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Sports fans keep paying the price

Kai Ryssdal Jan 31, 2008

Sports fans keep paying the price

Kai Ryssdal Jan 31, 2008


KAI RYSSDAL: It’s not entirely fair to say professional football is taking its fans for fools this week. But you’ve got to admit all the hoopla around the Super Bowl is a little much. Starting with ticket prices. About $400 face value. Maybe 10 times that if you’re buying on what some call the secondary market. Others just call it scalping.

In his new book, “God Save the Fan,” Will Leitch says ticket prices are only part of the problem.

Will, good to have you here.

LEITCH: Thank you for having me, sir.

RYSSDAL: Gotta start with the very basic question of Why does the fan need saving?

LEITCH: Well, you know, it’s funny. It seems like there are so many things in the world of sports that are kind of stacked against the fan. I think if … any other business ran their business the way sports runs their business they would be out of business. A lot of kind of what goes on on the higher corporate levels of sports is all based on the simple fact that sports fans will always come back. You see this after strikes. You see this after blatant, anti-fan moves. Fans always come back.

RYSSDAL: Well, you know, if that’s the case — if fans always do come back, and they certainly do and I’m a sports fan and I keep going back — do we deserve to be saved?

LEITCH: We are the ones paying for all of this.

RYSSDAL: That’s a fair point.

LEITCH: I think that that’s often forgotten. … You see this in labor strikes. When you’ll see media reports about it, they’ll be like, “Fans don’t quite understand the complicated issues involved in splitting up this much revenue.” It’s like, “Well, thanks for talking down to us. But, whenever you figure out how to spend all the money we’ve handed to you, please let us know.” And it’s funny that, you know, you look at the way that sports fans are kind of portrayed … Anytime you ever watch a game, it’s always the bald … the bald, shirtless man with his face painted, screaming. And I don’t know what your experience is but that tends to not be what the average fan looks like.

RYSSDAL: You edit a sports website, “Dead Spin.” You’ve written a book now about fans in sports. Do you ever get the feeling that you’re kind of tilting at windmills here, fighting against, you know, captains of industry and the powers that be, trying to reclaim a little fun in sports?

LEITCH: Uh, sometimes. But still you can kind of see how things have changed a little bit. The beginning of the last baseball season, Major League Baseball was trying to essentially take the Major League Baseball Extra Innings package and put it exclusively on DirecTV. And five years they might have gotten away with it. There’d been really no place for the public to make a stink in the way that they did. You saw the same thing at the end of the football regular season when Patriots were playing the Giants and everybody wanted — that was the game that was exclusively on the NFL Network — and fans … there was an uproar. Mind you, these are small things, but we’re talking about baby steps here.

RYSSDAL: All of that said, though … I mean this entire discussion that we’ve had … You know, if you think about websites like yours and ESPN.com and sports-talk radio and the fact that you can get football scores on your cellphone now almost wherever you want, isn’t this really the golden age of sports fandom in the United States?

LEITCH: Certainly you have a lot more access than you used to. But you can kind of see it going in a dangerous direction. Chances are you grew up watching, you know, games for free on a local station, or listening to them on your local radio. And what that is is essentially leagues’, you know, trusting … They used to almost trust the product. And I think there’s a mistake in that games have become so corporatized — and the leagues have become so corporate — that there’s always a need to bring in more money. And I understand that. But the problem is, down the line, I think you’re never going to grow your game by making your games more difficult to watch.

RYSSDAL: Will Leitch edits a sports website. It’s called “DeadSpin.com.” His latest book is called “God Save the Fan.” Will, thanks a lot.

LEITCH: Thanks for having me, sir.

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