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July 20, 2015

Fed-up Philadelphia fans tuning out Phillies, Flyers and Sixers

Philadelphia sports fans have a proud reputation for booing when they’re not happy, but they have found a more effective way to convey their anger during these terrible times for the Phillies, Sixers and Flyers.


Fans are tuning out the losers, finding better ways to use their time than endure the brutal failure of three pro sports franchises. TV-ratings breakdowns released last week show that between 2011 and 2014, local viewers have been clicking off in unprecedented numbers:  

     • 67 percent less are watching the Phils, more than two-thirds of the audience that viewed the 102-win season.

     • 72 percent are shunning the Sixers, a loss of nearly three quarters of the viewership before Joshua Harris bought the team.

     • 36 percent have stopped watching the Flyers, more than one third of the normally loyal and tolerant TV fan base.

Isn’t it even more amazing now that Ruben Amaro is still the GM? How much business does the team have to lose under his watch before the ownership makes the right business decision? In what other industry can an executive preside over that kind of free-fall and remain in power?

In the words of Howard Beale at the climax of the iconic movie "Network," they are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take this anymore. The big difference is, they are not screaming their dissatisfaction out the window the way Beale did in the film. They’re just finding something better to watch.

The Phillies are the most extreme case of the three, even though the Sixers have lost a higher percentage of their viewers. In 2011, the Phils were in the midst of their best regular season in history, while selling out every game at the ballpark. Fans were watching at home because there was no room for them at Citizens Bank Park.

Now, there are averaging 20,000 empty seats, dropping their attendance from first in baseball four years ago to 24th this season. In other words, the Phillies have lost 44 percent of their paid fans and two thirds of their TV viewers.

Isn’t it even more amazing now that Ruben Amaro is still the GM? How much business does the team have to lose under his watch before the ownership makes the right business decision? In what other industry can an executive preside over that kind of free-fall and remain in power?

Speaking of ownership, in the article that unveiled the TV numbers, John Middleton said Comcast chairman Brian Roberts has not complained about the putrid ratings, even though a new 27-year TV deal worth $2.5 billion kicks in next season. Maybe Roberts doesn’t have to say anything. The fans are sending the message, loud and clear. Make changes. Get better. Or we won’t watch.

At least the Phillies are in the process of addressing this horrific downturn in business; they have already hired Andy MacPhail as president and Middleton has emerged as the dynamic new face of ownership. The Sixer bosses who have overseen the cratering of interest are still in power, and still selling the same bogus message of optimism.

What the TV numbers show is that the cult that has so loudly supported GM Sam Hinkie and his unorthodox rebuilding plan is a very distinct and very small minority. When nearly three-quarters of your audience leaves, you cannot still claim you’re a hit, even if the remaining patrons scream their approval.

Meanwhile, the Flyers’ numbers are alarming, especially when they are still selling most of the seats in the Wells Fargo Center, but there is hope for a fast turn-around, with decisive GM Ron Hextall and college wunderkind Dave Hakstol in charge.

If the numbers are still this bad in a couple of years, it’ll be safe to say Flyers fans have run out of patience after 40 seasons without a Stanley Cup. But the guess here is that interest will come back fast, and this dip will represent nothing more than a momentary lapse in faith.

Overall, these TV ratings offer conclusive proof that Philadelphia’s loyalty has its limits. Fans will not quietly endure a team with 100 wins transforming into one with 100 losses. They will not blindly believe in executives who have no track record of success. And they will not allow four decades of failure without sending a message.

With remotes in hand, the fans have taken a stand that the Phillies, Sixers and Flyers simply cannot ignore. Bravo.


So many heroes have died for our freedom of speech, for our right to express an opinion that doesn’t have to be popular or conventional. It is one of the biggest reasons – maybe the biggest – why it is such a privilege to be an American.

And yet, in this age of political correctness empowered by the mass hysteria of modern technology, are we really free to speak our minds anymore? If we do, can we expect to lose our stature in society, or maybe even our jobs?

No, we are no longer free – certainly not as free as we once were. And yes, we can expect to pay a steep price for honesty, including our careers. Every week, there is a parade of apologies for unpopular opinions expressed in the heat of an emotional moment. Twitter has become more than a means for social comment; it is a ticking time bomb.

Last week, Peter Berg and Howard Eskin – an odd couple, for sure – found out what happens when you offer a negative comment about Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner’s courage award at the ESPYs. Jenner gave an inspiring speech after changing genders earlier this year, and received huge TV ratings for the effort.

Berg, director of Friday Night Lights and other exceptional films, had the audacity to suggest Jenner’s courage was not equal to that of our military heroes. His point is not the real issue here; the reaction is. He had no choice but to apologize the next day, although it was clear he meant not one word of the recantation.

Eskin, a loudmouth by trade at my radio station (WIP) and on Fox29, called the ESPYs “a freak show,” before apologizing the next day in a Tweet that was ludicrous. Does he still believe it was a freak show? Of course, he does. So did many other viewers – some of whom offered that viewpoint, anonymously, on my radio show the next morning.

The only thing Berg and Eskin proved by surrendering to the dissent was that they are not eligible for any courage awards, either. But they did provide two important lessons in this PC world of today.

One is that an American still has a right to say whatever he wants, if he has the backbone to fend off the backlash. The other is that, more than ever, people need to embrace freedom of expression, not try to drown it out because they don’t agree.


Phillies fans looking for some sign that the organization has shed its archaic and conservative ways received a pleasant surprise last week when the team called up young pitcher Aaron Nola. He will make his big-league debut Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.

The decision to bring up Nola so quickly – they drafted him 13 months ago – was not something the old regime run by Dave Montgomery would have ever done. In fact, he is the first Phillies pitcher to make it to the major leagues the season after he was drafted in 26 years. The old Phils didn’t do things this way.

By making the move now, the team also risked losing a year of service from Nola, who will be eligible for free agency in 2021 instead of 2022 because of the early promotion. The truth is, he may not even be ready. Nola got crushed in Lehigh (AAA) last Thursday, giving up five earned runs and seven hits in three innings.

But even if he ends up back in the minors before the end of this hideous season, there is a genuine reason for hope now – and its name is John Middleton. This is the kind of aggressive move fans already expect from the billionaire owner, who earlier this month made a bold first step into the spotlight when he introduced new president Andy MacPhail.

Middleton does not harbor the same insecurities that Montgomery and his predecessor, Bill Giles, had for most of their reigns. The cigar magnate is no humble people pleaser surprised by his own success; he will move the organization into the future, even if he has to drag it there.

Aaron Nola represents one of the first steps into a promising new future for the Phillies, both because of his own talent and because management is finally ready to take risks.

And finally ...

• Charles Barkley made a great point the other day when he said he was “very disappointed” with the Sixers’ handling of injured center Joel Embiid. “I don’t understand how you wait an entire year and then realize his foot is not healing properly,” Barkley said. GM Sam Hinkie has not replied yet. Don’t hold your breath.

• No athlete can kill a buzz faster than ex-Sixer Andre Iguodala, the NBA Finals MVP. Last week, after Golden State coach Steve Kerr suggested Iguodala is still best suited as a sixth man, Iguodala Tweeted “Then trade me.” Some things never change. Once a grump, always a grump.

• Has Philadelphia ever had a player who performed well and was still hated the way Jonathan Papelbon is right now? Phillies fans booed him mercilessly last Friday night in his first appearance since demanding a trade at the All-Star game. “He comes across poorly sometimes,” said manager Pete Mackanin. Duh.

• Football sage Mike Mayock will take over analysis of Eagles preseason games this summer on NBC10, replacing the highly adept (and far more listenable) Brian Baldinger. In what world is the tortured football jargon of Mayock more appealing than the clear, straight talk of Baldinger? This change makes no sense.

• Marcus Mariota is the only 2015 first-round draft pick who hasn’t signed a contract, and his dispute over legal language with Tennessee is growing more uncomfortable by the day. It isn’t still possible ... Chip Kelly doesn’t still want ... Could Mariota end up ... ? Naw.