3/22/2016 0 Comments
by Keith Aksel
As the American sports world deals with another NFL team relocation (Rams to LA), the typical hand-wringing has been seen across the viewing spectrum. League leaders in favor of the Rams’ transition out of Saint Louis cited the lack of fan support and the long term viability of Los Angeles as the team’s new home. Opponents noted the loss of community ties and ownership’s “gaming” of the system to leverage a new stadium out of taxpayers. Regardless of the side one falls on in the debate, relocation is unquestionably a contentious issue in pro sports.
I argue that people are actually arguing over pro sports’ franchise model. The franchise has been deeply ingrained in the American sports landscape for almost as long as American pro sports themselves. However, there is another model of sports operation rarely seen in the United States. Sports clubs have flourished abroad for generations, with more visibility and global commercial success than any American pro sports franchise can claim. Ask any Sudanese if they know a Real Madrid striker, then ask if they know the New York Yankees’ shortstop- their responses would be telling.
Comparing and contrasting these two models is helpful for American sports fans who have grown accustomed to franchises as THE way pro sports operates. Understanding how clubs have ultimately become more successful as global brands actually tells us more about the importance of rootedness in a community, and why American sports leaders in 2016 might try to emulate what most of the rest of the sports world figured out way back in 1905
For the next few weeks I will investigate franchises and clubs, specifically looking at the different ways they embed themselves in their communities. This dynamic is often the most contentious aspect of how the US pro sports world works, and is worth understanding better.
This will not be some sort of broad anti-privatization rant, or an attempt show how sports clubs are about holding hands rather than making money (most big time sports clubs are more than Trump-rich). This series is about critically thinking about why team moves happen, and why club organization might serve as a release valve for American sports fans sick of tracking whether the Rams belong to LA, Saint Louis, or Cleveland. Tune in next week when we take step two into better understanding how the franchise might be the more appropriate target for American fans’ vitriol, instead of leagues or ownership. See you then!