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Must-click link: do fans care more about the hot stove than the game action?

Jul 28, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT

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This Will Leitch piece in New York Magazine begins with LeBron and the NBA, but it gets to a general point about sports I’ve thought about for a long time: whether fans care about the off-the-field, free agency/hot stove aspects of sports more than they care about the actual games.

After noting that he can’t ever hope to put himself in the position of a star athlete competing for a championship, Leitch talks about what he and other sports fans can comprehend:

What I can grasp is what happens off the court. Draft lotteries. Salary-cap maneuvering. Free-agent negotiations. Roster construction. And not only grasp: Like just about every other sports fan in America, I’ve been doing all of those things in fantasy sports for two decades. Also like just about every other sports fan in America, I’ve started to think I’m pretty good at it. We all have. Which has made the action on the court, or the field, feel somehow like the subplot.

A friend of mine is fond of saying — and has been saying for years — that there once was a time when kids grew up wanting to be star athletes. Now they grow up wanting to be general managers. I think that’s an overstatement, but there is some essential truth there. There is something driving fantasy sports, sabermetrics and the conversation in and around blogs like this one that is way more informed by off-the-field, team-building considerations than the actual kinetic aspects of sports. HardballTalk’s best month, traffic wise, is always December. Every single year.

Obviously the games are why we’re into sports. It all starts there. But it certainly doesn’t end there. And those games may not be what engage us most about the sports we love.

  1. jarathen - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    That’s certainly a bigger part than it used to be, and I think it’s due to the spread of information. It’s hard to critique a given at-bat, but much more fun and detailed to critique roster construction (or lineup construction, for some people).

    If you’ve ever played OOTP (and I have played quite a bit), it really is a ton of fun to sit there and watch players develop, to construct the perfect roster, to pull off the trade that takes your team to the next level or creates payroll flexibility and adds to minor league depth. It’s an aspect of the game that almost anyone can participate in. You don’t need great reflexes or even the eye of a seasoned scout.

    And that part of the game has no off-season, which makes it the year-round representative of the sport.

  2. NatsLady - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    Can’t imagine ever caring about fantasy baseball. The real thing is too much fun–and I’m just a fan watching and observing, not playing.

  3. blacksables - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    Yes.

  4. yahmule - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    The players at the highest levels of rotisserie baseball know the game as well or better than the most dedicated fans of a single team. It’s not possible to compete in high dollar leagues like the NFBC unless you’re extremely familiar with all 30 teams and their farm systems.

    • blacksables - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:16 AM

      Knowing a bunch of names and numbers is not the same as knowing the game.

      As evidenced 90% of the time someone tries to interpret a rule without ever having read the rule book or played the game (you know, practical knowledge).

      • yahmule - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:24 AM

        Being able to assess and talent and predict results indicates a deep understanding of the game and that’s not achieved by simply knowing names and numbers.

  5. justinreds - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    What is more fun, restoring an old car or driving it around after you are done? Sure driving is awesome, and it’s the end goal. But you can’t tell me that there aren’t people out there who have more fun building and customizing versus enjoying the finished product.

  6. natstowngreg - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    This is my 30th season of playing some sort of fantasy baseball. I started by resolving that it would be secondary to the real thing. Think I’ve been able to do so. Not everyone can.

    If anything, playing fantasy baseball has enhanced my appreciation of the real thing, in three ways.

    — My feeble efforts to construct (mostly Scoresheet Baseball) teams make me appreciate how hard it is to be a GM. And, how little I really know about the business of baseball. A valuable perspective, for example, when reading some commenters’ more absurd proposed player moves.

    — While my prime concern is with the fortunes of the Washington Nationals, playing fantasy gives me a perspective across MLB. Similar to why I like interleague play; it was good to see Mike Trout and Yu Darvish play in person. And, see Albert Pujols hit his 500th homer (not as a Nats fan, to be sure, but as a baseball fan).

    — When I was ready to give up on baseball (in particular, 1994-1995), playing fantasy kept me going. [Well, Cal Ripken didn't hurt.]

  7. Jason @ IIATMS - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:38 AM

    My three highest months of traffic ever were this past winter. When no games were played. And traffic trends lower as the summer lags.

    Anecdotal, for sure.

  8. RickyB - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    I may be in the minority, but trade conjecture and free agent discussions leave me bored to death. Just like recruiting at the college level cannot hold my interest for even a few seconds. How players are developing in the minor leagues is interesting to me, but beyond that, you can take the hot stove league and keep it behind a curtain for all I care.

  9. paperlions - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    During the off season, every team drafts, every team signs or loses FAs, every team can make trades….there is something there for every fan base regardless of the quality of their teams roster during the previous season. During the season, fan bases usually slowly check out as their teams playoff prospects dim and the fans look to the future.

    It may also be that during the year, people mostly watch games, during the off season, without games to watch, they find other activities that drive traffic or interest.

  10. maddog11896 - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    Not to plug anything but if you’re not much into playing the game but more of building a realistic franchise from head to toe with EVERY MLB detail, I suggest buying one of the Out Of The Park Baseball games. I buy them nearly every year and I’m never disappointed http://www.ootpdevelopments.com/out-of-the-park-baseball/

  11. godsmacked1 - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    Craig, this is why I’m in the “baseball is dying” camp, though I really don’t think it will “die.” My dream as an 7 year old was to attend every home game and watch every road game of the Mets, as excruciating as that sounds today. Today, I am more interested in reading about the building of the organization from top to bottom than I am sitting through 162 three and a half hour games, and it’s not because I’ve matured (according to my wife). I think your friend is right, though the transition of wanting to play to wanting to become GM for most comes at a very young age with the realization that we have no shot of playing big league ball.

  12. temporarilyexiled - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    I’ll post GM-wannabe-like comments way more often when I feel things are amiss. When my team is doing well, I tend to watch and enjoy. I’ll always love watching baseball more than trying to “improve” my team. I’ll just assume that since most teams need to do better, and the comments tend to be more griping than crowing, it just looks like people are focused on the peripherals. If you look at the actual team sites, you’ll see a lot more crowing to go along with the griping. And it usually comes off as just about the most square, corny, boring stuff you can imagine. Or maybe it’s just that I’m beyond redemption, and can’t get publically excited very often with the likeminded.

  13. dinofrank60 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    Do people even like playing sports anymore? It goes beyond playing professionally or in organized leagues, but just for fun. I don’t see that much anymore.

    Pro sports have tried for decades to create as much interest as possible. They have it now, because the enjoyment isn’t derived from playing the sport at any level, but from other aspects such as fantasy. This allows people to enjoy and be entertained without having to have been an athlete, which can be an exclusionary point of view.

    It almost seems like playing is a detriment to understanding the sport and that how to play is boring and unimportant in relation to understanding the significance of evey action and its historical and statistical ramifications.

    Man, I need some oxygen after spewing out this! All this hot air is making my head dizzy!

  14. RickyB - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:53 PM

    Just because I don’t watch American Idol or The Bachlorette or any number of reality shows, and don’t know anyone that actually does, does not mean there aren’t a lot of people that watch those shows (unfortunately). Same goes for playing sports. Plenty of kids and adults, from youth leagues to adult leagues, play a number of different sports — baseball, hockey, basketball, tennis, racquetball. Everyone has their own experiences, but it takes widespread data to get a good hold on something like this, not anecdotal evidence.

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