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Foss: If the teams come, will the fans go?

Foss: If the teams come, will the fans go?

Past failures raise doubts
Foss: If the teams come, will the fans go?
Legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson as he coached the Albany Patroons in the 1980s.
Photographer: Provided

I can remember being excited about the Albany Patroons. 

Not the Patroons of the 1980s — the professional basketball team that won the 1984 Continental Basketball Association championship under the tutelage of now-legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson. 

The Patroons of the mid-2000s — the CBA expansion team that brought basketball back to the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany. 

I love basketball, and when the Patroons announced that they were returning to Albany, I was prepared to do what I could to support them. I envisioned a fun season of hanging out at the Armory, learning about the players and watching basketball. 

In reality,  I went to two or three games and had a good time, but after that first, expectant year I never went again. 

The Patroons announced in August that they were returning to Albany, and I couldn't help but wonder whether things would be different this time around, whether the team would find the audience support that eluded them during their previous Capital Region stint. 

On Monday, I found myself asking similar questions about the Arena Football League, which on Tuesday will announce a return to the Times Union Center. 

Don't get me wrong — I love the idea of a thriving local sports scene, with fans who turn out to cheer on CBA basketball, Arena Football, minor league baseball and whatever else. 

But is the Capital Region of 2017 a place where such sports can thrive? Or is there a reason so many teams have come and gone during the time I've lived here? 

In the spring, the minor league hockey team the Albany Devils left Albany, and the idea is that the new AFL team will replace them as a tenant. The big question, though, is whether fans will support the AFL in a way they didn't minor league hockey. 

Again, I'd like to see people support these teams — and if these teams are to be successful, I should probably encourage people to support them. 

But that's difficult to do. 

For one thing, I don't feel as though I can support these teams, at least not in any way that really matters. 

For years, friends told me how much fun minor league hockey is, but I never went to see the Devils or the Albany River Rats play. I love the idea of professional basketball in Albany, but I have a lot of interests and commitments and it's going to be tough to find the time to root for the Patroons. 

I don't think I'm the only person like this, and I also think that the way we watch and support sports has changed a lot over the past two decades. 

Not only do people have more options, but their home entertainment systems have improved dramatically. 

My friend Eli, a sports nut if ever there was one, would rather stay home and watch his favorite teams on his giant TV than venture out to watch CBA basketball or Arena Football. 

He will attend college sporting events, which have strong support from the local community. People who love basketball have two good options: Siena College and the University at Albany. I have other friends who are enthusiastic fans of Union College hockey. 

For fans of major league sports, New York and Boston are just a few hours away. We don't live in the middle of nowhere; people who really want to see top-tier athletic talent can easily do so. 

So it's not that Capital Region residents don't like or support sports. 

They do. 

But there are a lot of teams, and some will inevitably lose out. 

And while I'd love for both the AFL and Patroons to thrive here, I do wonder just where their fans are going to come from. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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