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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Enthusiasm for sale

An interesting theme raised by our repeat World Series victory is the commercialization of sports. There was definitely a more artificial tone to this year’s celebrations than 2004’s, as the media presence and marketing opportunities were too numerous to miss this time around. The celebrations were not quite as spontaneous or joyous as before, and that’s not just because it was the second time around. The Sox are on the road to becoming a media creation rather than a product of their fans’ spontaneous joy. The parade was still pretty fun, though:

In the War/Dance movie mentioned in the last post, when the busload of school kids returned to the resettlement camps holding their trophy high (of course they were the surprise winners of the competition!), hundreds of villagers surrounded them in a sea of joy that was clearly genuine and direct and unmanipulated, just like the enthusiasm those young performers showed on stage. And while plenty of American kids today are involved in the performing arts, many more get their music via iPods and mp3; they don’t participate in music as directly as the Ugandan kids did. Instead of creating and making music, American’s consume it; music is their favorite commodity. That process of commodification sucks the life, the vitality, the healing force out of art. I hope it doesn’t do the same to Red Sox fans as their team becomes more and more of a business, and as our fans’ enthusiasm becomes a commodity to make a profit off of.

This process is similar to gentrification, when run-down districts of cities begin to attract a creative underclass, artists and musicians who can afford the cheap rent to get big studios and lofts that would be unaffordable in the primo parts of town. As they attract other like-minded creative types, the hip restaurants, cafes and galleries follow, and within a few years it becomes a desirable part of town. The landlords wake up and jack the rent up to the point where only chains and franchises can afford it. The founding fathers are forced out by the high prices, and the district becomes just a hollow shell of what it once was. In Boston, it happened to Harvard Square – funky in the ‘60s, but now just a mash of CVS’s, Starbucks and Au Bon Pains (in the neck). People come for what it once was.

In our free market system, the opportunity to collect rent on this enthusiasm and creativity is sold to the highest bidder, and the affluent new landlord owners came to feast on the efforts of others. It’s an unsustainable system of self-cannibalism, and it’s one that happens in sports too. Now that the Sox are chic, their prices have risen sky high, yet they are still sold out because of Fenway’s small capacity and the large size of the tribe. But fewer and fewer “normal” (lower/middle class) people get to go to regular season games, let alone the playoffs. $300 is needed to take a family of four to a game (and park and eat and buy a program), tops in the majors. People of color are few and far between, but corporados enjoy their lounge suites in luxury, and at our taxpayers tax-deductible expense.

I’m afraid that we’ve reached the tipping point, as the Red Sox become more and more like the once-invincible Yankees. Our team has more money to spend on its payroll than they know what to do with, with our two top players earning more in one year than the entire roster of the low budget Tampa Ray Devil Rays. We now focus on numbers (something the beancounters can control) more than on chemistry (too unpredictable). For example, we’re now in a bidding war for the top available free agent pitcher, Johan Santana, despite the fact that we already signed our key 2007 stars - Schilling and Lowell - to mega deals. Yet we’re still able to consider paying the $20+ million per year that Santana is reportedly asking. Even if we’re just keeping the bidding war going to drive up the price that the Yankees will eventually pay, it feels like money is no longer an obstacle for the Sox. We can buy our way to victory, rather than rely on creativity, pluck, managerial skill, and homegrown talent to make it work.

As an example of how far we’ve strayed, we’re now even willing to package John Lester into the mix for Santana – he was one of the most beloved members of the ‘07 Sox because his dramatic recovery from lymphoma preceded his win of a World Series game. Now he’s just a bargaining chip, useful to help us get another pitcher who has better numbers. It’s another example of the Sox putting numbers over emotion, money over affection. And while that’s a good way to run a business, it’s also a good way to sever the emotional bonds that tie Red Sox Nation to its team. We might continue to be a championship sports team, we might even become a dynasty, but the special affection that has joined RSN to its team is slowly starting to be whittled away. Hopefully, the Sox won’t become this new era’s Yankees.


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The Joy of Sox: Weird Science and the Power of Intention is produced by 2 Cousins Productions and Pinch Hit Productions. © 2006 The Joy of Sox Movie LLC. For more information, contact info@thejoyofsoxmovie.com.

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