btoWhen I was young, going to the theatre or to a sporting event was affordable to everyone. Now, between outrageous salaries and corporate gouging, the best seats are reserved for those with big expense accounts, and the working class watch sports mostly on TV and rarely go to live theatre at all. This year the Canadian Football League realized that their sport was one of the most affordable spectator events going, and capitalized on the fact that CFL players earn such modest salaries that most of them have second jobs in the communities they play in. A  ‘blue-collar’ CFL promotion program stressed that these are just average guys like you and me, most of them playing for fun rather than the money, and most of them knowing that they’re never going to be superstars in the NFL. The program produced a huge increase in attendance, and this past weekend’s Grey Cup final was the most watched ever. Now, with the overpaid NHL hockey players on strike, and locked out by price-gouging team owners, many Canadians are turning away from both greedy groups and showing up in record numbers at Junior hockey league games, where ticket prices are cheap, players play their hearts out for modest salaries, the teams are evenly balanced, and every seat in the house is a great one.

Community theatres are booming too, as many Canadians are fed up with prices for the ‘blockbuster’ shows that run in excess of $100 a seat. This past weekend I paid a mere $20 for a ticket to see a concert that featured Murray McLauchlan, Marc Jordan, Ian Thomas and Cindy Church, who between them have over 60 international music awards (mostly for songwriting) — and the stars came out at the end of the show and mingled with the crowd! [Great concert, BTW, and I’m going to see Marc at his solo concert next month in Mississauga launching his new CD Make Believe Ballroom].

All of this is bringing a lot of people who started cocooning when the hassle and price of tickets just wasn’t worth it any more, back into the crowds of sporting events and concerts. It’s like a quiet revolution going on, and I sure hope it succeeds. I’m already starting to go out a lot more.

And soon we’ll be able to take our own wine into restaurants, which will make eating out more affordable, too.

Speaking of sports, I thought of an idea to make sporting events even more exciting. If you really want to engage the ‘crowd’ in a baseball or football game, what if you gave the crowd the chance to make all of the key decisions for one or even both teams? You’d have to enroll/register in advance, so no one could vote twice. Then, in a baseball team, you could log into a special Wisdom of Crowds website (or use those wireless electronic voting machines, if you were in the stands) to tell your team’s pitcher what to throw (with the consensus relayed to the catcher by transmitter so he could signal to the pitcher), decide when to pull the pitcher, when to call for a steal, when to put in which pitch-hitter, and all the other decisions that are usually made by the ‘experts’. In football, you could select which play to use from the playbook, decide whether to go for it on fourth down (third down in Canada), etc. Would the ‘crowd’ call a better game than the coaching staff? Would the Yankees fans call a better game than the Red Sox fans? You’d need some pretty tight software security to keep the calls from being intercepted by the other side, but it should be possible. It might be best to try it out during an exhibition game or even an all-star game. I think it would be a hoot, and add a whole new dimension to the strategy of the game.

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  1. Richard says:

    Huh? The record crowds for the CFL are because fans see the CFL as an exciting alterntive to no hockey, not an alternative to the presence of exciting hockey. The Vancouver Canucks sold out all of their games because the product was good. They could increase prices by 25% and still have to beat away fans with a stick. Hockey fans are going to the cheap hockey games because … it’s hockey. If they themselves don’t play hockey, every Canadian either has a family member who plays hockey or knows somebody who does. Bring back hockey, and the CFL has to go back to trying to find its niche as “the *other* Canadian sport” rather than, as currently, “the *only* Canadian sport”. The late-night sports shows are showing highlights from minor hockey because there are no major-league hockey highlights. As soon as major-league hockey comes back, goodbye minor-league hockey.There is a compelling argument to be made, however, for the long tail of hockey, that is, while the majority still enjoys watching professional athletes, because the absolute number of fans always increases, there will be a bigger niche market for minor league hockey, because more towns will want a team. Major-league hockey, when it comes back, will still be a big draw, though likely a slightly smaller draw, as was baseball post 1994.I also suggest that the fans don’t go to sports games to make the decisions for the managers, but pay for the right to clap and cheer when their team performs well, and boo when the ump make a bad call. (Fans go to sports games to get excited, and you can be just as excited against something as well as for something.) That said, there are hundreds of thousands of airmchair quarterbacks who would salivate at the posibility of calling a play. The fundamental problem, then, would not be lack of information, both private and public, nor is the problem a lack of diversity of backgrounds, but ofaggregating the information to make effective decisions. It’s not going to happen on a website though: it’s going to happen with the remote and the TV, since not everybody will have a laptop or computer nearby, but everybody will have a TV and remote.I would also resist, just on principle any introduction of electronic equipment to the players of baseball, the one sport where electronics are not used in either the game’s play or the umpire’s judgment of the events on the field. (Hockey, basketball and football all have time clocks, where baseball has outs. Hockey and football use video replay to make decisions that can–and have–cost games.) When something goes wrong, it’s always human error, meaning that there is someone to blame, rather than an inhuman machine.

  2. Richard says:

    And of course I forgot to close a link. Apologies.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Richard: Thanks for the comments. I think each ticket increase and each strike push fans closer to the ‘tipping point’ beyond which they won’t come back. The challenge is getting enough people to experience and spread the word about the quality of the ‘working-class’ product. The ‘major leagues’ still have a monopoly on ‘brand’, but that doesn’t mean they always will. The best analogy, perhaps, is President’s Choice — the humbler, high quality, low-cost alternative for overpriced brands. More for your money.

  4. kara says:

    I miss the Hockey season for sure – But when I saw the money the players were making, I was stunned. How did it get so off balance?

  5. They haven’t (yet) got to the stage of allowing the crowd to make decisions during a game, but there’s a (proper, not American ;-) football team in France which is run by its fans – Johnnie Moore’s Weblog: The wisdom of football crowds

  6. I don’t know about the wisdom of a sports crowd…The Toronto Blue Jays would never had won two world series if it was up to the fans…but to another point of yours Dave, there was a great collaboration happening way back when – not between the players but between Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick. They were the Blue Jays, really. As for the CFL – great point. For decades now, the CFL has been trying to be the NFL. It’s not. Back in the day, CFL players were a part of the community. You’re right. They – most – had other jobs and played the game almost on a part time basis. In the UK a parallel could be found with rugby/football (soccer). (Odd that the higher paid soccer players were supported by the ‘lower working classes’ for the most part.) Though that has changed in the past several years. The CFL keeps hanging in there, it’s amazing. A smaller stadium in Montreal creating a more intimate atmosphere. The Argos to do the same. Someone, somewhere finally got it. After years of extremely poor stewardship. It’s accessible.As for the NHL…yeah like baseball it’s going to take a huge hit. Which is fine. In fact, the league could stand contraction. I’m one of those middling fans that takes a passing interest in the game – though I will sit down on a Saturday night and watch HNIC. And if Columbus, Atlanta, Miami, Anaheim, and Phoenix – along with Gary Bettman – all just went away the game would be better off.

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