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Teams Are Businesses, And We Hate That

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Examining the unbalanced relationship between the fans that unconditionally love teams, and the organizations that know they need not return the love to keep raking in their money.

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Yesterday I wrote on the often-times uncomfortable situations that can emerge when fans realize that the passion and love they hold for a team is often not shared by the very players who make up any given incarnation of said team. Not long after that article went live, the Red Sox announced that they were holding ticket prices steady for 2013. Though certainly not the sort of news one would expect to cause controversy, the reaction from Red Sox Nation was nonetheless...interesting, and served to highlight another social dynamic that plays a large role in sports.

As fans, our relationship with the team is one built on emotion and, on some level, an unconditional love that is frankly rare outside of family. Why does a Red Sox victory make us happy? Why do we allow our moods to be tied so strongly to the outcome of a game we played as children? Why do fans of bad and losing teams continue to follow said team knowing that they're unlikely to come out ahead in this investment of time and emotions?

Fanaticism is, at its core, an illogical thing. There are plenty of other ways to spend our time, plenty of other things to be passionate about that don't promise nearly so much negativity and disappointment as baseball, but here we are, and if you're anything like me, you know it's not entirely possible to break free.

As such, our view of the game and everything involved with it is so wrapped up in emotions that it really, really sucks to be reminded that this love is largely unrequited. Enter the organization: a multi-million dollar business.

The announcement that ticket prices would remain the same yesterday was met with as much derision as appreciation, and it's not exactly hard to see why. When we're just watching the game, we can buy into the illusion. The idea that the ballpark is a sacred place where, God willing, all the players will be out there giving their all to win a baseball game for the Red Sox. We love them, and on some level they appreciate that love and return it--at least the fan favorites do. You don't make it to being a fan favorite without the ability to give that sense.

Interactions with ownership, though, are not so warm and fuzzy. By most measurements, Red Sox fans are lucky to have this group of owners. They kept Fenway Park around, brought two championships to Boston, and have done a good job of keeping revenue (and thus payroll) high.

But when it comes down to it, that illusion isn't really there. Because deep down we know that baseball is a business, and nobody serves a better reminder than the owners. The players will always want money, but for the ones who actually end up with the team, financial decisions by definition did not prevent them from joining up. The general manager will usually want more money to invest in the team too; the more money there is, the easier it is to build a winning team. All he has to do is turn to the ownership.

And that's where the buck stops. Because while ownership would love to win as well, they're the only ones who have to ask themselves how much winning is worth. Winning brings in revenue, to be certain--fans are much more likely to watch and come to the park for a playoff contender than a cellar dweller, but there's a limit to the payroll any given fanbase is able to sustain, and frankly when owners are gambling such massive amounts, they're going to want a real return on their investment as well, not just to break even. As a result, they're the ones who have to say no to a general manager--you can bet they said no to Ben Cherington last offseason, leading him to contort the roster every which way to try and plug holes without spending money.

As a result, it's ownership we see as the embodiment of the cynical business aspect of the game, and so when they come out and freeze ticket prices, we know that's a business move. We know that it's not because the team didn't make the playoffs for a third year running and thus they are not deserving, but because as the season wound down the seats became emptier and emptier. We know it's because that sellout streak they tout is likely to come to an end when the ticket resellers stop buying them out thanks to having half their stock go unsold. We know that it's about dollars and cents, and not a matter of returning the loyalty and love that we show the team year in and year out.

The sad fact of the matter is that this relationship we have with the team is often incredibly one-sided, and this is especially true of the really devoted fans. We love this team, will always love this team (the logo, the laundry, the history, and the park more than the actual workings behind it, mind), and that makes us unimportant in the eyes of ownership. They know we are a captive audience which will continue to give them our money and time regardless of how we are treated in return. We are not the ones who they have to pay attention to for fear of losing our money, the casual fans are. The unfortunate reality is that those most invested in the team are the ones who the team invests the least effort in keeping.

So no, the Red Sox will not lower ticket prices because they don't have to. They won't reimburse us for the last 13 months of suffering (I recognize, for the record, that this bit sounds at best ridiculous and at worst petulant to fans of so many other teams) because, even if it would be the nice thing to do, it's not the right thing to do business-wise, and much as we hate to admit it, this team is a business.