In Sports, How Much Do Fans Matter?

From SABR member Henry D. Fetter at The Atlantic on April 26:

The current controversy over the troubled present and uncertain future of the Dodgers has spurred an outpouring of nostalgia in Los Angeles about the team’s golden years in the City of Angels and lamentations over its present difficulties.

But any thinking about the Dodgers’ better days in the City of Angels cannot help but summon memories of the original sin which begat that franchise in the first place: the team’s move from Brooklyn after the 1957 season. Whatever the rationale offered by Dodger owner Walter O’Malley at the time and his defenders ever since, the decision to abandon Brooklyn was his alone to make, and needless to say it was made without consulting the team’s Brooklyn fans. If any one moment made it absolutely and unequivocally clear that the fans essentially counted for nothing (except when it came to the privilege of buying tickets) in the profit-seeking calculus of team management, that was it. Nothing has happened since to change that basic and brutal fact of sports life one bit, except that the vastly enriched player class are now more readily identifiable as ownership’s peers when it comes to pursuing their own interests, whatever the cost to the fans. Witness the current lockout dispute in the National Football League.

It is now almost 50 years since Boston sportswriter Harold Kaese observed that “if ever a paradox were true, it is that big league baseball is strictly a business to those who make money off those who think it is strictly a sport.” To which one only add, can anyone still think that baseball (or football or basketball, or hockey for that matter) is strictly a sport?

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Originally published: April 26, 2011. Last Updated: April 26, 2011.