There’s no doubt about it: sport is no longer just a passing passion or a casual pastime, especially when it comes to the top of the sporting pyramid where the top events and leagues across the world like the FIFA World Cup, the NFL, and the Olympics have moved from being sporting displays of prowess to huge corporate affairs.
Recently, though, there has been something of a backlash against this corporate side of sport and other gaming activities like poker and casino, started in part by the realisation that ‘regular’ fans are being priced out of the opportunity to enjoy the sports and activities they love at the top level. This backlash has seen fans try to reclaim sports as their own, turning away from what Roy Keane once famously called the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ (although he has more recently admitted to enjoying a prawn sandwich or two at games) and returning in various ways to the beating heart of the sports they feel passionate about.
But how exactly has this sporting revolution been achieved?
Not Standing for it Anymore
In England, the Hillsborough tragedy led to the banning of supporter standing in the top echelons of football. This change helped to create a far more family-friendly atmosphere at some of the top grounds in the country, but fans have argued that the decision has also helped to reduce the quality of the atmosphere for those who want a vocal stadium.
Not a single English Premier League team has so far taken up the offer to trial ‘safe standing’, but League One club Shrewsbury Town have taken up the option to trial a standing area and are hoping to replicate the success that Celtic, as well as several German clubs, have enjoyed from introducing these areas.
Not Just Making a League of Their Own
Another sport that has learned to adapt to show fans that it cares about the atmosphere and the event has been the NFL. The Super Bowl is perhaps the biggest single sporting event that takes place annually across the world, and those involved with the event have been keen to better engage with those who follow the action live or on TV.
Betting firms have been instrumental here, allowing fans to become more personally invested in the action thanks to a wealth of betting opportunities, from betting on the opening kickoff to betting on various events unfolding during the infamous half-time show, but the NFL itself as an institution has not always had success when it comes to marketing and staying in touch with fans.
Having become the biggest sport in the US, the NFL tried to branch out globally and attempted to conquer Europe with the NFL Europe. With none of the biggest players taking part, a chaotic start, and no real thought process behind how exactly it would work in practice, it was no surprise that this idea didn’t work well.
Despite this, the NFL has learned that it can’t mock its overseas fans and has instead successfully launched the International Series of games, which give fans (this year in the UK and in Mexico) the chance to enjoy regular season NFL games rather than meaningless pre-season games, allowing them to feel a proper sense of ownership over the sport they usually enjoy from a distance.
While the corporate monsters might well still be the big players when it comes to trying to put their stamp on various sports, both of these examples prove that fan power and supporter interest can really help to make a difference in terms of reclaiming that personal touch that helps to take sport from being a rich man’s plaything to something that fans can feel a part of.