In an era when the main attraction is not always what puts people in their seats, when inane spectacles with the pageantry of fascist rallies occur at an insufferable clip and every stoppage of play is milked to generate maximum fan involvement, no principle of propriety is sacrosanct anymore at sporting events. And sports are better off for it.
Realistically, with the amount that it now costs to attend an average event, fans should expect to receive a maximum return on their dollar, and not only through the on-court product. And while some decry the bastardization of pure sport, it only serves to reason that, with the confluence of exorbitant prices and shorter attention spans, keeping the fan base constantly entertained can only benefit a team both financially and from a public relations standpoint.
These days, having shirts flung into the stands, seeing mascots jump off trampolines into somersault slam dunks, and witnessing halftime half-court shots have become as central to sport as the game itself. And while in some ways this trend is sad and troubling, it is a fair reflection of society.
Even at baseball’s three most historic parks does ownership feel compelled to add something to the viewing experience. The Yankee Stadium grounds’ crew often leads the crowd in dancing to the YMCA (and, for a short time back in the mid-90s, the Macarena) while sweeping the field in the fifth inning. At Wrigley Field, fans derive a portion of their viewing enjoyment from seeing guest crooners pay homage to Harry Carey and lead them in the rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” And at Fenway Park this season, Kevin Millar’s college impersonation of Bruce Springsteen appeared on the stadium scoreboard in order to inspire Red Sox rallies.
While this inevitably detracts from the actual game, it is understandable that owners would want to capitalize on the downtime in games to generate good publicity. When done within the context of games, there is little to complain about. However, when the game is fundamentally changed in order to squeeze in a giveaway or a stunt, that’s when the line should be drawn.
George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees drew some fire this postseason from Twins manager Ron Gardenhire among others after extending the seventh-inning stretch to a lengthy six or seven minutes to include a drawn-out version of “God Bless America.” In the postseason opposing starting pitchers who had to sit on their hands in between innings had a disproportionately high ERA at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the seventh inning. While this cannot (necessarily) be construed as a gimmick, it should not have taken place in between innings if it could not fit into the allotted time. Have it sung before the game or after, just don’t interrupt the natural flow.
At Yale home volleyball games this season, there has been a 10-minute break in between the second and third games to have fans come on the court and serve a ball over the net in order to try to hit prizes lying on the other side. It’s innocent enough, but if volleyball is structured to have three-minute breaks in between games, then that’s how it should be. Momentum can be thwarted easily with an extra seven minutes in the locker room to which you’re not accustomed, and it’s not fair to the team that has just won the second game to allow the opponent so much time to regroup.
In the rough and tumble world of trying to attract Yale students to sporting events, volleyball is one sport that should not have to resort to gimmicks to do so simply because it is blessed with an on-campus location. It’s true that sports like baseball and volleyball have no lengthy natural intermission, but that doesn’t mean one should be created to fulfill the need for added entertainment.
“Purist” is a loaded word when it comes to sports. Where is the line drawn? Can you approve of the designated hitter and still be a purist or do you have to want to push the fences back another 50 feet, raise the mound and allow pitchers to throw brushback pitches at will? Personally, I’ve come to accept and even embrace the eventuality that asinine publicity stunts will occur with increasing frequency and decreasing creativity. But it’s difficult to justify conducting them at the expense of the game itself.