CLEVELAND, OH—New Cleveland Indians GM Chris Antonetti knew he had a problem when single game attendance reached an all-time low at Progressive Park, during the second game of the Tribe's opening series against the White Sox. His problem got even bigger when that record was immediately broken in the third game of the season. If data collected during Tuesday night's game against the Boston Red Sox can be trusted, his predicament may be even worse than anyone realized.
Qualitative researchers hired by the Indians spoke with every fan in attendance at Cleveland's 3-1 win over Boston and came away with a startling finding: 8,731 of the 9,025 people in the stands responded to the prompt, "Why are you here?" by selecting the answer, "To watch the Cleveland Browns play" from a provided list. How or why these fans entered into the stadium under that pretense fell outside of the investigators' research design, but quotes collected by the investigators revealed a stunning scene of misunderstanding.
Fred Hauserman and Gene Grzegorek sat in section 119 and introduced themselves as "Browns superfans." Grzegorek was particularly enthusiastic about his officially licensed Cleveland Browns mittens, saying, "I wear these mittens to keep the Steeler blood off my hands." When asked why they had chosen to come to this game, Hauserman said he was "interested in the young guys, Hillis and Haden especially. They both look great out there." As he finished his sentence, Hauserman stared out on the field where a game of baseball was obviously taking place. Grzegorek said his favorite play of the night was when Colt McCoy had hit Joshua Cribbs on the deep post — as he spoke, he gestured towards Indians star Shin-Soo Choo, although he did not specify if Choo was playing the role of McCoy or Cribbs.
Over in Section 212, Dave Moody was screaming "DE-FENSE" at the top of his lungs. He refused to answer any questions, saying, "This is a critical [flipping] juncture!" before adding, "Perfect [flipping] football weather!" His wife, Carolyn, was more willing to talk, telling the story of her orange wedding dress and her husband's corresponding brown tuxedo. There was "no way we would ever go to an Indians game," Carolyn said, and that's why it was "so great the Browns were still playing." She added that she had "never seen a 5-11 team that was so talented" or one "that had advanced so deep into the postseason."
Discussing the study results after the game, Antonetti was crestfallen. "Obviously, it's a non-ideal situation. Just looking at the numbers, it seems that only 294 people actually showed up to watch our team play, and that's assuming there weren't other fans confused about what event was happening here. I've heard that one guy came thinking this was a City Stars game, and a member of the Lake Erie Monsters actually showed up here on Monday thinking he was going to play a game at our facility. Honestly, we're not sure how many fans the Indians actually have — 294 might be high. I know John Adams is a fan and there are those kids and old ladies who write into Tom Hamilton to get wished a happy birthday on the radio, there are a couple of dozen of those birthday requests a year. So, with a gun to my head, I might say we have 35-60 fans. It could be a lot more but, if my life depended on it, I wouldn't guess a lot higher."
Antonetti had no idea why so many fans thought the Cleveland Browns would be playing at a game that was clearly promoted as a matchup between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox. "I've heard the rumors about intentional misinformation and I can assure you, no, we did not tell anyone the Browns were playing here. Who would believe that? Frankly, I think these people are crazy. This is a sick town in the context of the Browns."
At the same time, Antonetti spoke of "turning obstacles into opportunities," and said the team was investigating how to leverage the misunderstanding into a larger fanbase for the Tribe. "As long as fans are in the seats, it doesn't really matter how they got there. They paid, and they make the players feel better. We're looking into ways to continue this cross-pollination. We've thought about a Travis McCoy bobblehead, which would feature the head of Travis Hafner, the body of Colt McCoy, and play Travis McCoy songs. We may also try to change the uniforms in some way, make them more resemble the Browns, and there's even an outside chance we'll ask the players to somehow cover their faces. That would sort of, you know, allow Browns fans to at least fantasize about who was playing the sport they think they're watching."