Falcons should expect sharp decline in fan engagement

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Sports bring out the best in people, but they also bring out the worst. Nowadays, support and loyalty come in extravagant and sometimes unbelievable forms, leading some fans to take extreme measures in expressing pain or joy. Some teams are people’s entire identity, and fans treat it as a religion. There’s no doubt that sports are an emotional rollercoaster, which drives some people entirely away from supporting the very thing they love. Falcons fans know this as well as any fan base across any sport.

Regardless of how long you’ve been a Falcons supporter, there’s things every generation of fan can look back on that’ll make their stomachs turn. A well-known controversy surrounding star quarterback Michael Vick is where most people’s brains go first. In April 2007, authorities stormed Vick’s property in Newport News, Virginia, which had evidence of an extensive dogfighting ring. The league suspended Vick; he spent the next 21 months in Leavenworth Prison, and he never played for the Falcons again.

Then, the Falcons were involved in yet another embarrassing and disappointing national story. While Vick was on his way to prison, head coach Bobby Petrino decided 13 games into the season that he just didn’t want to coach in the league anymore. The man Atlanta brought in to coach Vick left a four-sentence note in each player’s locker and became the head honcho at Arkansas. It was humiliating for the franchise, and it was a difficult time for fans.

The fan base then had a shred of enjoyment after the team drafted Matt Ryan and became playoff contenders for most of his tenure. However, that also leads us to what stings the most for Falcons fans: up 28-3 in Super Bowl LI with only 2:08 remaining in the third quarter, the Falcons collapsed in the most devastating fashion and were on the wrong end of one of the greatest comebacks in all of sports. 28-3 carries a stigma; everybody knows what it means, and it’ll never go away, nor will the pain it brought fans.

There was also the Eugene Robinson mess before the Falcons’ only other Super Bowl appearance, in which he caught a solicitation charge the night before the big game. Or the time during the 1980 postseason when Atlanta blew a ten-point lead to the Cowboys for a shot at a Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, the misery doesn’t end there. This past season with a new regime in charge, the Falcons were a mediocre team that had no business sniffing around the playoffs. The offseason came, and many fans wondered what the plan was with an aging, expensive Matt Ryan and a roster with more holes than answers. Nobody could’ve guessed what happened next.

The Falcons were reportedly interested in trading for Deshaun Watson, who still has 22 civil suits pending against him. It immediately alienated a faction of the fan base purely because of what Watson has been accused of doing, which is completely understandable. However, it ignited another portion of fans that saw Watson as the franchise quarterback in Atlanta for the next 15 years. When he’s on the field, Watson is unarguably an elite signal caller in this league. That, too, was understandable.

However, the Falcons lost out on Watson in the late hours of the night to the Browns, who came in and offered Watson a record-setting $230 million fully-guaranteed contract, which he claims had no bearing on his decision (bullshit). So, at this point, the Falcons fans that were initially mad about the interest in a person with that type of off-the-field baggage were still upset about it, and the fans who were excited about potentially having Watson in Atlanta were also pissed. Terry Fontenot did the only thing he could at this point, and he traded Matt Ryan to the Colts for a measly third-round pick.

Falcons fans have taken all they can from this franchise. The team will win five or so games this year and not re-capture anyone’s attention. If I were in Arthur Blank’s ear, I’d be preparing him for a sharp decline in fan engagement. The only way to get this fan base excited again is by drafting a quarterback; at the very least, fans could dream about a future where this prospect pans out into something close to Matt Ryan.

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