So last night I sat on a panel at a New York City hotel with a bunch of sports writers. It was sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, and MCed by Jason Gay, the paper’s fantastic columnist.
I generally hate panels. Actually, I generally loathe panels. A bunch of people talking over themselves to answer questions that don’t matter. Also, I’ve become one of those people who can’t schmooze for the life of him. I just find it all very awkward …
“So you’re Jim Pearlman.”
“I loved your book on the Mets.”
“I didn’t finish it, but what I read I really liked most of.”
“Do you think Terry Collins is doing a good job?”
(Proper answer: I’ve watched one inning of baseball this year)
Well, he’s leaving the starters in way too long.
Luckily, my parents came. So during the pre-panel schmooze, I hid behind my mom and dad, pretending to exist. Once the event officially began, I sat on stage alongside Jason, John Thorn (the historian), Brian Costa, Dan Barbarisi and Matt Futterman (all WSJ sports guys). To my shock (and pleasant surprise), it was fun. Really fun. Jason kept things rolling along, and if I’m gonna talk sports, I prefer it’s about nostalgia and long-ago days. Which some of this was.
There was, however, a singular moment that caught my attention, and really made me think. Toward the end of the hour, attendees were allowed to ask questions. There were probably 150 people in the room, representing different corporations and businesses that advertise with the newspaper. One man took the mic and asked why stadiums were losing their souls; why people attend games and don’t even cheer; why everyone sits on their cell phones, eating sushi and such (those are my words, not the guy’s).
A couple of answers were given by the panel, but I stayed quiet. Inside my head, I kept thinking the same thing: You people!
I don’t say this meanly, but it’s true. One of the biggest problems with the lameness of sports crowds these days are corporations swooping down, purchasing enormous swaths of tickets, then using them to impress clients. The result is an audible yawn: Indifferent folks hogging up the best seats, sipping their luxury ale through a straw while complaining about the steak that just cost the company $40 (write off). What stadiums lack—especially in the good seats—are fans who care. Who scream. Who yell. Who roar. Who live and die with an at-bat. With a pitch. The upper decks of stadiums have become ghettos for working-class fans; the last places they’re allowed to be.
Hell, when I was a kid fans could sneak down through the stadium stairwells and snag better seats as the games went on. Now, an army of guards will stop anyone who dares try. Is it class warfare? Not exactly. But it is about class. And money.