May 7, 2013

Fan artwork

One Maple Leafs fan in Toronto going for the most tasteless and insensitive sign possible:

Another group of MLS fans in San Jose...

April 7, 2011

Empty Seats in Baseball's Opening Week

Darren Rovell, sports business reporter for CNBC (and a former ESPN reporter), makes the most of using Twitter. With over 10,000 tweets and over 70,000 followers, his combination of insight and fan interaction makes following his Twitter feed a necessity.

Recently, Rovell asked fans to either send or re-tweet photos from empty MLB stadiums from this past week. Among the usual stadium suspects: Camden Yards (Orioles), Rogers Centre (Blue Jays), Progressive Field (Indians), Sun Life Stadium (Marlins).

The Rogers Centre in Toronto. Just over 11,000 fans showed up
to see the Jays beat the Athletics. The Jays are 4-1 this season.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Less than 13,000 fans showed
as the Orioles lost to the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles are also 4-1 this season.

Empty seats at Cleveland's Progressive Field. Last night, less than
10,000 fans showed up. The team is averaging around 15,000 fans through 5 home games.

Unfortunately for MLB, which predicted an increase in attendance this season, these showings have put a damper on some of the robust ticket sales for teams like the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, and the reigning World Series champions San Francisco Giants. Worse yet, even teams like the Chicago Cubs are struggling in their attendance figures during their series against the Diamondbacks. And while some sportswriters have blamed the winter weather and others have blamed technology, namely improvements and availability of TV and Internet broadcasts, Rovell is blaming the teams.

We'll see how the attendance story develops over the course of the season, especially if teams like the Orioles and Blue Jays can keep winning. In the meantime, the following picture, perhaps, sums up the attendance potential lurking in Washington, D.C.

Uniform sighting from the opening series at Nationals Park.

Sorry, Nationals fans. You'll have to wait for #37, the phenom Stephen Strasburg - at least six more months. His impact - "the Strasburg Effect" - could surely come in handy for boosting attendance all by himself.

April 1, 2011

Do sports fans live in caves?

Just yesterday, I found out about a Major League Baseball promotion that will put two fans in a Greenwich, NYC apartment equipped with enough televisions for them to watch every regular season and playoff game for the upcoming season. Of course, they won't technically live in the apartment, but will be there to watch games from 1:05pm start times on the east coast to the 7:35pm starts on the west coast.
The promotion is called "The MLB Fan Cave," which is a reference to the 15,000 square foot, glass-walled apartment space designed by one of the lead designers of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The apartment will not only feature the two fans all season long, but will also house studio space for television interviews and drop-ins from major league players. There will also be set-ups for Internet chats, video games, and fantasy baseball referendums as well as a barbershop, tattoo parlor, pitching alley, batting cage, Pepsi-sponsored 1950s-themed restaurant, DJ booth, MLB store, graffiti wall, Steiner Sports collectibles area, and multiple fan-viewing areas that emulate "Pepsi Porches" installed in various MLB stadiums.

The Apartment Design Layout.

The two fans - a musician from NY and an actor from Baltimore - take in
the first pitch of the 2011 season. The lucky winners were plucked from nearly 10,000 entries.

Both the promotion and the cave have a variety of interesting elements to consider. First, MLB gets on the man-cave bandwagon by channeling the name "cave" to frame the space as a masculine domain. Of course, there are female baseball fans and I wonder whether or not MLB considered their place in a cave, especially since the MLB press release refers to the two winners as "cavemen," and in several videos, the two winners introduce themselves as "caveman" and "wingman."

The two "cavemen" will  watch all 2,430 regular season games, as well as
each playoff game. That's slightly less than all the games that 
Cal Ripken played consecutively from 1982-1998.

Second, the multi-screen setup is an interesting development in sports viewing that is just about reaching its zenith. Just by having multiple games on at once makes me wonder what kind of watching is happening and what kind of fandom is being cultivated. In other words, is a multi-screen setup indicative of the marriage of sports fandom and fantasy sports leagues - where the investment in watching a single game is less important than catching just the pitching performances or at-bats of your fantasy players in a slew of games.

Finally, from a promotional standpoint, kudos to MLB for extending the spectacle and making fans wonder about which is the superior option: attending the game or sitting in a cave.

You can watch videos from the cave here. And of course they are on Twitter and Facebook.

January 18, 2011

French football and symbolic killing?

Just a few months removed from their embarrassing qualification win against Ireland and even more embarrassing appearance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, France is headed in some bold new directions.

The French team in 2010

You may remember that France was only able to advance to the World Cup after a deliberate Thierry Henry handball that went uncalled, led to the game-winning goal in a play-off game against Ireland. Once arriving at the World Cup, the French team tied Uruguay in their first group match, 0-0, and then lost to Mexico 2-0 in their second match. After that game, French forward Nicolas Anelka was kicked off the team for a profanity-laced tirade directed at head coach Raymond Domenech.

What happened next was pure insanity. The next day, Domenech's team refused to take the practice field in support of their banished teammate. The team's general manager/director marched off the field and resigned from the French Football Federation in disgrace.

French players huddled on the sidelines...

...while Domenech (white hair by the corner flag) faced the press.

The bizarre turn of events saw practice cancelled and, unsurprisingly, two days later the team lost their final group stage game to South Africa by a score of 2-1, thus, ending a disastrous World Cup campaign. Subsequently, Domenech was fired and, in order to quell fan uproar, the President of France Nicolas Sarkozy held meetings with a number of players to discuss the team's meltdown in South Africa.

Here's where rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke steps in. Burke believed that in order to rid ourselves of guilt, we employ two rhetorical processes - victimage and self-mortification. So, in order to work towards repairing its national football image, first, the team - as well as the country of France - needed to find a scapegoat to burden with collective guilt and disappointment. Domenech served as one scapegoat, but to go even further, all 23 players from the World Cup team were suspended from the team's first post-World Cup match against Norway (France lost the away fixture 2-1). Furthermore, four of the more disruptive players from the World Cup were suspended from the French team for multiple games (Anelka was suspended for 18 matches).

The second part of the purification process, self-mortification involves what Burke calls "symbolic killing." Examples of this kind of mortification include things like New Year's resolutions or getting a drastically different hair cut or tattoo. These actions become transformative in some way, where the old persona is shed for a new one. In the case of French Football, their mortification process began just after the World Cup, when former French national team member - and 1998 World Cup winner - Laurent Blanc was introduced as the team's new coach.

But, it continued in today with the unveiling of a new team uniform. And not only is it a new uniform, but a new apparel provider. After 38 years with Adidas, the French Federation signed a 7-year deal worth roughly $56 million per year to wear Nike products.

The new Nike jersey unveiled on Monday is a stark contrast 
to the 2010 jersey, at the top of the post.

Stitched on the inside of the jersey, behind the badge, reads the saying "Nos Differences Nous Unissent" (our differences unite us), a subtle reminder against the infighting that took place in South Africa as well as national racial tensions that have surfaced around the team's multicultural composition.

Furthermore, in the press conference announcing the jersey, Blanc spoke to the new persona of the team as a result of the jersey change:
"This jersey represents the spirit of French elegance, something recognized all over the world. The true collar, the new blue, the addition of the red really enhance the new kit. It goes well with the philosophy I want to create: creativity, humbleness, ambition."
And, to cement the new kit with meaning, Nike has produced the following video that details not only the new product, but the team's "new philosophy" under coach Laurent Blanc.

To me, this is both obvious and fascinating. The next question is, will it work? Inevitably, as Kenneth Burke insists, any pursuit for perfection will let ultimately fail and the feeling of guilt will return, thereby initiating the process all over again. Even if France, and it's new philosophy, wins the next World Cup.

January 3, 2011


Over the weekend, the NHL staged their latest Winter Classic outdoor game, a matchup that pits two teams outdoors, in the elements, hearkening back to hockey's roots...or at least, that's the nostalgic frame the NHL is selling us. Anyway, the event took place at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and featured the hometown Penguins against the Washington Capitals.

The Caps took the win in the league's 4th annual event, which was postponed to an 8pm start time due to rain, but garnered the highest ratings of any Winter Classic and was the most watched regular season NHL game since 1975.

The lead play-by-play announcer Doc Emrick couldn't resist the word "spectacle" at least 3 or 4 times during the NBC telecast. Here's what he meant by it.

The opening faceoff at Heinz Field

The game featured an announced crowd of 68,111

Well, when it comes to spectacle, the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) saw the NHL spectacle and attempted to do it one better. Borrowing the out-of-place playing field notion, with the Penguins and Capitals tussling in an NFL stadium, the ATP put its two top male players - Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - on a floating tennis court in the middle of Doha Bay, Qatar, to publicize the start of the 2011 ATP season.

Good luck fetching aces


Now, the ATP has been known to pull out all the stops to promote the beginning of the tennis season. The last two New Year's Days in Doha featured Rafa and Federer playing atop a floating magic carpet (2009) and on a platformed boat (2010).

New Year's Day 2009 in Doha

New Year's Day 2010 in Doha Bay

But with the two tennis greats facing each other on a floating court, NHL, consider the stakes for spectacle raised.

November 29, 2010

The ludicrous narrative for a Korean World Cup in 2022

The voting for the rights to host upcoming FIFA World Cups in 2018 and 2022 take place on Thursday, December 2nd. Hardly a transparent process, the voting process is rife with secrecy and corruption, leaving no real clues as to whom the World Cups will be awarded.

The 2018 bids are from Russia, England, Spain/Portugal, and Belgium/Netherlands. The 2022 bids are from Qatar, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and the United States. An executive summary of those bids, as evaluated by FIFA, is available here.

What's troubling, somewhat, is to hear the extent to which FIFA president Sepp Blatter is pushing a certain political agenda for these two Cups, which he deems as potential "legacy" tournaments, as outlined in this Wall Street Journal article:
"2018 would open Russia to the rest of the world, banishing the ugliness of the Iron Curtain once and for all. 2022, so the narrative goes, would help unify North and South Korea. Such is the power of soccer that, according to the theory, South Korea would happily share its World Cup with its neighbor to the North. That part's not implausible, but the imagined narrative goes further: North Korea would open up in time for 2022, ridding itself of an authoritarian regime (by that point, Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader, might have made way for his designated successor, Kim Jong Un) and turning the event into a celebration of soccer-propelled international brotherhood."
Woefully optimistic at best and delusional at worst, could the power of Sepp Blatter's narrative - along with the executive committee members willing to do his bidding - deliver the 2022 Cup to South Korea, co-hosts (with Japan) in 2002? Lest we forget, it was also Blatter's doings that delivered a World Cup to Africa, which although deserved for South Africa progress as a nation, did not deliver in reality what FIFA's rhetoric had promised - as noted previously on this blog here, here, and here.

World Cup power broker and FIFA President Sepp Blatter

All in all, considering recent events in the Korean peninsula, such a pie-in-the-sky scenario for a Korean World Cup in 2022 seems preposterous. But, in truth, no less preposterous than FIFA's back-room-dealing, under-the-desk-note-passing, bribe-inducing, and country-colluding voting process in the first place.

November 27, 2010

Euro 2012 Mascots Unveiled

How strange is this video introducing the new mascots for Euro 2012, the European soccer championships, to be held jointly by Poland and the Ukraine?

Seriously. These animatrons, of course, look a whole lot better when manifested in material form:

Yikes. Why international sports organizations insist on giving children nightmares via their mascots is beyond me.  At least, however, the new Poland/Ukraine mascots are a tad less creepy than their 2012 Olympic counterparts, Wenlock and Mandeville.

Yowza. Names for the Euro 2012 freaks have yet to be determined, as FIFA holds a fan voting competition to determine whether they will be called one of the following: Slavek and Slavko, Siemko and Strimko, or Klemek and Ladko.

The triviality of the spectacle, does it matter?