I’ve been concerned for a while that the Reds, while in the midst of a 17th losing season in 22 years, have lost an entire generation of fans. I tried to put that into words in my latest column for Cincinnati Magazine:

You have to go back five full years since the Reds last played meaningful baseball in September. It’s hard to remember now, since it’s been so long ago, but at this point in 2013 Cincinnati was 80-62 and 2 games back. They ended up flaming out in the Wild Card game, but, hey, they were in the mix. That’s all I ask.

But: Five. Full. Years.

I have spent five full years of my life watching a team that’s been nowhere in the vicinity of competitive baseball. Five years of writing about the Reds and thinking about the Reds and watching the Reds and spending money on the Reds and (ahem) publishing a book about the Reds. Five years of my life that I’ll never get back.

There are 30-year-olds who don’t remember the last time the Reds won a playoff series. To the average twentysomething wearing blue and orange, singing and tossing smoke bombs in The Bailey at FC Cincinnati games, the wire-to-wire 1990 Reds are ancient history. The Big Red Machine is something Grandpa rambles on about during holiday dinners. For the younger fans baseball needs to engage in order to grow, the Reds are just that team down by the river that’s suffered through losing seasons in 17 of the last 22 years.

Please read the entire thing and let me know where I missed the mark.

34 Responses

  1. Alex

    I am the fan you are talking to .I’m 31 and grew up as a Bengals and reds fan as a youth. Growing up that way made me not sentimental at all. I don’t owe teams anything as a fan. Nothing. Not to big Bob, not to Carl, not to POS Mike Brown. Put a good product on the field. I feel like Eddie taubensee was the catcher the last time the reds won a playoff series. One playoff series, I was 8. I’ve watched big Bob accrue over a billion dollars of wealth on our backs while producing 3 winning seasons in 11 years and there is no end in sight. They won’t sign good pitchers and blame the fans cause they didn’t show up in the 2nd half amd rigs will be the manager cause hes cheao and tells them what they want to hear. This is a team completely devoid of a path to a winning season in at least the next 2 years. Boooooooo

    • Ghettotrout1

      Same here I’m 32 and it has been tough to be a Cinci sports fan growing up. See below.

      1) Kenyon Martin’s broken leg
      2) Reds losing to the Mets in the one game playoff
      3) Johnny Cueto’s lat and the 2012 SF debacle
      4) Carson Palmer’s knee injury vs Steelers
      5) Bengals epic meltdown vs Steelers the year AJ McCarron almost had a playoff win
      6) UC losing in the NCAA tourney when they were up by like 25 points just this last winter

      I’m sure I’m missing plenty but those are the main sports moments I can remember off the top of my head growing up a Cinci sports fan. Which is why I will say the greatest sports moment (I was not directly involved in) was watching the Todd Father win the Ding Dong Derby when the Reds hosted the AS game.

      • Jonathon

        Very interesting column. Being a Cincinnati sports fan builds character…or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

        I’m also among the folks you describe. I’m 33, a Cincinnati native. Picking up with GhettoTrout1’s illustrative and painful list, I’ll never forget (how could you?) listening to the Reds-Giants series in October 2012. Everyone remembers: The Reds went up 2 games to none in SF, and there was reason to hope this would be the breakthrough year. Back at GABP, the Reds proceed to be swept in games 3-5, snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.

        I used to care about the Bengals. At this point, I’m just over it. It’s very unlikely that I’ll ever care again. The Bengals of my lifetime have been a veritable a soap opera in more ways than one, and I’m simply not interested. On top of that, I’m not a huge fan of the NFL for a variety of reasons.

        But Reds baseball is different. For me, Reds baseball carries more cultural and relational significance, and I think it would be virtually impossible to give up on the team altogether. Anyway, I have no desire to give up. I’m fairly checked out this year, more so than at this point in the season in previous lackluster years. But I do follow RedlegNation for recaps and perspectives, and I’m sure I’ll tune back in to the ball games next spring with fresh interest and hope. I hope that interest and hope will be merited.

      • Aaron Bradley

        Yea I am sorry for ridiculing you about the HR derby in that prior thread… my bad, I know you have suffered with a lot of losing. I was lucky to be 19 when the Reds won the WS in 1990 and it was a glorious fun run to follow the wire-to-wire domination. Still, a home run derby? LOL… I just don’t find it exciting in the least, but I respect that you found it exciting. I hope you get to see meaningful baseball (or football or whatever) soon. I’m too old now to care, I just focus on my own life, its all I can control.

  2. Bill j

    Chad, been a Reds fan for over 70 years, back to McCormick, Walters and other of the old ones. I wish I was as optimistic as you but without major changes I like others see not hope for at least 2 years. When the pitching is good the hitting is not, when the pitching is bad the hitting is good, but many times not good enough. Fundamentals are poor, which should have been taught in the beginning.

    • Mike Adams

      Bill, I am a 48 year fan.
      The lost generation of fans started about the time free agency and arbitration birthed the beginnings of a constant revolving door of different players for most mlb teams.
      There used to be several guys that would start and finish careers with the same team.
      Now, a career with the same team like the Reds’ Joey Votto is an exception not the rule.
      This isn’t THE factor for the phenomenon Chad writes about, but I think it is definitely a significant contributor.

  3. lost11found

    I don’t think that there is such a thing anymore as generation fans or fandom. The sheer number of choices for your entertainment dollar means that people pick things based on the value at that moment. MLS, NBA, NFL, NHL, regional NCAA, movies/theatrical, etc. There will be a group of fans that really enjoy the nuts-and-bolts part of any of these and will follow whatever that is like we do here.

    The days of inheriting fandom are likely long gone. When the reds are competative again. People of all ages will come because a night at the park will be fun, with a positvie outcome likely.

    • Mike Adams

      I agree that winning will bring more fans to the ballpark but see my comment above to Bill.

  4. Tom

    Cincinnati’s fan base is a huge reason for the lack of success. St Louis, almost an exactly sized marker, draws over a million more fans than the Reds a season. That goes for times when the Reds have been to the playoffs. In fact, the Reds have poor attendance in a very small market. This causes tremdous pressure on revenues. We can talk about much the team is valued at – maybe near $1B – but that value isn’t liquid.

    A few years back, the Reds had about $175m in revenue, $125 in player salaries, and it took $50m to run the club. The club has done an amazing job of making GABP a great place to enjoy a game. But it’s not translating to attendance. It’s becoming a catch-22 – the Reds can’t win without the revenue from fans and the fans won’t attend games unless the Reds are up to par with the Big Red Machine or are leading the league Wire-to-Wire.

    Sure, the Reds front office can do a bit better in some trades. But they’ve done very well in some trades and not great in others. It hurts when we don’t have leverage.

    • lost11found

      St. Louis isn’t as good of a Comp as population would suggest. The cards are pretty much the only game in town. The NFL has had two teams there and but for a brief window of success withe Rams, neither team has been successful on the field or putting fans in the seats. A similar story exists on the NHL side but for the Brett hull years. And while they are tangential to quality NCAA sports (KU, UI, Mizzou, Nebraska, they are not in the core areas of those teams and need to travel to support them.

      Compared with Cincy, a short drive gets you to NHL in Columbus. You have UC, Xavier, UK, UL, OSU, even IU all very nearby, and while the Bengals usually disappoint but are good enough to hold interest. For NBA you have Cleveland or Pacers. Add in the freshness of MLS and you have lots of competition for a familty sports entertainment budget (on yearly level).

      • Jeff Reed

        And don’t forget the school just up the road, Miami University, who is no longer a football power since Ben Rothlisberger left, but they do have an outstanding hockey program.

    • Jeff Reed

      The city populations of Cincinnati and St. Louis are about the same, but metro St. Louis has a population of 600,000 more than metro Cincinnati. That, plus the fact the Cardinals are a much better run franchise than the Reds, makes a big difference.

      • Jim Walker

        Without looking to be sure, I’m doubting the 90 minute in StLouis is as big as the 90 minute market in Cincinnati (or even 60 minute market) because Cincy’s 90 minute market includes the entire Dayton area, most of Columbus and most of Indy. I’m not as familiar with KY but I’m guessing down to Lexington and just about to Louisville fall in there too. Time was that on Reds game, traffic on I75 from the north end of Dayton to the ballpark was dominated by folks bound for the game. Not so much anymore.

      • Phil

        I live north of Dayton and attended 20 games per year in the 70s and 80s. I’ve not been to the new park and have no intention to do so.

      • Jim Walker

        How much of this change do you think is due to life changes in your life and aging versus the quality of the team on the field? Age has certainly become a factor with me as I don’t like to drive unfamiliar roads after dark (eye issues) plus my wife who I met in the early 1990s is a non-fan (to put it politely).

    • Tom

      Houston and Philly are huge metropolitan areas. The TV contracts are huge. Attendance in Philly is quite strong.

      The best thing to happen to the Reds would be if the Bengals left town.

  5. Jeff Reed

    Quite a feat for a city that’s lost 40% of it’s population in the past 60 years and most of the new ML soccer team’s fans are from the suburbs. Just the fans that the Castellini Group ownership has to get back to the ballpark if the Reds are going to draw more than a few 25,000 plus crowds, including opening day, in 2019. If the front office puts a competitive team on the field, the fans will come back. The Reds hierarchy has a lot of work to do in the next six months. Let’s hope it gets done for the 150th. anniversary of ML baseball’s first professional franchise in 1869.

  6. Scott C

    Yes us old guys are fortunate to have been around during the early 70’s and 1990. That was great baseball. Still wonder what might have been if Cueto hadn’t gotten hurt in 2012. Do kind of resent you talking about us grandpas rambling. Or maybe I just resemble that remark.

  7. Eric

    “I have turned the page and moved on from the Bengals, Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis. I have never looked back.”

    That describes me to a T. I’m curious as to who you chose as your next team. For me, it was the Packers, right after the 2010 season. I’d been a long-suffering Bengals fan from roughly age 5 until 40. I watched what I now refer to as The Mike Brown: “I’m Perfectly Happy With Losing As Long As I’m Getting Paid, So I’m Keeping Marvin Lewis And Changing Absolutely Nothing” Press Conference, and decided that 35 years was enough.

  8. David

    Having been a fan for many years, and having seen a lot of really good teams and players, i have to say that this version of the Reds is not only “losing fans”, but it is “losing baseball”.

    The present Reds have some very good players, in Votto, Suarez, Gennett (yes, I know that some people dislike him). But there is frankly no player that is what I would call “electrifying”, an exciting player to watch. Somebody who might do just about anything.
    Eric Davis, Barry Larkin, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan to name a few of the memorable players I have seen. The last really electrifying player the Reds had was probably Josh Hamilton (and only for a year). Yes, Joey is an elite hitter and player, and will likely go to the Hall of Fame, but half the time he will get a walk
    How, Exciting.
    I do expect much of the same losing baseball next year, unless somehow the starting pitching gets miraculously better.
    Bob Castellini is following the Mike Brown model of making the team just good enough not to lose every game.
    I am not demanding championship baseball, but just winning more than losing, and playing the game with better execution. The poor fundamentals are painful to watch.
    And yes, I expect them to hire Riggleman as Field Manager after the season is over, which will be more of the same.
    After following the Reds since 1961 when I was a child, they have just about killed my interest.

  9. hokiebo

    I am 34 years old, and it feels like I’ve only known losing baseball. The few years of decent ball have been marred by being the second team to have a postseason No Hitter tossed against them, the Rolen bobble in the 10th inning to give SF the lead, and eventually blowing a 2-0 series start. (too young at the time to really appreciate the 1990 team)

  10. Jeff Reed

    @Sliotar: As a Miami grad I think back fondly to my days in Oxford. Many exciting football games with coaches Ari Parseghian and Johnny Pont, but no hockey at that time. Enjoy the Redhawk hockey season.

  11. roger garrett

    I am a die hard Red fan from the early 60’s.I listened on radio with Jim and Joe.When we got a TV all you could see was Kubek and Dean on Saturday afternoon baseball,I lived in Logan West Virginia until 1980 and been in North Carolina ever since.I was a fan because of where I was raised and today I doubt that has anything to do with it.I would expect if I lived in Logan today the Reds would not be a team I would follow.Too many other ways to follow a team and a winning team.I would venture to say we have lost more then a generation of fans for a variety of reasons but winning changes everything.Win and folks will show up because they like a winner and it doesn’t go over well to say show up and we will build a winner.To me its like opening a restaurant and tell people to come and then I will work on serving better food.Just don’t work that way primarily because that’s just dumb and there are other place to eat.

  12. Jim Walker

    I was fringing on the new park idea a couple of weeks ago. I think Seattle is the better model for the Reds to target. It is covered but not enclosed. So you get the shade, protection from moisture and a wind breaker on cold days without the full cost of indoor HVAC in the both the building and operations end.

  13. Jim Walker

    I agree pretty much down the line with Chad. I am also very much on board with the folks pointing out that the Reds need to see themselves more as a regional team because that’s been where the difference was made in the times when they had a good team and drew better.

    Where I’m sitting right now I am about equal distance and driving time from NationWide Arena in Columbus and GABP (nominally ~60 minutes/~60 miles) . Five minutes to the freeway and five minutes off for either venue. From some social media site, the Blue Jackets have mined my email and regularly send me solicitations for season ticket packages and individual game tickets. They are trying to entice me to drive for an hour each way in darkness and possible winter weather to attend their games. On the other hand, I’ve yet to ever receive any such solicitation from the Reds to make the same trip during the summer.

    • Mike Adams

      See my reply to Bill J above at 9:23am.
      Used to drive 5 hours from the coal fields of WV to Reds games (now it is 4 hours from where I live).
      Why did I and a lot of regional WV fans do that? Partly because there was winning every now and then but also because I could count on seeing favorite players like Rose, Bench, Perez, Eric Davis, Tom Seaver, etc.

  14. sezwhom

    Thankfully, this so-called Grandpa got to enjoy the Big Red Machine plus success in the early 90s so my loyalty goes back a long time and I continue to support and watch this team. Unfortunately, I’m a firm believer it starts with the owner and right now, we have a nice one but not one who wants to win. The last five years is inexcusable.

  15. Aaron Bradley

    One of the biggest indictments against Rigs, is that he was bench coach under Price, so he bears a good amount of responsibility for the product on the field. all the moreso because Price was a pitching coach first and foremost. If Rigs was doing a decent job as bench coach it would have mitigated some of Price’s bad influence. He is just too old school. It’s bad enough Jocketty and Castellini are interfering in fron toffice decision making, but an old school coach would just be so backwards in this age of analytics.

  16. Reds Fan In FL

    I was a kid growing up in southwest Ohio in the 70s and became a baseball fan because of the Big Red Machine. I went to college in northeast Ohio in the mid-80s. I used to have great joy knowing my baseball team was the superior franchise in Ohio. I also enjoyed the playful ribbing I would give my northeast Ohio college friends who backed the Indians. They had only known a completely inept franchise since the 1960s. Boy how the tables have turned. Since 1995, the Indians have been a far superior franchise. Even though they have not won a WS, they are now on their 2nd run of sustained winning. In the last 23 years, the Indians have made the playoffs 11 times. Yes it is a lot easier to make the playoffs with a 3rd division and now 2 wide card teams but that is still an impressive run. I happen to be up in Cleveland this past weekend for a reunion and we all went to a game at Progressive Field. The ballpark and downtown were electrifying. I was happy for my friends as they got to see “their Indians” clinch the AL central for the 3rd straight year but it did make me a little sad to realize my Reds are now the Indians of the 70s and 80s.

    • David

      Too True. Having been to Indians games in the 1970’s in cavernous Municipal Stadium was something else. Chilly in the spring, and sometimes in the summer, being next to Lake Erie.
      The new stadium is nice in Cleveland, and they have had some very good teams since the 1990’s.

      The Reds have become inept, mismanaged losers. You have to think very hard about why Jocketty was fired in St. Louis and Castellini was so quick to hire him.

      But with the apparent paper value of the Reds as they are, it would be very hard to muster a new ownership group, even if the present owners were willing to sell.
      We are in a death grip of losing, unless by some miraculous change, the pitching gets a lot better.

  17. Cary Mcmillan

    Family from Mt Washington but grew up in Indy. First reds game in 1969. Listened to Jim and Joe on the radio when Pete won 1969 batting title Love affair with Reds began.

    Lived in Chicago since 1980. Bought season tics just to see the reds.

    Still have them.

    Friends tried to buy Cubs. Smarter people prevailed

    If we want success get new owners. Period. It’s not the market. It’s the owners.

  18. seanuc

    Over the last five years, combined, the Reds have finished 133 games out of first place. Their record over that time is 360-458. Attendance has gone from 2.4 million in 2014 and 2015, to 1.8 million in 2016 and 2017, to 1.5 million this year.

    I don’t think this is particularly difficult to understand.

    • Michael E

      Bingo! A lot of hemming and hawing on regional or small market or younger fans and their admittedly short attentions span (Internet of things/social media will do that), but the Reds suck and have sucked for a while. If they lose 90 next year, expect another 100,000 or 200,000 decline down to 1.3 million.

      If they suddenly win 90 and contend, expect an steady rise in attendance during the second half of that winning season. They’d draw 3 million fans IF they get on a 100 win pace for more than one season. Fix the pitching, find a shrewd buy-low FA/trade pitcher and then make a big splash trading 3 or 4 top 10 prospects for a GOOD mid 20s or late 20s SP1 type and watch attendance spike almost immediatly by 10,000 per game.

      Gut the coaching and current rotation, pay up for BETTER coaches from OUTSIDE the organization, especially for those from pitching rich systems. Grab a top Braves scout that keeps finding good SPs and latin players.