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All-Access Fandom: When Is It Too Interactive?

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Updated: March 5, 2013
Photo by streakingthelawn.com

Photo Courtesy of streakingthelawn.com

The Holy Grail in sports fan experience has always been to get the fan ‘in-the-game’…give them a sense of playing, managing or being a team member. As the limits keep getting stretched when will we go too far?

Photo by DickAllenHoF.blogspot.com

Photo by DickAllenHoF.blogspot.com

Fans yelling for and against ballplayers is about trying to affect the outcome of the game…encouraging your team or getting in the head of the hated opponent. The 12th Man of Texas A&M, the Dawg Pound, Cameron Crazies, taunting the bullpen, it’s all about being in-the-game and part of the outcome. Sometimes as with Dick (Richie) Allen of the ’60′s Phillies it’s the home crowd crucifying their own player…after being pelted with batteries, bottles and coins he donned a batting helmet in the field and began scratching messages in the dirt back to his admirers. In this case being in-the-game meant trying to drive him out of town, which they did.

In the late ’40′s when MLB first started televising ballgames it was noted that everyone became a ham…umpires became much more demonstrative and showy in making their calls. Fans catching foul balls began showing them off, looking for the cameras. TV provided an audience and everyone was part of the game.

Grandstand Managers Day

Grandstand Managers Day

In 1952 Bill Veeck ran one of his craziest fan-friendly promotions called ‘Grandstand Managers Day’ whereby St. Louis Browns’ fans voted on game tactics while the actual manager reclined in a rocking chair with a pipe. Instead of second-guessing the manager, fans were actually manager-for-a-day. Of course this promotion endeared Veeck to the Commish about as much as sending a midget up to bat, but it was a bold step toward that Holy Grail of In-the-Game-Experience.

We’ve got Fantasy Camps, Madden NFL Football, halftime fan halfcourt challenges, all harmless fun. So why is this an issue? (and why does Coach K garner the prized Pheatured Photo?)

Last week we had the storm-the-court episode following UVa’s defeat of Duke in Charlottesville. Exuberant college kids storming the court after a major win has taken place forever (in fact they’re beginning to get downright commonplace). We know by now that some over-the-top Cavalier fans got in Coach K’s face and were abusive. The Coach later expressed his concern for player and coach safety in light of the episode. In fact some players have actually been injured in these celebrations.

It turns out that in some cases colleges are very accommodative, almost encouraging storming-the-court…a sort of enhanced fan bonding experience. Opinions have been coming in…let kids be kids, escort the players to safety, outlaw storm-the-court, etc.

Hate to sound like my parents but this sounds like one of those, ‘it’s all good fun until somebody gets hurt’. It’s easy to imagine fan behavior going over the line (like Monica Seles getting stabbed by a fan during a tennis match) and then we’ll need to do something about it.

Malice in the Palace, from bmj2k.com

Malice in the Palace, from bmj2k.com

Sports arenas have very clear lines of demarcation between the players and fans. NFL and MLB have grandstand rails, and sometimes beefy security guards to further warn the crazed (and drunk) fans. NHL has the boards and glass. The NBA provides the closest thing to an all-access-pass with no physical barrier (and ongoing banter with whomever you can engage in trash-talking)…the out-of-bounds line is the only barrier (although the players can spill into the stands for mayhem as we saw with the Malice-in-the-Palace fiasco).

With social media providing even more access to athletes-and athletes engaging the fan back-the barriers between player and playa hater are eroding. None of this is new of course. I’d hate to see harmless, exuberant and spontaneous celebrations be squelched-they can be a memorable part of the fan experience. On the other hand a rowdy crowd sharing the same space with the hated enemy after an emotional experience is a recipe for disaster. Pro leagues know this…college AD’s would do well to take note.

This post was written by

Dave Graziano – who has written posts on Big Dog Sports Blog.
Short Hills, NJ USA

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