Fan Free Agency: A Modest Proposal

Aaron MeyerCorrespondent IMay 30, 2008

For all my life, while watching sports, I've listened to fans of various teams exhort their loyalty through thick and thin. I've had people tell me, proudly, that they've stuck by their teams even though those teams had shown no propensity for winning, or even a desire to compete at the organizational level.

I feel this is not the way we should be viewing our fandom, as adult consumers.

Let's face it, the sports world is about making money. The owners, managers, and players all recognize this fact and act accordingly. Despite making millions of dollars, they always seem to be striving to maximize their revenues and minimize their expenses.

Yet the fans of the games seem to still be laboring under the impression that high-level sports is about winning and teamwork, despite all evidence to the contrary. I believe this needs to change.

We as fans need to start treating these organizations like businesses. Would you continue to shop at a store that sells an inferior product, but still charges you as much as another store selling a better product?

Most people would say "no."

This attitude needs to be applied to the sports world, because the organizations certainly see it that way.

Let's say there are two teams in City A. One is a perennial winner, excellent in all aspects of their organization. The other is a loser year-in and year-out, with seemingly no desire to change their ways.

Each charges the same amount for admission to their park, and around the same for the souveniers that all fans love to display. If these competing teams are viewed as competing businesses, the answer to which to root for is easy:

The winner.

They field a better product, and are more likely to continue doing so. But the sports world is populated by emotional creatures, and emotional creatures often make choices that are not in their best interests.

Fans, we pay out the ear for our enjoyment of sports. We pay for cable TV packages to see our teams, even if we live in different states. We buy jerseys, hats, bobble-head dolls, t-shirts, and anything with a logo. We pay outrageous stadium-admission prices, and then get fleeced for wanting to park our cars around the stadium.

I am at the lower end of the scale, but this year alone I think I spent at least $200 on sports-related apparel and tickets. Some people buy a hell of a lot more. If we continue to throw money at teams who don't bother to try and field a winner, what are we doing but encouraging mediocrity?

I know fandom comes upon people for many reasons: they saw a team play as a child and love them, it reminds them of their better days, or they live near a team and they like being able to watch every game on TV. Sometimes they like a team just for the logo or colors.

But are those reasons really enough to dump all of our hard-earned, disposable income into a losing organization?

So I propose this to the sports fan: be a discerning consumer. Demand more from your favorite franchise. If they don't win for a season or two, stop going to games, stop buying their gear. Hit them in the place it will hurt the most: their wallets. Make it unprofitable to field a winner.

Why do the Oakland Raiders still sell out their games? They've been awful for years now. Why do the Kansas City Royals still have fans? They haven't fielded a winner in over a decade. These teams do not strive to be better, because they don't have to; people still come to see them play.

I believe we as fans should impose a 10-year contract with our teams. Not literally, but a figurative contract. If your team fails to meet your expectations for 10 straight seasons, you should have the right to file for fandom free agency and pick a new team to love.

Many people will say this is disloyalty, and that we should continue to support our favorite teams despite their performance. I say that is unrealistic. I have already imposed this on myself.

I grew up in Southern California, watching the Angels lose year after year. In 1995, I stopped watching after they blew a huge lead in September and ended up missing the playoffs, again.

Seven years later, I decided to become a Seattle Mariners fan, and now I'm a few years from saying screw it and finding another team. I'm not a person who enjoys throwing his love, money, and effort at people who don't value it enough to improve themselves.

Some people may call me a front-runner, or a Judas. Some may call me a traitor with no principles. I prefer to see myself as what the teams I watch see me as: a guy with some money to spend.

If they are going to treat me like a customer, I'm going to act like one. The only way to affect a change in some of these teams is to treat them like the businesses they are.

Support winners, and the losers will strive to win as well.