The peculiar brand loyalty that is sports-team fandom often sets the stage for some bizarre, if not questionable business decisions. It might be quirky promotional items, gifted to attendees of an event, that are effortlessly repurposed as weapons (a la the pretzels that killed Whitey Ford on “The Simpsons”). Or it might be the seemingly thoughtful issuing of ponchos for fans to use in inclement weather that, when donned, look suspiciously like Klan hoods. Or it could be PR-inspired acts of accountability (or complete lack thereof) such as jersey exchanges initiated by a team after one of their employees murders a few people or the giving away of merchandise honoring star athletes that currently play for another team.
That old adage about hindsight could most certainly be deployed in many of these cases, but just as applicable could be the claim that even multimillion dollar businesses can exhibit a total absence of forethought or, worse, of simply not caring: These idiots will lap up anything we put in front of them. The eagerness of many fans to show their home-team allegiance has prompted sports franchises to occasionally reciprocate with logo-stamped trash. Even worse are those times when the devotion manifested in dollars spent by a fanbase is repaid with presumptuous and perspectiveless offers that effectively invert reality: Teams acting as if fans ought be grateful for the opportunity to cheer organized athletic excellence rather than acknowledging that their very existence depends on whether fans keep buying their products, either in the form of arena seats or licensed gear.
Naysayers here might point out that one man’s trash is another’s treasure, that sports bring communities together in ways that transcend cynical critiques as to how sports leagues operate like cartels, or that Marge, not the Isotopes, made those pretzels. Consider anyway the offer made by the Buffalo Bills organization recently, following Western New York’s pummeling at the hands of snowstorms and the so-called “lake effect.” The team sought roughly 500 fans to come shovel Ralph Wilson Stadium, the venue at which the hometown Bills were to play a game against the New York Jets today, in exchange for $10 an hour and free tickets to the game they would have helped make possible.
The snow-removal ploy was an absolute failure, not to mention arguably (if not outright) inappropriate seeing as how at the time it was announced at least seven people had died during the snowstorms and countless others had suffered through being literally trapped, in many cases for days, wherever they happened to be when the storm clouds barreled in. Citizens stranded in their cars on impassable roads or stuck in their homes with snow piling up to heights that obscured entryways were forced to ration food. Even as people dug themselves out, travel was difficult and driving bans were put in effect to prevent further injury or even death.
If diehard fans were willing to help their team out, the weather, as of Friday, didn’t cooperate. Mercifully, the National Football League, citing safety concerns and the interest of the efficacious allocation of public safety resources, moved the location of the game to Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Furthermore, it was decided that the game would be played a day later. Deprived of an opportunity to show their dedication through physical labor, fans like Ken Johnson were presented with a chance to express love for their team through pilgrimage.
There might be a catch for travelers like Johnson, however. Or for anyone wishing to attend Monday night’s impromptu barnstorm. In an act of charity, Detroit’s football gatekeepers made available 500 free tickets to the game. Whether an altruistic wild hair on the part of the Lions’ brass or in concert with the Bills organization as an attempt to make amends for the snow-shovel proposal and an unrelated gaffe in which Bills ticket holders wanting to get a refund for the displaced game were given the number to an Ohio-based abuse hotline, has not been made clear. What is clear is that the free tickets, which had been scheduled to be dispersed between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. today, were gone within 10 minutes. Though some of the tickets made it into the hands of needy fans, the fact that scalpers were hawking the gratis passes for as much as $125 soon after the ticket windows started turning people away suggests grassroots entrepreneurial spirit, and not a yen to see the Bills play the Jets, had brought some to brave the queue this morning.
“This game ain’t free, man,” one scalper told ESPN. No word as yet as to how many takers these egregiously-priced former-freebies had; that is, whether $125 was the initial bidding price or one reflective of demand. In any event, it does seem like there are at least a few people out there immune to the delusions of sports fandom. Or, less skeptically, incapable of sympathy for wayfaring Bills fans. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and millionaires.