TO: The Collective Population of New England (especially the Citizens of Massachusetts)
FROM: A Disgruntled Western New Yorker Turned Bostonian
RE: Geography of New York State and the Sports Fandom it Dictates
DATE: November 2, 2007
I feel it prudent at this time to provide you with a refresher geography lesson of New York State (or for those of you who did not pay attention in social studies, a first lesson.) This lesson was spurred on by the absolutely drunk (and I believe underage) Bruins fan and native New Englander who sat in front of me during Thursday evening’s Bruins-Sabres game. This fan proceeded to taunt all the Sabres fans (of which there were many, including myself) by telling us that the “Yankees suck,” and that A-Rod does several unrepeatable acts of a sexual nature. He then decided to mention that “Look, who won the World Series this year – the Red Sox, not your stupid (insert-bad-word-here) Yankees.”
Oh, Mr. Underage Drunk who was using a fake ID to provide his even more underage girlfriend with beers, which proceeded to cause her to do several imitations of various Family Guy characters for all of us to enjoy throughout the evening (not well, by the way – they were clouded by her Jimmy Fallon-esqe fake Bostonian accent circa the Saturday Night Live “Billerica Knights of Columbus” sketch.) If the Massachusetts school system had taught you anything, you would know that true Western New Yorkers couldn’t give a darn about Major League Baseball, seeing that many of us go our entire lives without seeing a MLB game live. This, of course, because we live no where near a MLB team worth merit. Of course, we could cross the border and watch the Blue Jays, but no one has wanted to do that since the mid-1990s. Anyway, we are too busy with football, hockey and lacrosse – baseball would over extend our sports focus.
Mr. Underage Drunk and your fellow New Englanders, to best argue my case, I present a map of New York State.
The red part of the map represents New York City, Westchester County, and Long Island, aka, the parts of New York that Western New Yorkers and New Englanders mutually loathe. The orange part of the map represents a few counties that think they are Upstate, but are really lumped together in our disdain with New York City residents. The green part is indicative of the Adirondacks region of New York State, a part that I’m surprised has yet to be annexed and split in half by the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. People here don’t pay attention to sports that are not represented in the Winter Olympics. The rest – the yellow – represents true Upstate New York.
Upstate New York can be further divided into four separate areas:
- Western New York (of which I am biased towards, being raised here.)
- Central New York (another place I am somewhat biased towards, as I went to school here.)
- Albany/Capital Region
- Poughkeepsie, or the Land of Downstaters-Who-Aren’t-Really-Downstaters, therefore we like them.
Within these four regions, sports team devotion is quite varied. Those from Albany and Poughkeepsie definitely tend to like the Yankees or Mets, because of their proximity to New York City. However, for football, while those from the Poughkeepsie area tend to like the Giants or Jets, I have found that those from Albany like either the Bills, Giants or Patriots, but not the Jets. The Giants hold their training camp at SUNY Albany, the Bills are considered the team of all of Upstate New York, and the Patriots are somewhat close by (2 ½ -3 hours) and for a few years now, have been quite popular to follow.
Central New Yorkers seem to split when it comes to liking baseball – half seem to not realize the sport exists, while the other half either like the Mets or the Yankees. When it comes to football, this region is all over the map – while you will find your fair share of Bills fans, I have come across Philadelphia Eagles fans (for example, Binghamton, NY is on the Pennsylvania border, and is maybe a 3 hour drive away from Philly – thus the Eagles fans there) and Giants fans. Strangely, I rarely found a Central New Yorker Jets fan. It is important to note that the further North you travel in Central New York (Syracuse and Utica, for instance) you will find mostly Bills fans, while in the armpit (Broome, Delaware, and Chenango counties), you find the most diversity.
Now we come to the land of my birth, Western New York, where you are a Bills and Sabres fans upon your conception. Besides my Uncle Sean, I know of no Jets fans in Western New York, and I certainly have never met a Giants fan from here either. (Although, if I remember correctly, there is/was a bar on West Ridge Road in between the Kodak complex and the retail Candy Land that is Greece, NY that advertised as being the Giants fan hangout on Sundays. It is in that strip mall with the Abbots and, I believe, Buffalo Bill’s Tavern that has the white, hot pink and ’80s teal awing. Those of you who know Rochester know what I’m talking about.) The only other football team represented in the area are the Cleveland Browns – a small contingent of their fans exist throughout the area. These fans tend to be older in age and hawken back to the day before the Bills existed, and the Browns were the only team nearby. Strangely enough, this leads to a weird mix in Erie, Pennsylvania (just over the Buffalo border) where you have a pretty divided mix of Browns fans and Bills fans, with a smattering of Steelers fans.
However, baseball fandom in Western New York tends to be highly personal in nature. I know three devoted Red Sox fans in the area and two Yankees fans. When I was in tenth grade, I knew a few guys in school who aligned with the Red Sox because it was, in the words of one of them, “the team that college kids like.” I don’t recall their fandom going any further than the purchase of Red Sox hats. The majority of Western New Yorkers really do not align themselves with a particular baseball team. For example, when I was growing up, I once asked my father, who I looked to for all of my sports knowledge, what baseball team I was supposed to root for. He shrugged and answered, “I don’t know – the Blue Jays?”
Western New Yorkers do care about Triple A baseball, with the Buffalo Bisons, Rochester Red Wings and Syracuse SkyChiefs all in the International League and all playing each other regularly in “Thruway Series” games. But when it comes to Major League Baseball, Western New Yorkers live too far away from New York City (at least a six hour drive) to make it to a Yankees or Mets game on any regular basis. In addition, culturally, Western New Yorkers despise New York City with every ounce of their being – we equate Bloomberg, Guliani and their political counterparts with the devil for monopolizing state funding away from our region; we blame New York City for the past two decades’ influx of crime in the area due to criminals from NYC being sent to serve their time in Western New York and residing here when they are released; and overall, we hate the way Downstaters pretend we don’t exist. Truthfully, Western New Yorkers have an inferiority complex when it comes to Downstate, and we aren’t afraid to show it. Thus, the majority of Western New Yorkers would never think of adopting a New York City sports team as their own.
This disdain of Downstate New York is a reason why many young Western New Yorkers are seemingly flocking to Boston to lead their adult lives – career opportunities in our home region are so limited, but we can’t bring ourselves to move down to New York City because of our overwhelming dislike of the area. So we choose Boston, an area with similar, if not more intense, feelings towards Downstate as the ones we were brought up with. And this is why, at Sabres-Bruins games, the Sabres fans come close to outnumbering the Bruins fans – we’re moving up here in droves.
So, Mr. Underage Drunk, the next time you attempt to taunt Buffalo Sabres fans by telling us how much the Yankees suck, recall that we too, hate the Yankees. Instead, we recommend that you just singsongingly taunt, “Chris Drury. Chris Drury. Chris Drury.” or make up some taunt regarding the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. We’ll smirk, and then, just like what happened on Thursday, some Sabres fan will remark to the other Sabres fans around him, “Never mind – the Rochester Amerks (the AHL team in Rochester) sell more tickets than the Bruins.” We’ll all laugh, proclaim the fan’s correctness, and look at the New Englanders’ confused faces.
An aside added later – I forgot to add an important discussion piece in this entry. I feel that Major League Baseball had more of a fan base less dependent on geography before the most recent players strikes. In order to appeal to fans outside of a teams geographical region, a sport needs to have a momentum building that transcends geographical limitations. With baseball, when you had larger than life players like a Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and the like, ones who seemed almost mythical, the story sold in places with smaller populations like Western New York, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Iowa, even though the teams involved played far away. Once player strikes began to happen, outlying fans such as these had less buy-in than fans in the actual regions where teams existed, and thus, were the first to abandon baseball. Baseball has been back for over a decade now, but only now are they rebuilding the momentum – you had three long suffering franchises win the last four World Series, which is again news worthy for those with no baseball team in their area. It will take a bit longer for baseball fandom to reach its before strike levels, and the fear should be that they have lost an entire generation (those 22-28 or so, who were of prime fan development age during the 1994 strike) of fans. However, I have no doubt that baseball will always be a relevant and successful sport in this country.
The NFL has this momentum now, with a wide ranging appeal that defies geographic boundaries. What helps professional football is that every state in the US has a Division I college football team, which is essentially the equivalent of the farm system in baseball. Even those states with seemingly nothing else have college football (Montana State – always a contender in Division I-AA, Boise State – the surprising stars of last year’s college football season,) thus allowing fans to follow players from college into the professional ranks. This buy in increases the propensity for someone not near any NFL team to be a fan of a NFL team. The NBA had the mythical athlete appeal through the 1980s and 1990s and have lost it – thus why the NBA is increasingly suffering loss of viewership over the past view years. The NHL barely touched the mythical athlete appeal with Gretzky, but besides that, never had a reason for those not located near a team to become a fan – thus why the sport is now failing miserably. A professional sport built on a pure regional adoption of team as the sole reason for fandom model will no longer succeed in America.