by Chris Foss
When we think of 1968, sports don’t usually come to mind. That year, two once-in-a-generation political and moral leaders were gunned down in their primes. LBJ was driven from the presidency at the height of the Vietnam War, but he was still luckier than nearly 17,000 troops who came home in body bags. The Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia. Richard Nixon became President despite failing to win a majority of the popular vote. Hippies and activists across the country occupied administration buildings, demanding reform and change. The Olympics were overshadowed by demonstrations of Black Power and a violent crackdown against Mexico’s own youth movement by its ruling political party’s secret police.
But the games went on, and in the realm of sports fandom, we might remember 1968 for something else. This was the first time when one could definitively say, based off TV ratings, that the NFL championship (by now called the Super Bowl) surpassed the World Series. Was this the year, then, that football overtook baseball as “America’s Game”? I used the Sports Illustrated Vault online to see if that was true from their point of view. I focused on the cover, the magazine’s most prominent feature.
by Keith Aksel
In the United States, we are used to the notion of a “Big Four” sports world: the idea that there are four major American sports, while every other sport wallows in relative obscurity. The general consensus seems to be that the big four is made up of the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, simply based on the leagues’ relative wealth. But, the idea of a Big Four is a new one which simplifies a sports world that has not always been so plainly ruled by a few major leagues.
One interesting window into fan interests is the famous sports magazine Sports Illustrated. Although we blast SI on this website from time to time, SI has contributed a great deal to how Americans consume sports information. Since its first issues, SI featured a number of different figures on its iconic cover, and those covers can help fans understand a little more about how the idea of a Big Four is far from a fixed reality. Are SI covers a good gauge of fan interest? Perhaps, but the covers might also reveal something more to us about the magazine itself.
by Chris Foss
With sagging World Series numbers and occasional talk of contracting teams and reducing the number of regular season games, questions about the future of baseball in the United States seem legitimate. But if its recent history in Latin America and Japan is any indication, baseball has a bright global future. Furthermore, according to Star Trek, that bright future is also galactic in reach. As the venerable sci-fi franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary, I explore the connections between Trek and baseball. Normally seen as a synonym for “nerd”, Star Trek nonetheless might teach us something about the macho, tobacco-spitting, spitball-throwing pastime of middle America.
An early, non-promising appearance for baseball on Star Trek was in an episode of The Next Generation in which the android Data is captured by Kivas Fajo, a collector of knick-knacks who swindles and steals things, including a rare baseball card. Fajo is portrayed as a narcissistic psychopath, hardly the greatest ambassador for the game in the 24th century. This scene would suggest that baseball was doomed to be a fringe sport, remembered only by the galaxy’s loons.
by Keith Aksel
In the first two editions of this series, I suggested that fans opposed to team relocation should focus their anger on the franchise model of pro sports ownership. When leagues allow a franchise model to flourish, teams are tethered to their cities only tentatively. In this model, the most important relationship is between the team and the league, not the team and the city it was founded in. Franchises start as huge entities right off the bat, and have to retain enormous financial support from their communities to stay alive. That relationship is under extreme stress from the start, and when the financial situation in a specific city goes south, franchises move to greener pastures.
The counter example to franchise ownership is the sports club model. Sports clubs exist in most other countries as the primary mode of team ownership. The relationships between clubs and their communities are quite different than the city-franchise relationships in the United States. I argue that the club model is in fact more sustainable because clubs are more deeply tied to the communities they exist in, and achieve a more desirable type of fandom than American franchises.