Fans For Change: Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em?

Some Pittsburgh Pirate fans are frustrated and they are planning a walkout June 30th after the third inning as their statement of protest.

The local media reaction to the walkout has been a mixed bag of worms – everything from Mark Madden’s ridicule to Bob Smizik’s applause.

So I decided to ask others what they thought of the walkout and/or boycott idea (the complete email of each respondent are listed in the comment section):

"[M]y advice to Pirates fans is to stop going to the game until they make an effort to field a winner. You should be aware, the outcome might be that they move the team from Pittsburgh." — Sports Economist David J. Berri; Associate Professor of Economics, California State University-Bakersfield; author at The Sports Economist

"So, in terms of sports teams, I have to conclude that fan boycotts are not in the best interests of the fans involved. The best thing for fans to do is stand by their team and attend games regardless of the team record, thus helping the team afford the players they need and preventing a move." — Fred Taub, President, Boycott Watch

"All a fan can do is vote with his $$.  The worst thing to do if you don’t like the product is to hand the the owner your money.  A boycott is just an organized way of sending the same message." — Sports Economist Raymond D. Sauer, Jr; Chair, Department of Economics, Clemson University; ; author at The Sports Economist

"I’m not a fan of boycotts."Mark Cuban

"Protesting, while a sign of solidarity and something that shows the level of frustration that the current Pirates ownership has rightfully driven its core constituency to, it is, none the less, a fruitless endeavor. If the Pirates ownership has been unwilling to right their own ship after all these years of poor returns on the field, I doubt anything short of a citywide protest will register to the point of action on their part." – Maury Brown, Biz of Baseball

Michael Keaton, Dennis Miller, and a few local attorneys who practice mediation, have all declined to respond to my question up to this point.

Although every one of them is deeply passionate on the subject, some believe one road is correct, others believe in another path, and some prefer to not get involved.

And that’s exactly why walkouts fail – there’s no cohesion.

Bob Smizik said in his article:

"[Nutting] does not deserve to be boycotted.. Anyone who wants to boycott all of Nutting’s businesses needs to take a serious look at their life."

Obviously Mr. Smizik tempered his boycott response while applauding the walkout concept.

Nutting’s product most certainly deserves to be boycotted if those who purchase it are that dissatisfied and desire to. Plus, anyone with a brain knows the way you bring the enemy to their knees is to cut off their supply chain.

That’s basic warfare.

But that’s also my second point – there is no identifiable goal in the walkout.

The "Fans For Change" flyer advertising the walkout indicates they simply want to make a statement showing their displeasure with the Pirates ownership for not fielding a competitive product.

That’s hardly warfare, especially when they first hand over their hard earned cash to those they are protesting to watch what they feel is a non-competitive team battle. Why not just stand up at the end of the 3rd, face CEO Kevin McClatchy in his seat or box, and chant over and over "I’m mad as ****" instead?

So I take it the fans aren’t really at a boycott stage just yet. They are simply being loud while trying to show their anger. Will that do anything?

No, of course not.

The Pirates ownership group is not going to back down to a bunch of fans whose only interest is the fact they are angry. The only way to ever bring the group to their knees is to first understand capitalism.

Watch how fast McClatchy implements change if all of a sudden The McClatchy Company lost 10% of it’s stock value from a boycott, or how fast Nutting implements change if Pennsylvania residents boycott Seven Springs for a season or two.

It’s all about the risks and rewards. The Pirates ownership group was willing to take all the risks buying the team and now they are benefiting from the rewards. Kudos to them.

Ask a Marlins, Orioles, or Rays fan who participated in all the franchise walkouts the last few years if they have seen any changes.

Walkouts don’t work.

However, if Pirate fans are willing to take the risks associated with a boycott in potentially seeing the franchise moved, a few jobs lost, or business in the downtown corridor come to a crawl on game day, then they very well might reap years of rewards after a new CEO is put in place, a new GM hired, and the franchise take a new direction.

Ask any fan who boycotted the Tigers in 2002 – 2003 after eight consecutive losing seasons and then saw them reload in 2004 and make it to the World Series two years later.

Boycotts can work.

But Nutting is surely betting you’ll stand pat and buy another ticket to one of his bobblehead giveaway promotions so you can walk out.

15 Comments

Fabulous Jake! One of your best posts ever.

Sports Fan Boycotts Do Not Work
The only fan boycott I have tracked was the one stemming from the Baseball players strike, and the fans came back in full-strength the next season.

There was a similar situation, although not a declared boycott, in Cleveland in the 70′s and early 80′s. The fans kept away, and that only exasperated the Indians financial problems, forcing then owner Gabe Paul to trade every decent player he had to the Yankees in order to meet the payroll. What that did was make the problems for the Indians even worse while helping the Yankees win.

It took a few new owners with lots of money to bring the Indians back from years at the bottom of the standings. So, fan boycotts in sports have never been proven to be successful, unless you want to force out the owner. The problem there is once again what happened in Cleveland – Browns team owner Art Model was upset with the fans and moved the football team to Baltimore. The fans struck back though, and with help of Browns fans nationally plus Steelers fans who stood up for Cleveland and their rivalry, the NFL did not allow Art Model to take the team name or colors to Baltimore, resulting in a new Browns team in Cleveland.

This shows the strength of fans to respond, but we can not forget that team owners will stand for one another first and listen to fans second. In either case, money talks in sports.

So, in terms of sports teams, I have to conclude that fan boycotts are not in the best interests of the fans involved. The best thing for fans to do is stand by their team and attend games regardless of the team record, thus helping the team afford the players they need and preventing a move. Loyalty goes a long way.

Fred Taub
President,
Boycott Watch http://www.BoycottWatch.org

Fred Taub is a boycott consultant and is the President of Boycott Watch (http://www.BoycottWatch.org) which monitors and reports about boycott activity. He lectures, is regularly quoted in major publications including The Wall Street Journal, and his work has been quoted before the US Supreme Court in two cases.

It’s true that the protest, which I’m going to participate in, won’t change the way the Nuttings do business. However, neither will not going at all, if the attendance drops, they’ll just cut payroll and blame lack of support. Your first two excerpts are wrong for this situation as the PIrates CANNOT move for 30 years. That being said, the only thing fans CAN do to the Nuttings is embarass them. It probably doesn’t matter to them, but if enough people make enough noise, at least it will get some press. And thats about all we can hope for.

Something has to be done, 14 years of this is just enough. These players have to wake up and start playing hard and the right manager could make that happen. Obviously the current one is content to just sit there and be Littlefield’s yes man and not even try something diffent. Put some speed in the game and let’s hustle our way out of this ridiculous situation.

Fred — thanks for the follow up.
ratt — sure the team can move – look at this, for an example:
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_196513.html

Protesting, while a sign of solidarity and something that shows the level of frustration that the current Pirates ownership has rightfully driven its core constituency to, it is, none the less, a fruitless endeavor. If the Pirates ownership has been unwilling to right their own ship after all these years of poor returns on the field, I doubt anything short of a citywide protest will register to the point of action on their part.
This is as much about poor baseball operations as it is about how ownership is using revenue sharing to pay down debt on PNC Park.

In either situation, it is the decision of ownership to retain those that make player personnel decisions, while turning to the “we can’t compete” card due to low revenue in-take.

The question becomes, are the Pirates not pulling in decent revenues based on unsound business practices, or whether it is a case of being fully constrained by the Pittsburgh market. History seems to point to the former rather than the latter.

Plainly put, the Pirates are good at making a profit for ownership while being poor at developing their product. It might be a short-term win for them, but it is certainly a poor long-term business practice.

Maury Brown
Founder and President of Bizball LLC

Biz of Baseball
http://www.bizofbaseball.com

If you go to a restaurant and the food is bad, what do you do? Do you keepgoing to prove your loyalty?

If a movie star keeps making bad movies, do you keep buying tickets to
prove your loyalty?

Only in sports do people keep consuming a product that they don’t like.

In Detroit there were two approaches to bad teams. Detroit Lions fans
staged a protest by going to a game wearing clothes from the Bengals (the
opponent that day). This would be like going to McDonalds wearing a
t-shirt from Wendy’s. McDonalds just wants your business, they don’t care
what clothes you wear. The same is true when you go to a game but protest
what is on the field. You still paid for the ticket so the team still got
your money.

Detroit Tigers fans took a different approach. Despite a new stadium
Tigers fans simply stopped going. With low attendance, the Tigers had to
make an effort to build a winner. Luckily (and there is substantial luck
involved in this process) their efforts paid off. The Tigers are winners
and the stands are full.

So my advice to Pirates fans is to stop going to the game until they
make an effort to field a winner. You should be aware, the outcome might
be that they move the team from Pittsburgh. In this case, you are
choosing between supporting a bad team that has no hope of improving or
not having a team at all. Not sure this is much of a choice.

Hope this helps.

David J. Berri
Associate Professor of Economics
California State University-Bakersfield

All a fan can do is vote with his $$. The worst thing to do if youdon’t like the product is to the the owner your money. A boycott is
just an organized way of sending the same message.

Looks like Pirate fans are seeing the downside of MLB’s revenue
sharing system – a welfare program for owners who don’t care enough
about winning.

Raymond D. Sauer, Jr.
Professor and Chair, Department of Economics, Clemson University

If McClatchy stock loses any more value this year they may not have a company. And didn’t Kevin McClatchy just invest in gather.com?

Jake,Check this e-mail conversation I had out with my buddy yesterday. Thought you might be amused at the mental image(s) this may create.

My buddy: “Sunday (we) went to Oglebay with (my girlfriend)’s parents. How bout, I got introduced to Ogden Nutting. (My girlfriend)’s dad knows him pretty well. “

Me: “You should have punched him in the face for how he let this team go to ****.”

My buddy: “lol, yeah. that’s the type of guy he is. you’d never know they were filthy rich by looking at them sitting there. He dresses like a slouch, and you and I drive nicer cars. They pulled out in a(n) old ford explorer. hopefully seven springs doesn’t go to **** too.”

The simple fact here is that as fans, we have put up with fourteen years of losing baseball. It’s time for us to stand up and let our voices be heard on a grand scale by exercising our rights as American citizens.
We are on the cusp of breaking the record for consecutive losing seasons. If you are a true fan and that fact doesn’t upset you, than I think you need to reevaluate your core values.

We are not naive in our efforts, and the time has come for Pirates fans to stand up for a good cause – pushing for winning baseball in the City of Pittsburgh.

What’s wrong with that??? The answer is nothing! The Bill of Rights was not intended to be a joke, and it’s our right to push for change. Our motives reflect the morals and values that this country was built on…passionately standing up for what is right.

June 30th is intended to raise awareness to the nature of Pirates baseball in the City of Pittsburgh. It is intended solely to illuminate the travesty that the organization has become over the past fourteen years. It is intended to push for accountability.
If our efforts result in a fan boycott, than that is certainly an economic consequence that the Pirates must be prepared to deal with.

The bottom line is that our intentions are pure…we want accountability, and we want a winning franchise. How long can fans tolerate the same product year after year and the same false hopes delivered by the front office???

We deserve winning…and we have the right to stand up for a good cause. Simply put, this mockery of a baseball team has gone on for too long!

Some of us have the passion and tenacity to do something about it and to refuse being led to games solely for ceramic figurines or a fireworks display. For the past several years, the promotions, not the team, have sold the tickets, and that is downright disgraceful.

We need to start somewhere…and that’s the point of June 30th. It’s a start…and it’s for a good cause.

I commend any one who walks out on the Pirates 6/30/07.There play is pathetic. There ownership is also pathetic.To have 1,2,3,years of losing is acceptable,but the string of loses we’ve had has finally become unacceptable!Right now I wouldn,t care if they move the team! The best thing about that would be I wouldn,t have to watch such a sorry performance of baseball anymore!The whole organization is terrible from class A to Pittsburgh!If management can’t field a quality team that wins more than they lose,sell the club and QUIT WASTING MY TIME!!!!!!!

Does P Angelos give total control to A McPhail without the protest? I don’t know. You could make a solid argument that the walkout combined with decline in attendance forced him to act. As his lackey said at the press conference”The fans have spoken and we’re listening”. All I know is it was the most entertaining time anyone’s had at an O’s game in 10 years. Loud chants that came through loud and clear on the flagship caused Angelos to act like a fool after the game! Make noise, be respectful and enjoy yourself. Most of the O’s players enjoyed the atmosphire. As for Modell he VOLUNTEERED to leave the colors because the Balt people were adamant that we didn’t want the Browns legacy and ugly colors.

Jake,
I think it is important for the folks out there to know that your ‘blog’ is property of MLB and to a lesser extent the Pirates and the Nuttings….I would venture that you would need to be careful about the statements that you make about the Nuttings and this upcoming protest – that being said, I fully support Chomos and Lucas in this plight…..my only hopes is that they have a plan B, C, D, E, etc so that this isn’t a one-hit wonder type of saga….there needs to be follow-up and follow through – might be the only way we right this Pirate Ship.

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