Why Do You Go to Live Sporting Events?

With the “real” opening day for baseball upon us tomorrow (two official games have already been played in Japan, but tomorrow marks the first day for a game on US turf), a lot of hype has been made about the new Miami Marlins stadium. It’s the site of the opening day game, where the Marlins are hosting the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals (holla!), and it’s full of new gadgets and features. Among them:

  • The stadium has a roof that can close within 13 minutes if the Miami weather takes a turn for the worse. The entire stadium is air conditioned.
  • There are multiple standing-room areas and thousands of TV screens to encourage people to get out of their seats and socialize during the game.
  • Some of the concession stands feature food from the visiting team’s city so that each game has its own unique flavor.

Busch Stadium here in St. Louis was rebuilt a few years ago. Fans groaned about the change at first, and although it doesn’t have some of the advances that the Marlins ballpark does, there’s still a huge focus on entertainment. Every inning there’s something cool and participatory happening on the big screen like the Kiss Cam or the vision test. There are some missed opportunities for fantasy baseball fans, but overall it’s a good park.

However, I’m fascinated by the lengths that these ballparks go to get fans to actually attend the game. A big part of it is the shared experience of being part of a crowd–I don’t watch baseball on TV at home because it’s so slow, but in person it can be exhilarating. Ballpark food will also always have a special place in my heart (specifically, my clogged aorta).

Overall, though, why do we attend living sporting events? Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, wrote a fascinating answer to this a few months ago (I skipped some paragraphs, but otherwise these are direct quotes):

We in the sports business don’t sell the game, we sell unique, emotional experiences. We are not in the business of selling basketball. We are in the business of selling fun. We are in the business of letting you escape. We are in the business of giving you a chance to create shared experiences. I say it to our people at the Mavs at all time, I want a Mavs game to be more like a great wedding than anything else.

I want it to be very participatory. I want it to be very social. I want it to be very inclusive. I want it to be memorable. I want it to be so much fun people talk about it to their friends and can’t wait to go back. I want every parent to get tears in their eyes when they see their kids jumping up and down whether the score is 2 to 0. or 120 to 84. When they are chanting Lets Go Mavs . When they are dancing and trying to get on the jumbotron.

I want the guy on the date knowing that the longest he will have to talk is during halftime and then after the game, and until the next date, he can talk about the game itself and not have all the pressure of trying to think of something to say while his date can be relieved that she can enjoy the game without him talking. Or vice versa of course. I want everyone coming to a Mavs game to be able to find their own personal attachment to that night. I know I can’t control what happens on the court every game, but I can do my very best to make sure that no matter what the score, we have done all we can to make the fan experience like a great wedding.

The idea of making a sporting event “memorable” is particularly interesting to me. Baseball teams play 162 games a year, every year, so how do you make 1 game memorable to 40,000 people? Among those people are those who go to every game, those who don’t care about baseball, and those who are seeing a game live for the first time. Such a broad range.

But I applaud the attempt, and I agree that the key is the connection to emotions and relationships:

  • I don’t remember anything about the game, but I remember my father and I keeping our gloves on our hands during the entire game when we went to see the Richmond Braves for the first time, just in case a fly ball came in our direction.
  • I don’t remember anything about the game, but I remember the time my friends and I were talking about the age of one of the Cardinals t-shirt girls and her mother–who, unbeknownst to us, was sitting right in front of us–turned around and informed us that she was a college student.
  • I don’t remember anything about the game, but I remember how no one in the crowd sat down for the final few innings of a post-season game en route to the Cardinals’ World Series win a few years ago.
  • I don’t remember anything about the game, but I remember shivering in my seat while my much more hardcore baseball friends sat unflinching through the full 9 innings of a game last spring.

See a pattern? And sure, there are always a few baseball moments mixed in there. But I bet even with those moments, you remember who was with you at the game. People don’t go to baseball games alone–it’s something you want to share with your friends.

That said, I think sports teams could do a better job at helping you remember those memories. I bet there’s one instant classic that happens in every baseball game. These guys are incredible athletes, and they make incredible plays on a consistent basis. And it’s all caught on video now. How cool would it be if everyone in the stadium gets a clip of the play uploaded to their smart phone at the end of the game? You’d also get on the “wall of memories” at the stadium, an interactive touch-screen from which you could play all the clips and point out to your friends that you were there. You witnessed the catch, the hit, the milestone.

People pay a lot of money to attend sporting events now, so I think every game needs to be treated like a special production. The fans deserve that. I think the Marlins are doing a great job of making Marlins Stadium the place to be during home games. Heck, who is to say that they couldn’t attract fans during away games? I’m sure the bars around the stadiums are doing that.

What’s your favorite memory from a live sporting event? Why do you attend sporting events in person?

16 thoughts on “Why Do You Go to Live Sporting Events?”

  1. My favorite was seeing Middlesbrough vs Arsenal when my dad and I went back to England for a quick trip. My dad was like a little kid going to see his home team (Middlesbrough – we are NOT Arsenal or Man U fans at all) play. There is nothing like seeing a football match in England. I have a lot of great memories with my dad but this was one of best.

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  2. My favorite sporting event memories are similar to yours. I can’t remember a single play from the old Richmond Braves days, but I remember going to a few games with my dad, wearing my glove anytime I wasn’t eating something, and getting player autographs before the game. Minor league games were actually pretty cool in retrospect–I remember Chipper Jones being the big star of the Richmond Braves for a few years before being called up to Atlanta, and I remember Bernie Williams coming to town with the Yankees AAA team too.

    The other sporting events that stick out in my mind are those with a playoff atmosphere. A Cardinals playoff atmosphere is electric, and they’ve won some close games over the years. I’ll never forget the thousands of white towels waving in the air during one playoff matchup. I also managed to make it to a game in which the Rams battled for a playoff spot in January of 2005 (04 season). The emotional rollercoaster throughout that game was unbelievable.

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    • Regular season games in Baseball mean little and less. Selling the experience is great, if something memorable happens. But the do-or-die atmosphere of an MLB or NHL playoff game is a whole different ball of wax. NCAA Basketball is all do-or-die, and you see how well attended/watched that extended event is. I’d say that with the shorter season, that all NFL games have that same atmosphere. The experience of participating in a game where the result is impactful is especially energizing.

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  3. I really only care enough about baseball to actually pay money to watch it, so this only pertains to MLB. Post-season baseball has its place, but there’s something about an individual game in a 162-game grind that really appeals to me. I love the fact that *hours* before each game there are dozens of people (players, workers, reporters, fans) working to get ready for 1/162 of a season. And that’s a perspective you can’t get via radio, TV, etc. (Not only am I happy to shiver thru 9 innings, I’ll gladly attend BP!)

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  4. A little off topic but…

    No offense to Mark Cuban, but if a guy takes me to a sporting event on a date (yay!) and then only talks to me during halftime and after the game, there won’t be another date. If you want to go to a sporting event and just watch without socializing (and doesn’t that defear the entire concept of the stadium that he describes?), then take your buddies, not me!

    Maybe Mark Cuban can get away with this because of his obscene wealth though…but your average guy can’t! 🙂

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    • Katie–I kind of read it another way. I don’t interpret Cuban’s words to mean that people shouldn’t talk on a date. I moreso take it to mean that he wants to take the pressure of constant conversation off both people on the date. They can still talk as much as they want, but if there’s a lull, it won’t feel like a lull because there’s something going on during the game to pay attention to.

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  5. I don’t attend a ton of sporting events, but when I do, what I remember most about them is usually getting to spend time with friends and create shared memories.

    One of my favorite Cardinals games was the one where Mark McGuire broke the home run record and my family was able to get tickets for it at the last minute- I remember complaining about how hot it was at the old Busch stadium, and waiting anxiously to see history happen. It was a school night and I remember having to do algebra homework in between the innings, too. 🙂

    Having just attended tonight’s game, as I couldn’t resist the opportunity while on vacation, one of my favorite parts was meeting new people who only stopped to say hi because we had on Cardinals shirts in a sea of Miami fans. Also, the new Miami stadium is pretty impressive- in addition to the roof opening, the side wall behind the outfield also opens to reveal the Miami skyline. I was impressed with how quiet and quick both were able to open.

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      • The food was pretty good, I just had a traditional ballpark hotdog and tried some nachos. I think the nachos in St. Louis are superior to Miami. I kept seeing people walk around with pizza boxes, which I assume is the Miami version of Imo’s, but the lines were so long that I wasn’t willing to wait, even though there were so many tvs around I wouldn’t have missed any of the game.

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        • I’m glad to hear that St. Louis wins not only in the “baseball” category, but also the nachos category.

          If you have the chance and just want a quick bite to eat while you’re down there, go to Pollo Tropical. It’s a fast-food chicken place that I discovered in Puerto Rico, and I think they’re in Miami as well. SO good.

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          • Thanks for the restaurant recommendation, I will try to squeeze it in tomorrow, and it looks like one is about 5 minutes from my hotel. Hopefully I can fit it into my busy schedule of hanging out on the beach and reading. 🙂

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