How The (Jewish) Fans Corporatized Sports
Plus, Jewspotting in our time
When I wrote about the integral role of Jews in transforming the world of sports into one with a much more professionalized fan experience—and one with many more ostensible (former? recovering?) fans in positions of actual authority—the process, as I told it, was primarily one of non-sports outsiders with expertise elsewhere using their intellectual skills to buy in to the system and reshape it in their own fanboy image. My top example was Mark Cuban, the (Jewish) owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who made money in the tech business and, since buying the reigning NBA champion more than a decade ago, has emerged as nothing if not the Mavs’ biggest fan.
But as the NBA lockout, which has already cut into the 2011-12 season—whose first game would have been played today—continues, I see that my analysis was incomplete. The lockout is born of a disagreement between owners and players about how the revenue pie should be divided up. In Grantland, two economists discuss what makes this lockout different from past lockouts. “In the past, traditional NBA owners were in the game for the fun, the control, and the bragging rights,” they write. “They made money through franchise appreciation; there was less emphasis on maximizing short-run operating profits. The newer group of owners bought high, are more corporate in orientation, and the financial crisis renewed their sense of vulnerability. They’ve poured a lot of money into those teams and they aren’t comfortable with seeing red on their balance sheets year after year.”
“More corporate in orientation!” I forgot to do my dialectical legwork. Yes, the outside professionals are also fans whose fandom leads them to buy into the system … but once they have bought into the system, they remain outside professionals, acclimated to doing business in a realm where the bottom line matters much more than it does in sports—or than it did in sports before all of this started happening.
As a footnote, another NBA owner I focused on was Joe Lacob, of the Sacramento Kings, who, like Cuban, made his millions on his own and brings an entrepreneurial sensibility to running his team. “Alas, not Jewish,” I sighed—otherwise he would have fit more cleanly into my paradigm. I had done, I thought, fairly extensive research into his ethnic origins, but apparently not extensive enough. In another Grantland article, Lacob remembers finding himself opposite the legendary Jerry West at a fantasy camp: “I looked over at Jerry West, and said, ‘I’m a 6-foot-tall Jewish guy. I can’t guard this guy.’” I shoulda known!