Posted October 29, 2018
Guest post by Dr. David Staley, Director, The Humanities Institute and Director, Center for the Humanities in Practice, The Ohio State University
As a boy, I coveted a Cincinnati Reds ball cap. In those days, if I wanted one I would have to have my parents drive me to Riverfront Stadium, as that was the only way to buy team merchandise. Today, of course, I can walk into any sporting goods store and buy a cap or any kind of team apparel, for any team I wish to support. I don’t need to live in Cincinnati or Los Angeles or Chicago to wear team apparel and demonstrate my loyalty to a team. My allegiance is to their colors and logos, not necessarily to the place in which they are located.
We have long associated professional sports teams with a place. That is why when teams relocate it can be such a gut-wrenching experience for the communities in which they are embedded. Think of what happened after the Browns left for Baltimore. Think of the anguish expressed by the Save The Crew movement. At the same time, teams or “franchises” up and move with some regularity. In just the past few years, the San Diego Chargers relocated to Los Angeles, the Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles. The Oakland Raiders have announced that they will relocate (again!) to Las Vegas…in 2020. Can one remain a Raiders fan if the team is no longer in Oakland?
Professional sports teams transformed into brands a long time ago. Those brands need not be confined to a specific location, and may soon wander around the country (or the world). I spent part of the summer watching Big Three basketball, 3 v. 3 teams of retired NBA players. None of the eight teams in the league were located in a particular place; they have names like Three Headed Monsters or Power Three. None makes reference to a specific city. Instead, the teams travelled together to a different site each week to compete against each other, not unlike what happens each week in NASCAR.
In the future, we might see a model where teams—The Dodgers, the Knicks, the Seahawks—compete against each other in stadiums around the country. Fans watching games on high-def TVs at home will not care whether the Dodgers play in Los Angeles or not: they will follow the logo.
Think of the “International Series,” those NFL games held in London, England. Imagine NFL teams playing their games in a regular circuit that takes them around the globe, from London to Frankfurt, to Tokyo and Shanghai to Los Angeles and Columbus. Teams would become rootless brands supported by millions around the globe.