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Friday, January 30, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, a sociological perspective on the world of sports

As the post three days ago conveys: we are very close to living in a world where Phillies pitchers and catchers have reported to Clearwater, Florida for the 2009 MLB Season. Until then, as I have done before, I would like to take this chance to utilize this blog, which is 98% 'sports' [mostly Phillies] and 2% 'other', to discuss that 2%. Growing up around and in Philadelphia, where 'sports' is not uncommonly called a 'religion', I have often wondered why our society deems the sports world as important. Here's my idea of why the world of sports may actually fall under the umbrella of 'religion':

(I am not going to cite any of my research here, but I'm not lying about my sources. I'm just too lazy to cite them. Look them up, and see for yourself. This is a stream of consciousness, not a research paper.)

Emile Durkheim is one of the most influential sociologists (one who studies people and how they interact) of all-time. He defined the word 'religion' differently than our common usage of the term in today's world. One of his most distinctive ideas of why certain religions attract so many followers is that the followers themselves do not necessarily 'believe' in the specific religious tenants (i.e., Roman Catholics who do not adhere to the entirety of the Roman Catholic belief system), but, rather, those followers are attracted by the collectivity of the religious event (i.e., Roman Catholics surrounded by 400 other people at a mass ceremony are subject to a psychological attraction to the religion due to the other 400 people in the building).

I believe that Durkheim's logic can be applied to the world of sports. Durkheim was a master sociologist way before his time (most of his theories still hold true today), and he is universally known as a (not the) founding father of sociology.

Think about it. If 'sports' is our 'religion (in Durkheim's sense)', then a sporting event would be our 'mass ceremony (in the sense of the Roman Catholic event)'. We are not drawn into sports necessarily because of the games themselves (we know deep down that 22 athletic strangers tossing a ball around a big field is not that important), but, rather, we are drawn into sports because when we watch a game on TV, there is a packed stadium/arena of fans hanging onto every snap/pitch/play*.

Why do you think college basketball is more popular in the U.S. than is the NBA? Because there is invariably an arena PACKED full of drunken, euphoric (and sometimes unresponsive) college kids who are hanging onto every play of a college game. This effect, in turn, draws you into the television and introduces you to the good athletic product of college basketball. However, if you remove the college campus of drunken, euphoric college kids, and replace the arena's surrounding area with a suburban setting (Palace at Auburn Hills) or a desert setting (Whatever god-forsaken arena where the Phoenix Suns play), you will NOT have that psychological effect from your television. The NBA will not attract you into the game in the way that college basketball does.

There is NO denying that, if you take the setting away from both NCAA Basketball games and NBA games, and forced 'society' to watch these games without any fan-attendance at these games at all, the majority of society would choose the great athletic product of the NBA as the more entertaining brand of basketball.

The NBA must determine how to fill those empty seats with euphoric, intense fans if they want to make their business as successful as it once was. I suspect the NBA is trying to improve its product in order to attract fans. I recommend they attract fans primarily (slash those insane lower level ticket prices), then watch their arenas fill up exponentially secondarily. Put that chicken back ahead of the egg where it belongs. But I'm no marketer, I'm a random Phillies fan who likes sociology.

Pitchers and catchers report in 15 days^.


*Unless this sporting event occurs in the state of Arizona.
^Valentine's Day. Bummer.

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