Monday, December 1, 2003

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The comparative advantage of loyal fans

The rise of salary caps, luxury taxes and the like in professional sports has forced even comparatively wealthy franchises to lure marquee players with different kinds of incentives. The first one to crop up was location. In basketball, for example, Orlando is considered a nice place to play because so many players have off-season homes nearby. In baseball, St. Louis is considered to be a great baseball town, leading to a lot of free agent signings for the Cardinals.

The trade of Curt Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Boston Red Sox could mark a new kind of lure -- passionate fans. A lot of reports suggest that one tipping factor in Schilling's decision to approve the trade was his late-night interaction with the Red Sox nation on a fan web site, the Sons of Sam Horn. According to

Schilling's messages -- coupled with his chats on the Sons of Sam Horn (SOSH) site -- further demonstrate the powerful community the Internet has provided and what may yet lie ahead.

"I don't know what role it played, but it left a huge impression on me," Schilling said of the fan interaction when asked about it during his news conference announcing the trade. "I was overwhelmed at their passion, at their incredible desire for this to work out. They all had their own ideas, most of them being to screw the Yankees. But I was overwhelmed. I was in awe of their intensity in November when the Patriots are playing and the Celtics are playing and they're having good years, and the Bruins. It was pretty awesome.

"I had a chance to be in a private chat room (at SOSH) with 24 Red Sox fans last night and talking baseball. Once we got past the first two minutes of them calling me a liar and telling me I wasn't who I was, we got to talking about the situation. It was fun. It's what I do when I'm in the clubhouse or when I'm hanging out. We were talking baseball. It was a pretty neat thing."

Of course, the fact that the Florida Marlins won the World Series this year with a pretty apathetic fan base suggests the possible limits to this trend. And God help Schilling if the Red Sox Nation ever turns on him. Still, it will be interesting to see if this is the beginning of a larger trend of players sounding out fans before deciding where to sign. [Hey, you could combine this trend with sabremetrics and argue that whichever group of fans embraces the right stats the quickest will have the best team!--ed. I'll leave that to David Pinto].

And, as a Sox fan, I'm much obliged to the Sons of Sam Horn!

UPDATE: In Slate, Seth Stevenson points out that Schilling's online habits also have a negative effect on sports reporters via disintermediation.

posted by Dan on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM


“Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi, and the comment that if those names are familiar to you, you are outside the norm. What a condescending, "we're more intelligent than thou" attitude! That is a great flaw of the lefties that they are unwilling to acknowledge.”

It is a very rare occasion when I’ve dragged a comment from another discussion thread. However, I am doing so to emphasize the reality of what truly interests the majority of Americans on a day to day basis. Let’s get to the nitty gritty: it is almost certain that more citizens of Massachusetts are talking about the Curt Schilling trade to the Boston Red Sox---than the political battle between John Kerry and Howard Dean. Passionate Dean supporters? Huh, they don’t have anything over a Red Sox fan. We are fortunate to live in a country where one can feel that politics is an issue of secondary importance.

I also do not believe that most Americans should be obsessed with politics. On the contrary, it is a Marxist notion which argues for politics to underpin the totally of a person’s life. Still, Americans should be guilt tripped to show a little more interest. This is why I laugh at campaign finance reform. Paid campaign adds would be less vital if our citizens spent just a few minutes per week thinking about politics.

posted by: David Thomson on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

As one who operates a fan site for my local minor league hockey team, I can't tell you how impressed I've been with the evolution of fan sites since the early days. The niche has safely been carved out and is thriving, as evidenced by that story.

posted by: Greg Wythe on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

Actually, this is nothing new. Mark McGwire passed up potentially bigger money to stay in St. Louis after his first half-season there because he loved the passion the fans there had for the game.

posted by: Howard Owens on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

You are of course taking Schilling at his word. He has always struck me as a very savvy athlete, bordering on a con man. Its a pretty smart thing to do (particularly in Boston) to tell the fans that you came there because of them.

posted by: Stuart on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

Nice try Dan, but there is an even bigger comparative advantage out there. It is called winning. I am sure Boggs and Clemens enjoyed the passion of Sox fans for a while, but as they demanded so much all the time it began to grate on them. They left (with a little help from management) and after sometime in the wilderness they both emerged to win titles with the Yankees.

If anyone doubts this theory I ask you to look no further than Krazy Karl Malone and Gary Payton playing for the Lakers to realize that the biggest sell is the chance for the ring. I am sure that was a huge part of the allure of the Red Sox to Schilling, but after next year when the Sox are trying to figure out how to pay Lowe, Pedro, and Nomar while hanging on to their emerging stars you will learn that the "great fans" sell only goes so far.

So good luck next year because the expectations will be enormous and there will be no wait til next year. I am going to enjoy my front row seat to the angst that will accompany every two game losing streak next year. This entire town is going to need to win worse than George Steinbrenner.

posted by: Rich on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

...if the Red Sox Nation ever turns on him.

Don't they always?

posted by: Bill S. on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

Don't give Sox fans all the credit--Epstein was told to enjoy Turkey day with the Schilling family or else...The "just folksiness" of this high-stakes baseball trade business is a bit much to take.

Still, here's what I like about the whole thing. A) it gives the Sox line-up just what it needs, a second bonafide ace. B) It shows the Sox have the big Mo on their side (for ONCE!!!). Obviously, Schilling wants more than a ring (lots of guys have those, including him). He wants to be immortalized as one of the decisive factors in the breaking of the curse. Guaranteed top billing in future Bill Jamesian hagiographies! Perhaps a statue on Com. Ave. So what does this say to the rest of the team, still bruised a bit after October's angst? Great players want a ride on this train!! It's leaving the station. Big boost in spirits. Nicely done, Theo and Co. I'm impressed (and we know that doesn't happen every day, right Dan?)

posted by: Kelli on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

The Sox had to pony up Casey Fossum and 3 others for Schilling. Last year they could have gotten Bartolo Colon, who is 10 years younger than Schilling, for Fossum straight up.

posted by: Robert schwartz on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

What people may not realize is that Curt Schilling has been a regular participant in online baseball discussions for years. He used to post in the Phillies newsgroup on usenet, and was a member of the Phillies fan mailing list.

posted by: David Nieporent on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

Dan, you do know that you are making an analagous argument for the strength of Howard Dean's campaign. The internet tools allow for a mobilization of a passionate community of self-selected junkies who can effect change in the brick and mortar world.

As a Red Sox fan also, I have to agree, I like this move.


posted by: fester on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

I was shocked to hear, recently, that almost none of Milwaukee's professional team athletes live here off season. I believe that they, like teachers, police, and firefighters, should be required to live in the community from which they earn their income.

posted by: triticale on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

As a long suffering Pale Hose fan, I'm a infrequent participant on a couple of fan boards. Last year, several players from the AA club decided to come on and chat. It was actually pretty fascinating--very Bull Durham-esque.

posted by: Joe on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

Actually, the trade was Fossum and Hillebrand for Colon.

In any case, Schilling is dramatically better than Colon. Schilling's won 20 games twice; Colon never has. Schilling will give 'em more innings than Colon. On average, Schilling pitches more complete games. More strikeouts. Lower ERA. Fewer walks.

It's not even a close comparison.

posted by: Bryant on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

has anyone been required registration to access sons of sam horn website? i recently viewed without registration, and tonight was routed to a registration site, ezboard, and found myself in an endless loop trying to acess the site after registration (the reason i post hear is that this site came up with a search for "sons of sam horn". I am worried that my info has been captured for spam purposes - sorry to post off topic on your site, but many might be experiencing the same.

posted by: wewantarod on 12.01.03 at 12:34 PM [permalink]

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