The “productization” of sports

August 16, 2010 |

We hear a term thrown around today with regard to sports that frosts me a bit: on-field product. When I think of a “product,” I think of something that I can buy at my local neighborhood supermarket, such as Crest toothpaste. I’m not sure where you people are from, but in my hometown a sporting event is a game. Crest = product, Orioles = game; capisce? However this is not how sporting events are marketed any longer. Nowadays it’s all about the “gameday experience,” and the “on-field product.” When my Dad used to take me to Memorial Stadium to see the O’s when I was a kid, nobody gave two hoots about the “gameday experience.” Speaking for myself, I could do without all of the swanky luxury suites and so forth. Yeah sure they might be nice and the food might be good, but is that really how sports were meant to be watched? The NFL in December is all about being out in the cold rooting on your team, not sitting on your hands in a suite asking someone to pass the Grey Poupon. By today’s standards, the Memorial Stadium “gameday experience” flat out stunk; but does that mean that things are better today?

I think that society is much more demanding today than it was when I was a kid (in the 1980’s) and prior. In some cases that’s a good thing, however not in this case. If a baseball stadium doesn’t have cushioned seats in the lower bowl between first and third along, it’s outdated. The same holds true for a football stadium that doesn’t have a temperature controled club level with a waitress to bring food to your seat. I went up to Boston last spring to see the O’s play at Fenway Park, which is still very much as it was when it was built in 1912. Sure the seats were a bit uncomfortable and the sight lines weren’t perfect, but it was a great park. The times I saw the Washington Nationals play the Orioles at RFK Stadium were much more enjoyable than what they have now at Nationals Park.

So again, we hear this term on-field product all the time. Basically, if the team stinks the people aren’t going to show up at the games. Again, sports is not a product, it’s a game. That means that you go out to the ballpark/stadium on gameday with your friends, kids, wife, husband, etc and have a good time at the game. Rooting for a winning team is certainly much easier than the alternative, however you shouldn’t let a “poor on-field product” dissuade you from being a fan. Furthermore, we keep hearing that product term…might that be why people are so fickle in their fandom nowadays? If you’ve consistently used Crest toothpaste and it ceases to be effective for you, odds are you’re going to switch PRODUCTS and start to use Colgate or Aquafresh. So if the Orioles lose enough and you deem that the PRODUCT has ceased to be effective, does that mean you’re going to switch your fandom to another PRODUCT? I suppose I’m still cut from the ilk which says that your favorite team in any given sport is very much a part of who you are. That doesn’t mean that I’m a loser because I root for the Orioles, but it does mean that I have an invested stake in the fortunes of that team. The same can be said for any Ravens fan, Yankees, Capitals, Redskins, etc.

We all have stories as to why we root for who we do. I guess what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t let a poor “product” sway you one way or the other. Back to the stadium issue for a moment; these new stadiums are being built to accomodate the more affluent members of our society. With sports’ salaries at an all-time high, owners need to be able to charge ridiculous prices for tickets and concessions. (Plus the ticket and concessions prices have to be high to help to finance and pay for the new state-of-the-art stadiums.) However have you noticed that as a result the atmosphere at games is different now? I’ll freely admitt that I’m a “seat poacher” when I go to games in that I pay for cheaper seats and identify a better area to which to move. I attended a game a few years ago between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets where I pulled this stunt. I stood up to boo a bad call at first base, and the lady in front of me turned around and asked me to be quiet. Furthermore, she looked at my friend and I and decided that we weren’t the type of people that would pay for seats in that section, and she called security. (Again I was poaching the seat, however if nobody’s sitting there why exactly is it a problem?) When you charge big money for tickets, expect that you’re going to be pricing out the blue collar fans that are truly the backbone of any fan base. Most people like that don’t go to games to support the team; they go to be entertained, and if the on-field product isn’t up to snuff they won’t be entertained and they’ll look elsewhere.

I’m not saying that putting a good team on the field is a bad thing, because winning’s the name of the game. However through the 1950’s and 60’s, the Washington Redskins had trouble winning and yet they still sold their games out. Nowadays if you have one lackluster season people start complaining; this is all due to the fact that they’re being conditioned by ticket prices and expensive merchandise to expect a superior product. You can call it whatever you want, but to me it’s a game and win, lose, or draw, you should support your favorite team.