It had to happen eventually. For the first time since 1999, the Tennessee Titans did not sell out every game on the first day single-game tickets were available.
Last year, the sellout took four hours — itself a post-Super Bowl XXXIV record for sluggishness. Most years the remainder disappeared in the time it takes to get through the brunch line at Pancake Pantry.
Titans executive vice president Don MacLachlan put on a happy face as it became clear Monday afternoon that for the first time in more than a decade, the team would have to bring back its ticket-selling staff for a second day. After all, even with the lockout and various two-toned-blue shenanigans, the Titans still mustered a 97 percent season ticket renewal.
Things could be worse. Talking with George Plaster Monday afternoon, MacLachlan noted there are no tarps covering seating sections at LP Field, a dig at the Jacksonville Jaguars as subtle as a shoulder-pad toss. (The Jaguars have covered several sections of their stadium to reduce the numbers needed for a sellout.)
McLachlan told the affable radio mainstay that frankly, the team sort of expected a ducat deceleration. And for good reason: With the unemployment rate stubbornly higher than the Titans' projected win total, the economy is no doubt a factor. But it's not the only one.
The Titans currently boast a 124-game sellout streak — middle of the pack in the NFL, but the Titans don't have the benefit of having been in the league for 50 or more years. And since that figure represents every home date at LP Field, dating back to their first glorious season, the Titans can't be beat on sellout percentage.
The Titans won every game at home on their way to the excruciating Super Bowl loss in that initial season. The Music City Miracle has fueled the passion ever since.
Since then, the Titans have largely had a free pass from criticism with an unassailable coach — until Vince Young pulled back the curtain. Never mind this is a team that hasn't won a playoff game since 2003, or that the team misses the playoffs as often as not. Never mind the string of mediocre quarterbacks alternately airmailing and worm-burning passes, their win totals shored up by lunch-pail defenses and eye-popping runners, with offensive schemes as pointless as ordering the mild chicken at Prince's.
It's almost as if Nashville doesn't want to complain about the team's shortcomings — like polite Southerners, we don't want to be misconstrued as unappreciative. Some might think we don't like what we're given, decide once and for all we don't deserve it, and take it away — and LP Field would be left as an empty monument to excessive concern, a metropolitan parallel to the nuclear cooling tower-and-a-half left abandoned in Hartsville.
But with the recession as an excuse, it seems Nashvillians realize the emperor is wearing no clothes. It started late last season, as fans — chastened by the bland and occasionally insulting play of the team — stayed home instead of schlepping it to the East Side. Despite the stadium announcer cheerily proclaiming another sellout, it seemed many of those tickets were sold to folks who must have been raptured on their way through the turnstiles.
It remains to be seen whether the sellout streak is truly in peril. The Titans have a pair of preseason games and don't kick off the regular season at home until Week 2. The team is close to selling out the Oct. 30 game against the Indianapolis Ohmigod-Peyton-Manning-Is-Coming-to-Town-Colts, but plenty of seats are available for the rest of schedule.
Once a sellout streak ends, the decline can come down like an avalanche. A Colorado Avalanche.
Denver's NHL franchise had an even better start than the Titans: The team won the Stanley Cup a year after relocating from Quebec. (Somehow they couldn't make hockey work in Canada; ponder that.) That spurred a 487-game sellout streak, a run of nearly 11 years without an empty seat in the Mile High City.
The departure of the stars from the relocated team turned the Avs from perennial contender to perennial struggler. Like the Titans, the team is as apt to miss the playoffs as to make them — even more of a disappointment in the NHL, where more than half the teams make the postseason.
Now the Avs struggle to fill the Pepsi Center. The team ranked 24th in attendance in the 2010-11 season, selling just 82 percent of their seats.
When the bloom falls off the rose, it can shatter like glass. Especially when it's weighed down by a strong dose of What Have You Done For Me Lately.
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