Apart from spending a half an hour after the fulltime whistle signing match programmes and branded merchandise, and perhaps the odd photo opportunity at a child cancer ward during the week, any relationship between today’s professional sportsperson and fans is completely contrived, largely for the benefit of sponsors.
Sportspeople occupy a world that ordinary people struggle to comprehend. They are paid extremely generously for a job that takes about an hour out of their week. Yes, they’re paid for training for however many hours a week that may take. Wouldn’t that be nice? On that basis, their fans are extremely forgiving. Any other commercial business that paid staff to train for 38 hours a week would expect extremely high standards of performance for the short time that those staff were actually at work. Indeed I suspect that any failure would be treated more harshly than it is in sporting circles.
In reality fans have no ability to influence the performance of the teams they are supposed to be devoted and loyal supporters of. What fans pay at the gate is a very small percentage of the revenues that flow into the wallets of professional sportspeople. The big cheques are coming from sponsors, merchandisers and television broadcasters who have no loyalty whatsoever to the teams or players involved. All they want are products people buy, such as branded team jerseys, channel subscriptions (pay for view) and advertising.
Super 15 Rugby has just started its season for 2013. The “local” team, the Hurricanes, got convincingly thumped on Saturday night. Their home stadium, Wellington’s “Cake Tin”, was less than one third full and I predict the numbers that attended will be a record for the season that will follow.
Crowds have been driven away from the Cake Tin steadily in recent years, thanks to increasing ticket prices, exorbitant costs of refreshments, and the Mark McLeod Show. Mr McLeod provides the over-amplified music that fires up every time play stops. He also provides the spontaneous chanting that happens whenever he thinks the home team needs a bit of encouragement. He provides the applause for the World’s Worst Cheerleaders who “perform” at halftime. I suspect that recorded hysterical cheering and canned applause will soon be added to the actual game itself, completing the illusion that any spectators there are involved in the game. The DJ’s music choices are lame but their concealed irony must amuse him hugely.
As long as the supporters who turn up sit on the side of the Cake Tin that the television cameras take in, and the effects microphones pick up Mr McLeod’s fanfare, then viewers at home can imagine a stadium packed with devoted fans. If Mr McLeod’s contract were to be extended to provide inflatable people on seats, then the illusion of an adoring crowd without an actual crowd would be complete. It would not surprise me if Wellington Rugby had this contingency planned.
The crowd, or what’s left of it, doesn’t have to bring anything to the game except a pocketful of money, an appetite and a thirst. But they’ve figured out that they can do that more cost-effectively at home or at a pub in town, which are now their preferred destinations.
Sitting in their recliner chairs they can also change channels at the fulltime whistle so they don’t need to hear the staged drivel congratulating them on the value they as fans brought to the match. The players don’t care, their management doesn’t care, the broadcasters don’t care, so why should the fans?