Ryan Smith and the Jazz did his team/their fans a solid with the announcement that Jazz games will be on free television starting with the upcoming NBA season (in addition to a streaming service that will require extra money for extra coverage). They did themselves a favor, too.
Jazz games on free local TV had become nothing but a long-ago relic. And forcing fans to pay to watch broadcasted games on one channel or another had become a source of not just irritation, but infuriation.
One of the biggest issues sports — pro and college — has dredged up over the past four or five decades, one that remains prevalent now, is fans having large amounts of money extracted, separated from their pockets by the teams for which they root. Those teams want their money, always more money.
Some skeptics look at that separation as the fans’ own fault. They’re the ones who hand over the moolah. But there’s more to it than just that.
If a team charges 200 bucks for a single seat at a regular-season game, $450 for a pair of tickets and parking, if concessionaires charge an additional $50 for a father or mother and a son or a daughter to order up a plate of nachos and a cold beverage, that’s what the Germans call teuer spass, which translated directly means expensive fun.
Stack that on top of the fact that some families work their tails off to earn and save enough money to keep a roof over their heads, to pay a mortgage and make a car payment, to attempt to give decent opportunities to their kids, and the dollars that come in are stretched to the point as they go out where elasticity can be ready to snap.
Again, nobody says fans have to go to games, nothing makes them do it, nothing forces them to make the sacrifices necessary to be a local team’s fans. Nobody and nothing except for a parent wanting to pass along to their children a family tradition — call it intergenerational transmission — that has existed for years.
In the case of the Jazz, Grandpa was a fan, rooting for Rich Kelley, Mom is a fan, having rooted for Jeff Hornacek and rooting now for Lauri Markkanen, and each of them want(ed) to take the joy — and, in some cases, the misery — and share it with little Jane and Johnny. The oldsters sat in front of their TVs when Stockton hit the shot to send the Jazz to the NBA Finals. They were seated in the upper bowl when Michael Jordan stole the ball and stopped and popped to take a trophy away from the Jazz. Even now, they feel bits and pieces of the happiness and sadness they felt all those seasons ago. And they felt it together, with family, along with a million others, friends and strangers alike.
That’s the beauty of sports, the best gift a team can give its fans, a sense of community, a connection to the thrill of victory and the agony of … well, you know.
Maybe it is the fans’ fault that they want to be thrilled, they want to ride the rollercoaster, they want to experience the pulse of a city and a state by way of a common cause of sports, and they do what they can to pay for it with whatever means they have.
And when a team lifts money out of the pockets of those fans, not just when they scrounge together what they can to go to the arena to see a contest live and in person, but also when they sit in the TV den of their own homes in their Barcaloungers and sofas, you have to wonder where the line is that divides and determines diminishing returns. More on that last part in a few paragraphs.
A portion of fans can afford whatever their fandom costs, NBD. But others want to stay connected and root their guts out and feel the camaraderie that all of that conjures, camaraderie not just with everyone around them, but with the generations that have gone before them.
Some NBA owners don’t care so much about that. They want the most money they can get however they can get it. They’ll push and push, even as the values of their teams bast through the ionosphere. A few, though, like the Jazz and the Suns, when it comes to TV deals are going the exposure route, looking to get less cash here to get more cash there. The more fans that can see a team play, the more of them will stay. What Smith really wants, how and why he wants it only he knows.
Is he offering up the Jazz on free TV — on KJAZZ — now because he wants all fans to get a freaking financial break or is it because he couldn’t find any entity willing to pay him and his team vaults of cash for the right to do the televising or is it because, as some suspect, he feels his fanbase is shrinking, to his and the team’s detriment, because folks feel less of a connection to the Jazz because they haven’t been able to easily watch the team and get to know its players, and he thinks that shrinkage will hurt his investment?
Each fan can believe whatever he or she wants to believe.
But the fact is, they’ll all have the chance and the choice to have greater access to the team of which they hope to be a part — without undue added financial hardship. They can embrace that chance and choice, scream their guts out as they do their rooting from the comfort of their own homes, with a pile of ham sandwiches and the fridge nearby, and the people they love the most around them.
They can save up a few coins so that if they preserve them just right, they might even be able to catch a game or two or three from the far or near reaches of the upper or lower bowl at the Delta Center, to capture that with friends and family, to both feel the passion and be able to pay their mortgages and make their car payments, to boot.