are not guaranteed to be the sports entertainment of choice. What they said should not have astonished me. It did.
They love the Reds and Bengals. It’s an affair of the heart and the memory, though, and as such, it’s subject to fading and fickleness. That’s what’s happening now. This group doesn’t have time for a three-hour baseball game or money for a pro football game. The two teams are still in their lives, but in a place similar to the houses they grew up in. It was great. . . back then.
How the Reds and Bengals meet this challenge – if, in fact, they can – will play a significant role in their financial health.
Kevin Michell, 32, is a freelance writer who has lived here 20 years. He’s a baseball guy, someone who lived in Maine and saw nothing strange about driving seven hours to Fenway Park in Boston, for one Red Sox game. “I love baseball, but (love) is not enough,’’ he says. “It’s a boring output. Now I’d rather spend time hanging in a bar or restaurant than three hours at a Reds game.’’
Michell has less to do with the Bengals, a team he calls “a seasonal tragic comedy.’’
Scott Allison, 32, grew up here, in Wyoming. He lives in Over-the-Rhine and is currently managing a political campaign. He loved Barry Larkin, Reggie Sanders and Chris Sabo. He still goes to 20 Reds games a year.
I ask him the $20-on-a-Saturday night question.
“FC Cincy, hands down,’’ Allison says. He has had soccer season tickets “since Day 1. With my season-ticket group, it’s a Saturday night event. It’s the atmosphere. You can never discount the atmosphere. Twenty-five thousand fans, all cheering, half of whom don’t know much about soccer. Every FC Cincinnati game is almost like Opening Day.’’
Or as Michell puts it, “Pay attention to (soccer), not pay attention to it. Either is fine. We’re in a fun environment, having a good time.’’
As we speak, Reds COO Phil Castellini is seeking a cool place to lie down.
Several others said similar things. Undying devotion is passe. Assume it at your peril, pro team. The heirloom isn’t being handed down the way it used to be. “Brand loyalty is down generally in my generation,’’ Andrew Naab says. And what loyalty remains “is waning,’’ says Naab, “especially for the Bengals.’’
I ask Michell, the erstwhile Maine man, “What would happen in Boston if fans threw over the Red Sox for a minor-league soccer team?’’
“The beginning of the Apocalypse,’’ he says.
Hang on, Sloopy. Things could get edgy.
Quotes from millennials on this topic:
“The only time I go to a Reds game is if I have free or cheap tickets. I have not been to a Bengals game since I was about 10; tickets are too expensive, and the experience isn’t worth it. On the other hand, I do go to FCC games quite often.” Michael Crusham, 29
“If a team is tanking (such as the Reds this season) no deals on booze, food, or tickets would attract people around my age group.” Joe Gilbert, 25
“I will continue to be a Bengals fan always and forever.” Andy Vizi, 30
“You could not pay me to watch the Reds on TV. The Bengals I truly love, in a love/hate sort of way, but to pay that much money for food and drinks to be cold and watch someone lose is just unrealistic.” Shae Douglass, 23