Monday, January 5, 2009
So much for the common fan
The Balcony. The Upper Deck. The 300 Level. Just mentioning these areas to the wealthy sports fan use to send a shiver down his spine. These days, you can't go anywhere in a stadium or arena without running into a disinterested, overpaid, and under-enthused sports fan. In Boston, as well as in many other large sports markets, the raising of ticket prices, along with the overall success of the area teams and the demand for top quality players has led to the death of the "common fan" at sporting events. Because what you wish for sports fans, glory and championships could land you watching from your living room every game.
A few days ago, i was lucky enough to go to the Celtics game with my good friend Thomas. As these occurrences are few and far between, I considered this game to be a special occasion and I was very excited to cheer on the 2008 NBA Champions against the lowly Wizards. The game was in doubt for all of about 5 minutes in the first quarter, with the Celtics up by a tidy sum at the end of 1. Tom and I began to cheer on every bench player, especially Brian Scalabrine, and even Doc Rivers. By the fourth quarter, it appeared that our cheering had begun to wear thin with the fans in front of us. That's when it happened, "Will you SHUT UP!?!?" said a woman in front of us. Tom and I were shocked, and reminded the woman that she was at a Celtics game, and that cheering was normal. "Don't ever disrespect my wife again, or I will smack you in the mouth." then said a man who was allegedly married to the first woman. We then told him to calm down as well and were forced to watch the rest of the game in silence. It was a horrible ending to what seemed like so promising a day.
This one event lead me to think about the state of pro sporting events in Boston, but as a microcosm for major sporting markets everywhere. The Celtics, Patriots, Red Sox, and (this year) the Bruins have had great success recently, racking up numerous championships this decade. However, with these championships have come greater interest in the teams and higher prices. In my first few years in Boston in 1997 and 1998, I can remember seeing empty seats everywhere at Red Sox games, the Patriots were still a rather futile franchise coming off of a Super Bowl loss and the Celtics were one of the worst teams in basketball. In these days, a "common fan", which I like to think of as a passionate, working class sports fan who would normally inhabit the upper decks, balconies and nosebleed levels of an arena, could go to virtually any sporting event he wished. He could retreat to the cheap seats, drinks as many beers as he wanted, cheer as loudly as he liked and enjoy the game for a reasonable price. Now, with the success of the Boston teams and the general increase in sporting event prices, the common fan is priced out of the equation most of the time, and the geography of the arena has changed.
The "cheap seats", once actually cheap, are now surprisingly expensive. This bars the common fan from going to a great deal of games for any team, and having to choose a few games a year to go to. When he goes to the game, he is no longer surrounded by the "bleacher creatures" but instead groups of "fans" who are at the game because they recently became interested due to the team's success, or perhaps have a corporate connection and are entertaining clients. Regardless of why they are there, these fans do not understand where they are sitting, what it used to stand for , or what in fact they are doing to sports fandom. Be careful what you wish for sports fans. You just might get it.