Loyal Fans Help St. Louis Pass Ultimate Test of Sports Town

By Jeff Gordon Of the Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 5, 1995 | Go to article overview

Loyal Fans Help St. Louis Pass Ultimate Test of Sports Town


Jeff Gordon Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


St. Louis sports fans are not blindly loyal. They will boo, disparage and even neglect teams that don't seem to care.

But competent franchises do well here, even in lean times.

"As long as they make an effort, people will support those teams," said Bob Verheyen of Belleville, who arrived for Tuesday night's Blues-Mighty Ducks game decked out in team attire. "The fact the Cardinals are so popular even after they have off years, it has a lot to do with how (patient) the fans are. They just like to see baseball, they like to see hockey."

The Blues have built a near-rabid following despite burdening fans with annual ticket price increases and producing fairly ordinary teams.

"Since '86, they have not been out of the division (in the playoffs)," said Mike Dyer, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission. "But they've been willing to make the effort to win, and fans appreciate that. Ten or 11 years ago, when I worked for the Blues, they were averaging 11,000 or 12,000 a game."

In the early 1980s, St. Louis University drew friends and relatives for basketball games at Kiel Auditorium. When Rich Grawer built exciting teams with local talent, fans began arriving.

And when Charlie Spoonhour took the program toward Top 25 status, fans began packing the massive Kiel Center. "I didn't think we would accomplish anything like that," Spoohour said. "We had 20,000 people for Austin Peay, 20,000 for Marquette. I didn't think we'd ever achieve anything on the magnitude of that.

"I've always known St. Louis as an excellent baseball town. That's where my primary interest was. But when you're away from St. Louis, you're not aware of all the things going on here. The fans are very good."

Even the hapless football Cardinals enjoyed steady support until owner Bill Bidwill began shopping for a sunnier market in the 1980s.

"I'm amazed when people outside St. Louis say this wasn't a good football town," said NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, a St. Louis resident. "The failure of the football team here was, for the most part, the failure of the football organization."

Athletes who play elsewhere learn to appreciate St. Louisans. Vince Coleman was hardly the most popular Cardinal during his tenure, but he spoke glowingly of Mound City after leaving.

"I love the game, but I loved it even more going to Busch Stadium to play," said Coleman, now a Kansas City Royal. "The fans here are outstanding. …

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