Don’t you have to go to work tomorrow?
As I watched my Broncos defeat the Minnesota Vikings last night I was struck by the number of Vikings fans in the stands, way off in faraway Denver. What’s the deal with that? As a Minnesotan, I could understand if the game was in Green Bay or even Chicago — those cities are an easy day trip from Minnesota (although a Sunday late afternoon game in either of those towns would require a flight home — or might involve either driving late into the night or calling in sick for Monday). But to go all the way to Denver to watch the Vikings? — it’s hard to imagine many Minnesotans being able to be there in person. So who are these people?
Hey — I know you!
Then this morning imagine my surprise to see that an actual Minnesota friend of mine has posted on Facebook a picture of herself on the sidelines at Mile High Stadium during the October 4 game.
There she is with her husband and some other purple-clad friends and also hunky Minnesota-bred actor Josh Duhamel. Wow, I thought. What a blast to be there at the game, and then to cross paths with a TV celebrity? Now I know that this particular friend has worked in executive travel and is currently working for the Minneapolis planning committee for Super Bowl 52, so it doesn’t surprise me to see her in person at an away game for the Vikings. It may have been work related, maybe it was a special event, whatever — good for her! But back to hunky Josh — what’s his story? As he is a former Minnesotan, the connection to the Vikings makes sense, but what circumstances led to his being at Mile High Stadium in Denver, in person, on a Sunday afternoon in October?
There’s a pattern in all of this.
And it all makes me wonder — what’s the story behind “away” fans in the stands at NFL games — especially when the away stadium is several hundred miles away? It would be one thing if it were the playoffs or the Super Bowl, but a Week 4 game with a team from another conference? I don’t get it. I imagine these spectators must fall into one or more of these categories:
- The hard-core fanatics. This isn’t a judgmental term; the term fan is derived from the term fanatic. These are fans so committed to their home team that they follow them all over the country. Seeing their home team play is extremely important to these fans, and money and convenience mean little; they will be in the stands if at all possible. These fanatics have plenty of disposable income and flexible calendars that permit them to be at away games without worrying (much) about getting to work on Monday (or Tuesday? or Friday?) morning. If you scrutinize the camera work of the crowds, you’re likely to see these folks at every game, home and away. I don’t judge people’s hobbies.
- The once-in-a-lifetimers. This is a subset of the hard-core fanatics in that the OALs do care about the game but for them a trip like this is unusual. It may mark the celebration a very special event — maybe an important birthday or anniversary, or completing a deployment in the military, or retiring from work. It’s a big deal for them that they are in person at Mile High Stadium, and possibly something they’ll never do again. I’ll bet amongst the purple-wearing spectators in Denver there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of wonderful stories about why they were making this pilgrimage to Mile High. Variations: fans who make this journey one time every year, or once every five years. It’s not the number of games that matters, it’s the sense of tradition and importance of those selected visits that counts.
- Friends ‘n’ Family. These are the spectators who are related to, or are friends with, someone directly involved in the game. Unlike the hard-core fanatics, they don’t make it to every out-of-town game because, well, they have lives of their own. But given their direct personal connection to someone involved in the game, they like to attend when they can. And given they have some personal connection, they probably are eligible for some discounts or comps (not do be confused with Jet Setters, below).
- The sports-oriented tourists. These are folks visiting the city on vacation or recreational travel anyway and are including tickets at the local stadium where their own home team happens to be playing. In the case of Broncos/Vikings, these folks may have been enjoying a trip to or through the Rockies and simply included a trip to Mile High as long as they were in the area. Who knows — their tickets may have been part of a tour package through AAA or even AARP. In my own development as a rookie NFL fan, this is probably the category I would fall into. I can’t imagine spending money just to go to an out-of-town game, but if the weather’s nice and I’m in the area anyway, why not give it a look-see? For me this would be especially true if the venue were iconic — say Lambeau Field (okay, bad example — while Lambeau is clearly iconic, why, and I mean no disrespect, would anyone be traveling to Green Bay other than to attend a football game?)
- The expats. These are former Minnesotans who now live near Denver but maintain their loyalty to the Vikings. Maybe they grew up in Minnesota, maybe they’re related to someone in the Minnesota organization although they live in Broncos country. Could be lots of explanations for someone. They might even be doing something like I am — they’re new to NFL football and are picking a team more or less at random to support, and despite their Colorado zip code they’ve decided to root for the Minnesota Vikings. In my case, it’s the opposite — but the Broncos aren’t playing the Vikings in Minneapolis this year — so I won’t be seeing them play in person here, and now it’s too late to see them play in Denver.
- The worker bees. Some of the folks in purple are probably there for work. Maybe they’ve landed in town a day early for a business meeting on Monday morning and their boss gives them tickets to the executive suite (see Jet-Setters, below). Many of them may be part of the corporate end of the Vikings organization and they accompany the team as part of their actual jobs. In fact, their very job description might include attending games like this to do research, network with colleagues, etc. Nice work if you can get it.
- The jet-setters. This is my go-to response when I see folks having more fun than I am. They’re special. They’re the wealthy, the well-connected, the famous — and they can go wherever and do whatever they want. Do they care about the game? Maybe — maybe not. They were comped the tickets, probably will be in a private suite, and were given free jerseys to wear. But they might make good publicity for the away team if they show up on camera or can be used in any other potential marketing materials. The jet-setters did not have to arrange for tickets, for a flight, or for ground transportation — their people took care of that. They did not have to wait in a queue to enter the stadium. Their food choices were not limited to what was available through regular concessions. Champagne? … sushi? … comin’ right up. Special limousines rush them from the stadium back to their hotels or to the airport; they never deal with traffic. They are the job creators, and we must always be grateful.
Clearly it’s possible that more than one of these categories may account for someone’s presence at an away game, and I’m sure I’ve missed an important category or two. I’d be curious to hear from NFL fans about their own experiences with following their home team on the road. Is it something you do frequently? What’s it like to be in a stadium and be rooting for the away team? Any interesting anecdotes to share?