So What Happens to the Astros if They Lose Their Fans?

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A friend from out of town was in Houston on Wednesday. He wanted to watch the Minnesota Wild in game seven versus Colorado. I wanted to watch the Rockets. So I found a sports bar where we could watch both, and arrived early to get a booth so I could get near TVs showing both games.

Arriving early, I figured I would get to see the Astros losing to the Nationals on one of the TVs while waiting for the Rockets and Wild games. The sports bar actually had CSN Houston, after all, so it made sense that the Astros would be on one of the TVs, at least until the Rockets started. But the Astros weren't on any of the televisions. The Spurs/Mavericks were on a bunch of screens. And the Nets/Raptors. The Flyers/Rangers NHL playoff game was on a big screen. And the rest of the TVs were tuned to the CSN Houston Rockets pre-game.

This isn't the first time I've noticed this. I went to a sports bar several Sundays ago. The Astros were playing the Rangers, but the screens in the place were all tuned to the Masters, the NBA, bowling and a figure skating competition. The excuse last year was that very few sports bars had CSN Houston. The excuse this year is that no one gives a damn about the Houston Astros.

I argued last year that the Astros weren't killing baseball in Houston. The issues with CSN Houston weren't helping fan interest, but baseball wasn't dying. Instead, I argued that things were returning to a normal of front-running, bandwagon Houston sports fans who only pay attention and show up when a team's good, but can't be bothered the rest of the time, kind of like sports fans in Dallas, Atlanta and Miami. But I have to concede that I might have been wrong.

The difference I'm sensing is the anger that many people I talk to have about the Astros. These people think the Astros are tanking games on purpose, that the Astros are more concerned with some far off future than whether or not the big-league club, charging big-league prices, loses 100-plus games year after year after year after year. The logic of what management is trying doesn't matter. Many of the people I've met, talked to, think the team holds them in contempt and thinks they are such idiots that they'll pay outrageous prices on the mere promise of a potentially vague payoff years in the future.

So I wonder if the fans will return in 2022 when maybe the Astros are once again competitive. I wonder if they'll come back despite being called idiots for questioning the excessive defensive shifts, or being derided for thinking management and the fanboys might believe having the best farm system is more important than winning the World Series. And combine that with the ticket prices and the belief that they can't watch Rockets games because the Astros vetoed CSN Houston carriage deals, and I begin to believe the Astros will never recover those disaffected bandwagon fans.

The Astros still have fans, though that dwindling number appears to be just diehard baseball fans, and the science experiment fanboys who seem to prefer discussing the success or lack thereof of the tandem rotation while belittling anyone they feel isn't properly deferential to the team's front office. But the rest of the city's angrily tuning out the club, and with CSN Houston crashing and burning, the lack of TV money means the Astros are in real trouble with nobody attending the team's games and paying lots of dollars for concessions and merchandise.

Yes, the Rockets had a playoff game Wednesday. Yes, there were two other NBA playoff games, and there were three NHL game sevens being played (game sevens in the Stanley Cup playoffs are the most intense games played in any North American sport). But the Astros, and baseball fans, should be very troubled that a packed sports bar could not find one screen to display the home team playing a baseball game hours before the basketball game begins.

Maybe it's nothing. Maybe things will return to normal when/if CSN Houston pops up everywhere and/or the team ever starts to win again. But as a baseball fan, I'm worried about the health of the Houston Astros. It's nice the minors are so good and that there's a plan in place. Let's just hope that enough people who actually give a damn are left when the team starts winning again. If the team ever starts winning again, that is.

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