During the instances of watching the World Cup out at bars, it occurred to me once again that I might get really into English soccer if I gave myself the chance to do so. This has also occurred to me while watching that Sox-Yankees game a while back in what was obviously a soccer bar and also whenever I've had an Irish breakfast at the Phoenix Landing in Cambridge. The problems with this fancy are mostly logistic; I do not have cable or DirecTV so my only option for watching is going to soccer bars like those. Unfortunately, that's a lot of 10am drinking, even for me.
I know I'm not alone here and, like clockwork, Bill Simmons conducted a run-off of the Premiership teams to determine who will be his new rooting interest. Naturally, I loved it; I probably learned more about English soccer in 20 minutes than I would have been able to suss out on my own in days. I'm still a better paying job, TV and satellite service away from being able to follow the sport in any meaningful way but the Sports Guy did bring up a relevant comparison to American sports that I find lamentable.
The American stadium approach to fan participation is close to the point of no return. It isn't gone completely (in fact, it's one of the things I miss most about Fenway) but the majority of sports franchises try much too hard to rev up their crowds. So much so that it has had the exact reverse effect, which is disastrous. Simmons seems to concede this point; he states that he has no answer to it, which he doesn't have to since it's an article about English soccer anyway. But I'll take a crack at it. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to deal with Baseball. Football (which doesn't do half bad anyhow), basketball and hockey are on their own.
1. Turn off the PAs. This has to happen first before any progress is made. The booth guy/gal is there to read the names of the players as they enter the game. Anything else coming out of the speakers is aural assault. You'll never get a roomful of people to play Scrabble with the TV on and you can't get a stadium of people to spontaneously make noise when you're constantly telling them when you want them to. This goes for the Jumbotron or scoreboard too. Yeah, I've seen the clever animation that goes up there. It's very cute.
2. Enough with the between-inning "entertainment". Seriously, how long is that gap, 90 seconds? 2 minutes? There's no better buzzkill after a huge defensive play to end a threat or a three-run inning than watching kids (or adults) spin around a bat and try to cross a finish line. Or being displayed on the Jumbo guessing between three options for the benefit of some sponsor's "prize". All this does is distract from whatever crowd energy that was achieved by reminding everyone that they are in a safe, fun little place where the things they are witnessing bear no consequence or implication. If that were true, I don't know why they didn't just go to a movie, which is 60% cheaper and never changes, no matter how many times you see it.
3. Encourage cheerleaders or hire your own. Using the same scrutiny used in employing spirited tour guides, teams should have several of these people on staff at games to jazz up the crowd. I don't care how mesmerizing the "Make Some Noise" animation on the screen is, it is guaranteed to create exactly 10 seconds of noise or less. But charismatic (this is the operative qualification) people who bring their own style and enthusiasm to the park will rub off on people. Think the crazy drum beating guy for the Indians. Why did anyone show up for Indians games in the late 80's? I'm going to say it was him more than the team.
4. Gee, thanks for the Amtrak fanny pack. If the sole reason for having a promotion is to hand out ads for a company, maybe it shouldn't happen. But the Baseball season is long, why is one game any different from the next? I think the first game of any homestand after a road trip of more than 6 games should be a Homecoming game. Hold costume contests, cheering contests, creative sign-making contests. Have a student rate. Make up nicknames for opposing players. Getting people weaned off of the amplified direction won't happen overnight, but if you sprinkle these types of promotions into the season without the multimedia assault, people will figure out that these are the games to be at. When everyone's into the game, it doesn't matter that there are 81 of them - they'll all be fun, win or lose.
"Come see your first place (insert team here)!" only works when your team is in first place. That shouldn't be the biggest deciding factor for people in buying a ticket. As soon as it does, they stop coming when the team stops winning. Which is almost every team's problem eventually because there are 2,430 losses in the Majors every year, never any fewer than the number of wins. One of the reasons Simmons decided to get into English soccer is because the fans are always into it. It's hard for me to believe that every team's fans have a uniform expectation of winning any given game. Somehow, we have to lose this idea that the likelihood of seeing our team win should be exactly proportionate to our interest in giving them a chance.
Oh yeah, and they should lower ticket prices.