A New “Value Proposition”

As July nears its end, the 2020 Major League Baseball season has finally begun.  Teams are playing before empty ballparks to try to avoid further spreading the coronavirus.  Soon the NBA and the NHL will be playing, also with no fans in the arenas.  And if the NFL and college football start up, the teams will almost certainly be playing in front of thousands of empty seats.

471768148.jpgCOVID-19 has obviously affected our lives in more ways than we can count, but one of the interesting potential effects will be a changed perspective on the value of large, taxpayer-funded stadiums and arenas in towns with major league sports teams.  In the B.C. (“before coronavirus”) years, professional sports team owners argued that there was a significant “value proposition” in professional sports venues that made them worth the investment of tax dollars.  But the assumed presence of thousands of fans in the stands was a crucial element of the “value proposition” equation.

Fans were supposed to come in from out of town, fill up the hotel rooms, and pay the absurdly inflated hotel guest taxes into city and state coffers.  Fans were supposed to buy merchandise and food and beer — lots of beer — at the stadiums and arenas, paying sales taxes and creating jobs for hundreds of security guards and concession stand workers and parking lot attendants and fan entertainment teams, who would also pay taxes.  And, after the games were done, the happy fans were supposed to go out to restaurants in the city to celebrate their team’s victory, and the disappointed fans were supposed to drown their sorrows in a cold one — Keeping the city’s food and entertainment and hospitality sector healthy, and paying still more taxes.

Now games are being played with no fans, and who knows when fans will be permitted back to cheer on their teams.  None of those contemplated tax revenues are being paid.

COVID-19 might be a once-a-century pandemic, or it might be the harbinger of a new norm of social distancing and mask wearing and fewer fans in seats — if any are permitted at all.  The next time a professional sports team owner tries to convince a city to spring for a new, even more lavish venue, how receptive are city officials going to be to the “value proposition” message?

Going Pro

Yesterday Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins announced that he will leave college to participate in the 2019 NFL draft.  Haskins is a redshirt sophomore, which means he will be giving up two years of college football eligibility in order to turn pro.

web1_Haskins_MVP-1The decision surprised exactly no one.  Haskins was the Ohio State starter for only one season, but in that season he shredded the record books, setting new single-season Ohio State marks for attempts, completions, completion percentage, passing yards, and touchdowns and single-season Big Ten records for passing yards and touchdowns.  He’s easily the best pure passer and pro-style quarterback the Buckeyes have ever had.

He had a remarkable year, and the experts have graded him accordingly.  The NFL Draft Advisory Board, which exists to give college players who are considering leaving school early a sense of where they might go if they stand for the NFL draft, gave Haskins a first-round grade, and he is widely considered to be the best quarterback prospect in the draft and a likely top ten pick.

None of this is a surprise to anyone who follows football.  So why am I writing about Dwayne Haskins going to the NFL?  Because while his decision was predictable, what’s changed has been the reaction to it.  In the past, college football fans used to hold a grudge against players who left early, viewing them as betraying their alma maters to chase the almighty dollar.  Now, there may be some people out there who still hold to that view, but the majority have shifted to a different position.

We see how much money professional athletes can make, we know how that kind of money can be life-changing for the athletes and their families, and we also know that, in a sport as violent as football, you never know whether the next play might inflict a gruesome, career-ending injury.  As a result, for the most part, fans have come to view decisions to turn pro by high-caliber players like Haskins as a rational, reasonable judgments — even though we’d love to see them continue to perform for our favorite college teams.  We get why they don’t want to take a huge risk that they might end up regretting forever.  In short, we’ve reached the last stage of the seven stages of grief and have accepted the way the world now works.

So Godspeed, Dwayne Haskins!  It was fun watching you play football for the Men of the Scarlet and Gray . . . while it lasted.

At The Bar For The Browns

God help me — I think I’m catching Browns Fever! Because the local TV station has chosen to broadcast the Bengals-Steelers game, I’ve gone to a local bar to watch the Browns play the Chargers.

That means I’ve changed my schedule and activities specifically to watch the Browns. That means — gulp! — I’ve effectively declared that I’ve once again been sucked in.

Oh well! Go Browns! Feel free to crush my spirits again!

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Sports

Last night two bad things happened:  the Ohio State Buckeyes went down to defeat in the NCAA Tournament, and during the game Mr. Sports emerged.

The Buckeyes’ loss wasn’t unexpected; they’d gotten whipped by Gonzaga earlier in the season and were the underdog.  Ohio State gamely fought back from a 15-point deficit at the start of the game to briefly take the lead in the second half, but ultimately Gonzaga pulled away.  It was a good game, but also one where, from the standpoint of Ohio State fans at least, it seemed like every rolled-out layup and rattling in three-pointer and missed-shot carom just favored the Bulldogs.   Sometimes that happens in sports.

1281989935452That’s where Mr. Sports came in.  That’s the name I’ve given to the harsh, foul-mouthed, angry personality that sometimes takes over during TV sports broadcasts when one of my favorite teams is playing in a big game.  Mr. Sports wants his teams to win so badly that any adversity or bad break causes him to surge to the forefront and launch into vicious tirades about referees, opposing players, the fates, or even the opposing coach’s wife or Mom and Dad celebrating an impending win.  And, because college basketball is a game where so many bounces or debatable foul calls can happen, it’s prime territory for Mr. Sports.

Last night Mr. Sports was pretty bad.  Kish and I had decided to watch the game together, but after Ohio State fell far behind and was struggling to catch up, one of Mr. Sports’ loud and profane outbursts caused Russell’s dog Betty to leap off the couch, and Kish decided to retreat upstairs in disgust.  Mr. Sports then watched the rest of the game by himself, fulminating about the unjust fates.  After the game ended I went back upstairs, feeling sheepish and stupid about my loss of control in front of my disappointed wife and the two dogs.  Recently I’ve gotten better about keeping Mr. Sports under wraps — combining age, presumed maturity, and avoidance strategies like just not watching much college basketball this year — but sometimes the power of Mr. Sports is simply too strong.

The Atlantic recently carried an interesting article about the positives and negatives of being a sports fan, and concluded that the benefits outweigh the negatives.  And I know from personal experience how thrilling it is when one of your teams wins it all.  But it is embarrassing when Mr. Sports thunders out from my id and starts raging at the TV, and it makes me feel bad to disappoint my baffled wife, who just can’t understand how sports can cause such a fundamental change in behavior in the blink of an eye.

I’m 60 years old, and I’ve still got some growing up to do.

A Real-Life Test Of The Sports Fans’ Eternal Debate

The sports fans’ eternal debate — unless you’re a fan of the New England Patriots, the New York Yankees, or some other team that seems to be good every year and win championships with machine-like regularity — goes something like this:  would you rather your team be really good, come close to winning it all, and fail by inches, or would you rather your team stinks up the joint, is totally uncompetitive, and never even comes within sniffing distance of a title?  Which kind of failure is more painful for the fan?

Cleveland sports fans are getting a real-life test of this eternal debate.  The Indians are the team that falls into the first category.  For two years now, they’ve been very good.  Last year, they came within inches of winning it all; this year, a few breaks one way or the other and they would still be in the playoffs and gunning for a possible World Series ring.  Kish can tell you, from watching my tantrum when the Tribe lost game 5 of the ALDS, that it was a very difficult loss to accept.

ejhobasxThe Cleveland Browns, on the other hand, fall into the second category.  They’re 0-6, already out of the playoffs, and establishing historical records for abject football futility that may never be challenged.  They are ludicrously bad, and seem to be discovering new, never before considered ways to lose games.  You could call them the Cleveland Clowns, but that wouldn’t be accurate, because many people find clowns to be terrifying — and there’s nothing at all that’s scary about this bunch of losers.

Having lived through this in real-life, I therefore think I know the answer to this eternal debate.  Sure, being a fan of the Browns is painful, but it’s more of an embarrassing pain than anything else.  Because they are so bad, you just don’t get emotionally invested in their ineptitude, and the losses don’t really sting because they’re expected.  You can even laugh at how bad they are.  The Indians, on the other hand — well, those losses will continue to sting and nag for years to come.

Nice to know that Cleveland sports teams can conclusively settle long-standing points of controversy.

Glutton For Punishment

This afternoon I’m going to watch the Cleveland Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals.

That’s right.  I’m going to voluntarily subject myself to more than three hours of bad football, bad karma, and general haplessness.  I’m going to watch a truly wretched 0-12 team play a horribly underperforming 4-7-1 team in a game that is utterly meaningless, even to their own beleaguered fans.

brownsWhy am I doing this?  Well, for one thing I’m a Cleveland Browns fan.  It’s tough duty generally, and an especially awful burden this year — but I’ve consciously avoided watching most of the games until now.  At this point, it’s so obvious that the Browns suck that I have no expectations whatsoever of success.  The Browns are likely to lose every game this year; the only question is whether they will find new ways to suffer a self-inflicted disaster.

So why watch this game, when I’ve avoided the others?  Because the Bengals have had, if anything, an even worse season than the Browns.  Sure, they’ve won games, but everyone expected them to be a Super Bowl contender, and instead they’ve laid a colossal egg.  If the Browns have any hope of winning a game this season, it’s going to be a game like this, where their opponent also reeks and a few lucky breaks might actually produce a W.  And if that were to happen — something I’m not counting on, mind you — it would be sweet that it would be the Bengals who bore the shame of being the only team to lose to the Browns this year.

I’m a glutton for punishment.

Aghast Michigan Guy

Look, if you’re a sports fan, at some point in your life you’re going to feel just like Aghast Michigan Guy looks.  You’re going to have seen some impossible play that caused your team to lose a game that it should have won, and you’re going to have a look of absolute, stunned disbelief and horror on your face.

Of course, not every team can lose a game with the panache that the Wolverines showed last Saturday — losing to Michigan State with no time on the clock, in a game that they had totally in the bag, through a muffed snap, a botched punt, and an improbable chain of events that will probably never be replicated in the history of sports.

Perhaps that’s why Aghast Michigan Guy so perfectly captures that aghast feeling that so many sports fans have experienced.  Any Browns fan knows exactly how this guy feels.

Cleveland Clad

I’ll be leaving in a few minutes to drive up to Cleveland.  I’ve got tickets to watch the Browns today with Russell and two of his buddies.

IMG_7175Here’s an example of how sports fans think:  I’m trying to decide what to wear that might help the Browns win.  And when the opposing team is the Denver Broncos — a franchise that figures prominently in the history of Browns heartbreaks — carefully considered clothing choices are especially important.

I’ve been up to watch a number of Browns games in the new stadium, and for the most part I’ve seen appalling gag jobs and wretched losses.  This means that the Browns haven’t been very good, sure . . . but it also means that most of my Browns gear is now irrevocably tainted.  I’ll give a ball cap or sweatshirt a few shots at bringing home a win, but once they hit multiple losses they obviously can’t be worn again without hurting the team and go into the closet, forever.

As a result of this process, I’ve got no Browns ball cap to wear.  Fortunately, the weather is supposed to be cold, so I can get by with a stocking cap with the Brownie on it.  And my standard sweatshirt has proven to be a dismal failure.  I’ve dug up some vintage stuff that Russell got years ago, reasoning that they not only are weather-appropriate for a chilly day but also are likely to have some good karma still infused into their very fibers.

C’mon Brownies!  I’m running out of licensed gear, here!

Edited to add:  Well, another outfit bites the dust . . . .

Good Karma

IMG_4604Sports fans know intuitively that concepts like karma are vitally important to the outcomes of key games.  Whether you are at the game or watching at home, life gives you little clues about whether things are going to go smoothly and whether the ball is going to bounce favorably . . . or not.  Most fans are superstitious because of this inner awareness — if they wear the same shirt and follow the same routine, they are less likely to invite occurrences that indicate that the balance is tilted against them.

On my trip to Dallas, the little signs were everywhere, and I was keenly sensitive to them.

IMG_4587The trip got off on a wrong foot when my flight to Atlanta was delayed and it looked like I would inevitably miss my connection to Oklahoma City, but I somehow made it anyway.  I drove from Oklahoma City to Dallas without mechanical problems, bad traffic, or speeding tickets.  Thanks to the Friendly Flynns, we had a great place to stay and a great Game Day southern breakfast.  We found a perfect parking spot at AT&T Stadium, enjoyed a laugh-filled lunch with buddies from Cleveland, and did some tailgating with an old friend at a location where there were some hilarious signs and antics by excited ticket holders.  And somehow, in the crush of humanity, we randomly ran into colleagues at one of many temporary souvenir shops set up in a tent along one of the roads around the stadium.

And then, when I finally sat my wind-chilled bones in my seat high in the upper deck of the House that Jerry Built, the first image I saw on the enormous Jumbotron above the field was a sweater vest-clad Jim Tressel, a great coach and even better man who was present at the game because he was being elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.  With the comforting presence of Coach Tressel hovering over the field, how could the Ohio State Buckeyes possibly lose?  And, of course, they didn’t.

It’s nice to go into an important game with good karma, and it’s even better when that good karma produces the desired result.  The fates were with us.

Pre-Game Jitters

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Yes, it’s 4:57. Three-and-a-half long hours until the Sugar Bowl and Ohio State’s match-up against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

I could never be an elite athlete, and not just because I have a complete lack of talent, skill, and athletic ability. I totally lack the temperament needed to play sports beyond the recreational level. When a big game is coming up, like this game against Alabama, I get jittery even though I’m only a fan. I can’t imagine what the players and coaches must feel like.

And the time seems to drag, like I’m a kid watching the classroom clock hit 3 p.m. Sigh . . . It’s just 5:07? Seriously?

Trouncing The Newbies

Yesterday Ohio State crushed Rutgers, 56-17, in a game that was out of hand by the second quarter.  Ohio State rolled up more than 580 yards of offense, had a 35-7 halftime lead, was ahead 56-10 after three quarters, and then took its foot off the gas pedal.

IMG_4991The game was an important win for the Buckeyes, and not just because they need to win every remaining game by convincing margins if they hope to have a chance to play in the first college football playoff this year.  No, the game also was important for one of those reasons that sports fans understand intuitively, but non-sports fans will never fully grasp:  Rutgers is a new member of the Big Ten, and therefore it was essential that Ohio State crush them like a bug on their first visit to the Horseshoe.

You see, there is such a thing as conference pride.  The Big Ten has become a whipping boy in the national press for laying eggs in big out-of-conference games, but we can only imagine the sneers and snickers and sarcasm from the ESPN talking heads if one of the newbies won the conference championship during their first year as a member.  We simply can’t let that happen.  Ohio State has held up its end of the bargain, administering thorough beat-downs to both Rutgers and Maryland. Now we’ll hope that the other members of the Old Conference follow through, too.

The Tribe And The Tabbies

Tonight the Cleveland Indians start a huge four-game series against the Detroit Tigers.  It comes at a crucial point in the season, with the Tribe three games behind the Tigers and both teams playing well.  Detroit has won 12 of its last 13, and the Indians have won 10 of their last 11 games.

Unfortunately, this year the Tigers have beaten the snot out of the Tribe.  They’ve won 9 of 12, and in many of those games the outcome wasn’t close.

As a Cleveland fan, I’ve given careful thought to how I personally, through my own actions, can cause ripples in the karma and help the Tribe win.  Like every true fan, I know that jinxes, and reverse jinxes, and lucky shirts, and rally caps really do make a difference.  The fickle sports gods sense these kinds of things and adjust results accordingly.  A routine grounder to short might hit a pebble and ricochet past the fielder to bring home a key run.  A fine bunt might take an abrupt left turn and go foul.  A sudden gust of wind might keep a game-winning homer in the ballpark.  In such ways do the gods dictate the outcome, after carefully studying every lucky charm, evil spell, confident prediction, and other instance of fan behavior and adjusting the cosmic scales accordingly.

I’ve refrained from writing about the Tigers and the Tribe because I didn’t want to jinx the Cleveland nine.  Obviously, that didn’t work.  So I’m going with the George Costanza opposite approach.  I’m writing this post about this crucial series to try to change the fates, and tonight I’ll watch the game even though that usually means bad luck will befall the Indians.  What kind of fan would I be if I didn’t try something to help bring home a victory?

ETA:  My carefully laid plans obviously failed to account for the Curse of Chris Perez.  After the Tribe took a 2-0 lead into the top of the ninth, their unpredictable closer got bombed for four runs and the Indians lost, 4-2.  The gods are unkind, indeed.

My Momentous Sports Fanship Decision

Having given the matter careful thought, I’ve reached a momentous decision.  After decades of complete commitment to Cleveland sports teams, I am declaring myself a free agent.  Persistence in the face of unrelieved failure is not a virtue!  Perhaps I’ve simply had more gut-wrenching losses and humiliatingly dismal seasons than a person should be expected to bear.  You can decide for yourself.

Akron, Ohio, the place of my birth, falls squarely within the Cleveland sports orbit.  Parentage and pedigree played a role, too, as my parents and grandparents were all Cleveland sports fans.  Rabid support for the Browns and the Tribe was a kind of birthright for the boys in our family.  I gladly participated, going to Indians games with my grandparents and watching the Browns with UJ on autumn Sundays.  Little did I know that, during those hopeful days of the late ’60s, I was signing on to a lifelong commitment that, for more than four decades, would not be rewarded with a championship.

Free agency feels funny.  Of course, I’ll have to figure out which teams to root for now.  Or, perhaps, I’ll just let sports fandom go by the wayside for a while.  Laying off professional sports for a year might just do me good.  Surely, it would have a salutary impact on my blood pressure and reduce the number of instances where my outbursts disturb the dogs of our household.

Don’t doubt for a minute my decision to live a Browns-free and Tribe-free existence.  Although I’ve lived, and mostly died, with them for years, my commitment to professional sports free agency is total.  Yes, I can — I think!

A Gameless Weekend

The Ohio State Buckeyes aren’t playing this weekend.  After a grueling last few weeks in the Big Ten meat grinder, and some hard work in pulling out a win over Northwestern at Evanston, the Buckeyes are getting a well-deserved rest.

IMG_3108We fans, however, are pining for a weekend game.  I enjoy the adrenalin rush the games provide, and I rationalize that the spikes in my blood pressure caused by bad calls from referees during an OSU game probably are good for my system.  Every once in a while, you want to make sure that your body can withstand various stresses.  Isn’t that what those doctor-supervised stress tests are all about?  Getting seriously into a Buckeyes game is just the self-administered version.

Still, in a way it’s also nice to have the weekend off.  We get to see other teams play without having an enormous emotional investment in the outcome.  Today I’ll watch the Michigan-Michigan State game.  Whatever the result, it will help the Buckeyes in their quest for a higher seed in the Big Ten Tournament.  If Michigan loses, they drop below Ohio State in the loss column; if Michigan wins, Michigan State joins Ohio State and Michigan with five losses in the conference.

So today I’ll watch the games with a relaxed attitude.  I’ll be husbanding my emotional and stress-related resources for Tuesday night, when Ohio State travels to Bloomington for a make-or-break game against the top-ranked Hoosiers.