Fake fans

Wall Street Journal has a story about an Italian soccer team using printed sheets of vinyl to fill up their stadium. Since fans weren’t showing up to their games, management decided to employ fake fans.

The club itself makes a majority of its revenue from television contracts, which makes one wonder if ‘real’ fans are even needed.

A few things come out from this story.

First is the actual images on the vinyl and how the fans are depicted. The image really reflects how owners and management see their fans or at least what behaviour they expect from their fans. Every ‘fan’ is out of their seats and doing something. Not very authentic, but makes the team look good on TV.

Second, this brings to light what fan behaviour is at the physical stadium, with thousands of other fans, versus what fan behaviour is like at home, alone. What exactly do fans like about being at the actual game? What do they hate? Could attending an actual game be a thing of the past?

This also ties back to my posting about goal horns and how they’re and example of inauthentic fan expression.

Image from Wall Street Journal.

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Power of the professional sports fan

Came across an article recently that really made me think about pro-sports and fans. It’s by Gladwell of the New Yorker and can be found here. Gladwell talks about how professional football has a lot of characteristics similar to dog fighting. This was written around the time Michael Vick was sent to jail for running a dog fighting operation.

Really it’s a kids game, but these athletes are under tremendous pressure. Expectations are from everywhere: teammates, club owners, families, sponsors and fans.

Teammates expect your best effort every game and every play. Contracts are paid before they even play a game, raising the owners’ expectations. Families rely on the pay cheque to cover child care, mortgages and bills. Sponsors expect a high level of professionalism, as athletes represent the brand.

And of course, the fan.

It’s a gate driven business. The people in the stands, people tuning in and those buying merchandise have invested in the pro-athletes financially and emotionally. They’re there to be entertained and to be engaged. They want the best. Failure to do so means the fan spends less or finds other options.

Athletes don’t just represent their team. They represent a city, a country or even a religion. If the team loses, the community loses.

The athlete themselves know that their careers can end at any time. They work their entire lives to get there but it can be taken away pretty quickly. There are younger players coming through the ranks every day, ready to take their jobs and pay cheque. Competition gets fierce because realistically, there are only a few spots out there in the professional ranks.

No matter how hard they get hit or how bad they get hurt, they are expected to get up and keep playing. The long term ramifications of continuous shots to the head or the beating their bodies take are still under review. But it’s safe to assume the majority of pro-athletes won’t be feeling too great in their old age.

The cause of this is pretty spread out across different factors, and of course depends on the situation. But the influence of fans on pro athletes and sports is extremely high, and could be growing because of social media.