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Appreciation for fans should grow

Commentary

It’s a sad fact of life that most things are not truly appreciated until they’re gone. In today’s sporting world, that includes the fans.

From the days of the ancient Olympics, athletes have reaped the rewards of their skills in the arena, from fame and fortune to public adulation and eternal glory.

The owners of major professional sports teams share the spotlight that accompanies winning seasons and championship runs, and of course, closely monitor the assorted revenue streams that secure their empire.

But what about the fans?

The long-term benefits of attendance at sporting contests are memories and perhaps a few souvenirs. It has taken a global pandemic to accentuate the vital role that spectators play at events, from the scholastic to the professional levels.

In the absence of fans in the stands, artificial crowd noise is piped across the public address system, and cardboard cutouts are strategically placed in view of television cameras. The cutouts once again prove that making money in sport is limited only by the imagination.

At Dodger Stadium, fan cutouts are available in the Dugout Club or the new Pavilion Home Run Seats for $299 and in the Field Level or Loge Level locations for $149.

“Plus, you will get the chance to take your cutout home at the end of the season, which will also be authenticated as game-used by Major League Baseball!” the Dodgers proclaim.

Apparently, the exclamation point certifies the value of your investment.

You have to question the need for player introductions at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, when the only people out of uniform who can react are coaches and staff of the featured NBA teams.

These pre-game ceremonies, complete with strobe lights and music at max volume, are futile attempts to approximate the atmosphere that is typically electrified by fan interaction.

When Major League Baseball was negotiating with the players union for a return to competition, an average loss of $640,000 was projected for each game played in an empty ballpark over the course of an 82-game season.

Accounting for lost concession sales is one thing. How does one calculate the impact that a frenzied crowd might have had during overtime of a Stanley Cup playoff game or when the count is full and the bases are loaded for the home team in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game?

If college football is played this fall and restrictions are placed on the number of fans who are permitted stadium entry, it is unlikely that any student section will resemble the type of intimidating force that has disrupted snap counts and induced false starts in the past.

This development would be a significant factor because decibel levels at college football games can reach those routinely measured at a rock concert.

Recounting his Opening Day experience at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote, “There was no joyous noise. There was no popcorn smell. There was none of the annual sweaty buzz of a crowded concourse celebrating a spring rebirth.”

For all that has been lost in the world of sports during this COVID-19 pandemic, one thing has been gained.

An appreciation of fans that, hopefully in the future, will extend beyond one day of official recognition at the end of each season.

Jim Caltagirone resides in Altoona. He is a monthly contributor to Voice of the Fan.

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