Surely, I am not the only sports fan that gets a little crazy about lockouts in professional sports. It is, ultimately, a betrayal of the connection that exists between a loyal (cash spending) fan and a private business that is financially dependent upon that loyal fan cash. The Patriots exist, in small part, because of the season tickets I used to own, and the pajamas my son wears, and that plastic beer cup set I had to have after the Super Bowl victory against the Rams. And the Celtics simply aren’t owned by Mark Cuban…….they need alternative sources for revenue……….like my paycheck. And the paycheck of all the other beer swilling, ticket buying, body paint wearing fans that pack into the Gah-den (admittedly, the body paint may not be the most lucrative fan behavior in the eyes of the franchise, but damn is it ever fun). Lockouts happen because owners want to maximize their take, refuse to enter into binding arbitration, and want to limit the amount of money they pay their employees. And all of this is the American way, and I can mostly live with it, but after it becomes clear that us fans are a secondary consideration to money, my reaction is best summed up by referencing a song by my friend, Cee Lo.
The NFL lockout continues, and the NBA seems to be on the same path. And the best thing you can do to let these owners know you’ve been taken for granted is to simply step back. Take some time away from professional sports. If you’re a sports fan like me, you’ll need to find an outlet, but the good news is………there are so many alternatives. Remember how to appreciate sports without lining the pockets of the greedy, egocentric owners, even after they win their negotiations and resume their marketing campaigns (“We love you fans……so much! You are the reason we exist! Now please step away from my Bentley!”) So, a few ideas:
1) Coach a local team: I did this for the first time this year, working as a head coach for an in-town baseball team. I was amazed at how powerful an experience this was, both because of the time I spent with my son, but also because of how satisfying the general experience was. In advance of our one playoff victory, I think I exchanged 100 texts/emails with my friend who helped coach the team. It was like strat-o-matic back in high school, but only with actual people involved. And when my first basemen gunned down a runner at second base to end the game……I felt something I think may have been…….joy. The whole of the experience was rewarding, the kids were great, and I was in a dugout again, eating sunflower seeds and talking about how to hit, pitch, field, and run in a variety of situations. For a little while, I didn’t even think about the Red Sox (which if you knew me, would floor you.) Football season is just around the corner, and I hear Pop Warner isn’t locking out this year.
2) Catch a game at a local park: OK, so this one may sound a little funny, especially if you don’t know any of the participants, but there is a back story. I play softball, and we have a fan……Kenny. Kenny is an older guy who comes to all of our games, but who is not friendly with any of us outside of the games. He acts like a typical sports fan in every way (“You should have had second on that one, Sully! Get your head out of your ass!”) but what is remarkable is that the only reason he appears to be there is his love of sports. Rather than sit on his couch and listen to Michael Kay every night (yeesh!) he goes out to the park and watches the local guys stumble around a field. Take this notion and stretch it a bit, and soon you’re watching a high school football game under the lights, or a local travel team in a regional playoff game. Arguably, sports don’t get much more pure.
3) Play!: Increasingly, there are opportunities to play sports at a variety of levels. A local beach volleyball league in Rye, with different divisions and different levels of competitiveness. A mixed gender kickball team in White Plains. A bowling league on a Friday night before you head home, or out to the bars. Darts, softball, tennis……name it. Rather than being a passive participant, get active. Will you look like LeBron in that 3 on 3 league this summer……no (unless you choke in the finals). But, sports are a leisurely pursuit, an escape, and being the best or watching the best isn’t the only reason to engage.
4) Find a minor league club: OK, so not a complete departure from professional sports, but it is different. If you don’t believe me, go see a Hudson Valley Renegades game. The beer is affordable (and good….microbrews!) The kids have fun. And you’re not reaching into your pocket paying for the popcorn that some pampered athlete is having fed to him by Cameron Diaz. After the game, if your kid is like mine and asks for an autograph from a player……the players act honored. There is a stronger connection with the fan, and while it may just be a variation of watching MLB, it is a variation I increasingly appreciate.
So, remember……lockouts don’t end your experience as a fan, they just push you in a different direction. Look at this as an opportunity to experience sports again in a way that might, in the end, be better. And let the owners know, you should not have been taken for granted.