If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound? Philosophers and the common man have debated this idea for years. If a football or basketball game took place and there were no fans, would it really be a game? There is no debate needed here. Without fans, there are no sports.
Sports as Business
The National Football League and Major League Baseball, for example, are businesses and entities like these do what they do for one reason and one reason only – to make money. The NFL will likely hit $14 billion in revenues for the 2017 season. MLB eclipsed the $10 billion mark in 2017, the fifth straight year in which the league set a record for industry revenues. The largest chunks of revenue for each individual franchise come from television rights and ticket sales. In other words, fans who want to watch professional football and baseball games pay lots of money to do so. Whether fans watch on TV or live in person, they are, in essence, the driving force behind their respective sport.
Fans in America love football. College football, professional football, whatever they can get their eyes on. The NFL Draft is now broadcast in its entirety. Why? Because fans will watch. Football fans are so rabid that two new spring football leagues are in the works. The old XFL, which tried to make a run at the NFL in the 1990s, is dusting itself off and returning for another shot in 2020. The new Alliance of American Football, headed up by former NFL exec Bill Polian and others, will get underway in 2019 the week after Super Bowl 53. There is only one reason why these leagues are starting up – fans. Well, fans and money.
Home Field Advantage
Ask any athlete. There is something about playing at home in front of your own fans. Whether it is at the high school level or the professional level, playing in front of your own fans is something special. At the college level, the phenomenon of home field advantage may be even greater. Think about Saturday’s at the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio, or playing at home at Notre Dame Stadium. Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor seats well over 100,000 fans many of which are clad in the Wolverines’ maize and blue. Consider being a Kentucky basketball fan between 1943 and 1955. If you went to what is now Rupp Arena, you would have witnessed the Wildcats win 129 games in a row. Now, that is home-court advantage.
Lose & Lose Fans
It’s no secret that fans love winners. Kentucky basketball surely picked up more fans along its 129-game home win streak back in the day. Similarly, teams that lose have trouble holding on to fans. Consider the plight of Memphis basketball. Once a glorified program that basically reserved its invitation to the NCAA tournament every year, the Tigers haven’t been to one in four seasons. Former coach Tubby Smith, who once won a national title at Kentucky, went a very mediocre 19-13 and 21-13 in his two seasons in Memphis. The Tigers finished fifth in their conference each season and, as a result of their mediocrity, the fan base began to dwindle. Home attendance numbers were down and Smith ended up being fired.
In the end, the games will always go on. Players and coaches will come and go. Teams will win and teams will lose. The one thing that will always remain is the fan. Fans will always be the force that drives sports.