Weekend Links: Sports are entertaining, not entertainment

NOTE: As always, this also appeared at RandBall, your home for karaoke.

Every so often, I will read a quote from some sports team or league executive about promotion and marketing, a quote that’s some variation on this misbegotten theme: “We want to promote our team / league / sport as an entertainment product – as an alternative to the movies and TV.” In practice, what this “entertainment product” generally means is some combination of cheerleaders, rock music, and scoreboards – effectively, distracting attendees from the action on the field.

It’s worth considering this, because while sports may be entertaining, sports fans don’t experience them in the same way as they do entertainment, unless they genuinely don’t care about the outcome of the game. It is possible, for example, to enjoy going to a baseball game just for the experience of sitting outside on a warm night, eating hot dogs and drinking beer; indeed, this particular passion has been the genesis of 99% of the St. Paul Saints’ revenue over the years. But, save for a few die-hards, most of the people who go to a Saints game can’t tell you a week later who pitched, who the Saints played, or even who won.

It’s also particularly strange that while sports fans have a more personal connection with a team than, say, music fans have with a band, the sports fan’s outward expression of that passion is – unlike the music fan’s – entirely impersonal. For example, those that wear a T-shirt or hang a poster of a favorite band or movie or Internet comic strip are doing so to express something about themselves as a person, in terms of this thing they like and are passionate about – but you would never, ever, hear the same person refer to that group as “we.” Sports fans’ love of a team is entirely personal, but the outward expression is to show off that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. The depressed-looking folks in Wild jerseys walking the streets of St. Paul tomorrow evening aren’t donning red and green to tell the world something about themselves, personally – they’re doing it because they are Wild fans, part of a plural, and wearing a jersey to the game is what Wild fans do.

The point I’m trying to make is that entertainment is transient, but fandom is permanent, and that those who’d try to sell sports as entertainment are always destined for worries about the box office. I enjoy going to Saints games, don’t get me wrong, but I’m always going to weigh my options, because it never rains at the movies and my backyard is just as warm as the ballpark (and has cheaper food besides). But the Twins – I’ll plan ahead for the Twins, I’ll pay actual money for the Twins, and all because they’re my team and I want to be there when they win so that I can be part of something that’s bigger than I am. Even when they’re terrible. Even with Kevin Correia on the mound. They’re not competing for my entertainment dollar. They’re competing for something else entirely.

*On with the links:

*John Rosengren heads up to Warroad to catch the latest Warroad-Roseau game and write about it for SB Nation Longform. It’s such a well-known rivalry that it borders on the cliche, and yet Rosengren’s story is captivating, as it’s told through the eyes of the fans and – especially – the parents that are drawn into the great historical circle of Warroad-Roseau for one night.

*Wright Thompson of ESPN profiles the 50-year-old Michael Jordan and discovers what we might have expected: without the competition of the game, Jordan seems completely and profoundly miserable.

*At Esquire, Tom Junod talks to NFL players about injuries – not just head injuries, but the day-to-day painful existence of football. In all of the discussion about safety in the NFL, it is worth remembering – it’s surprising, even frightening, but still worth remembering – that most of the guys who play in the NFL are willing to trade daily pain and lifetime health problems and shorter lives, just to keep their spots and help their team win.

*Sports Illustrated went to Antarctica for the Swimsuit Issue this year, and Steve Rushin went along for the ride. (WARNING: cheesecake photos of penguins.)

*And finally: Let’s all watch Phil Mickelson fall over.