Sport Basketball What you probably don’t realise about being a sports fan

What you probably don’t realise about being a sports fan

The way we watch sport in stadiums has changed - big time. Photo: Getty
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It is a stunt that usually ends sport CEOs’ and marketers’ careers.

Last week, the New York Knicks returned basketball to the good old days, or the bad old days, depending on your perspective.

They played the first half of their sold-out clash against the Golden State Warriors without the NBA’s usual razzle-dazzle, ear-splitting entertainment.

If you had shut your eyes long enough, you’d have thought Wilt Chamberlain in his old Converse Chuck Taylors was again squeaking across the boards.

The stunt upset many fans and players who like the razzamatazz.

Outspoken Warrior Draymond Green labelled the stunt “pathetic” and “completely disrespectful” to those who have “changed the game from an entertainment perspective”.

The game lacked its usual “vibe” and “flow”, Green suggested.

It obviously threw out Golden State star Steph Curry’s three-point radar during the first half, but it was well-honed in the second.

Curry said later the atmosphere took him back to his school days, before game warm-ups.

The stunt was intended to allow the sell-out crowd to “experience the game in its purest form”.

But as Green was quick to point out, basketball has moved on and entertainment is now a huge part of the NBA show.

It’s now not only about the players, game and result.

It’s the NBA experience that counts with its noise, colour, movement and, most importantly, space to flog the franchise’s brand and sponsors’ products.

Those watching are no longer purely fans but prospective consumers.

Slam-dunking dads, kiss-cam canoodlers and fluffy mascots mask the marketers’ scam that the fan is there to watch the game.

They’re not. They are there to consume products of the sponsors.

The epilepsy-inducing flashing signage and decibel-defying announcements and advertisements highlight that from the moment you enter a sports stadium, you are there to buy.

Little wonder Green felt disoriented.

Noise is essential to the modern sport experience.

If the crowd hears the players, they are not listening to the ads.

Golden State star Steph Curry was not impressed. Photo: Getty

If they’re talking to each other, they are missing the latest endorsement or not kissing for the sponsor’s cam.

Sports stadia are not community places. Increasingly, they are fleece-markets of consumption and the entertainment is part of the sales pitch.

Whether it’s the booze, food or latest LeBron James, Curry or Carmelo Anthony t-shirt, the stadium is a market for the franchises and brands that pay top dollar for the right to plug their products.

In Toronto last December, I watched a Cleveland fan being dragged off a Raptors rival.

The Toronto fan had accused the Cleveland supporter of wearing fake LeBron merchandise.

That’s a paid-up and passionate modern sports consumer.

The Raptor could rubbish LeBron, but trashing the merchandise was going too far.

If you think this is rubbish just listen to heads of sporting bodies. They talk less about the game and more about the product and brand.

The product is all-important and the Knicks realised this after half-time.

The so-called entertainment returned, and the NBA did what it does best; slotting in a basketball game between an endless run of time-outs, ads and gimmicks.

Someone has to pay the players and cover the cost of the Knicks’ first-half marketing stuff-up.

Dr Tom Heenan teaches sports studies at Monash University.

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