Sports fans will abandon loyalty if social issues contrast with fan interests

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Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

There is some belief that the use of sports to promote social issues will cause fans to adopt that support, and even if they don’t the belief is that the fans will not abandon those teams just because they are supporting causes which are contrary to the fan’s interest. The link of sports and social issues occurred previously when professional sports facilities were used as a vehicle for downtown city revitalization and based on my personal situation fans will give up longtime loyalties if the social cause is not in their best interests.

I have lived in San Diego County since 1966. I attended my first Padres game at San Diego Stadium in 1970 and attended my first Chargers and San Diego State University football games at the stadium in 1971. San Diego State will have a new or renovated football stadium only because after the other two tenants left soccer interests qualified a ballot initiative for the land which included a soccer stadium not suitable to college football needs and San Diego State interests responded by qualifying and passing a competing ballot initiative which includes a new stadium. San Diego State University didn’t demand or even ask for a new stadium; the Aztecs merely wanted a stadium. My loyalty to San Diego State University football does not vary with the Aztecs’ win-loss record; it did not diminish in 1978 when the Aztecs had a losing record for the first time since 1960 and it did not diminish in 2018 when the 7-6 record was the worst of the decade. As long as the university administration doesn’t interfere with San Diego State University’s athletic department, I will retain my loyalty to the Aztecs.

My loyalty to the Padres was also not based on win-loss record; they were a last-place team when I began following them. The 1987 season was their first finish in last place since I began buying my own tickets, and I attended a double-digit number of games that year. I could scrape up the money for a ticket, but I would save the parking charge by finding nearby free parking on San Diego Mission Road or up the hill in Serra Mesa. If I parked in the stadium lot, I would wait out traffic by hanging around the tunnel where the visiting players came out, and I would seek autographs.

It might be considered creative financing to say that I was struggling for money in 1987, since I was putting $150 each week into my savings account for when I bought a house. It shows that I would still spend money on a Padres game but that buying a house was a higher priority than a closer parking space.

The Padres were more than a loyalty for me in the 20th century; they were an addiction. Petco Park cured me of my addition to the Padres. There is no free parking close to Petco Park. Player and team bus parking is now in an enclosed garage not accessible to the public. The appeal to the hard-core baseball fan no longer exists. Until this year, I maintained my streak of attending at least one Padres home game each year since 1970, but in five years during a six-year period at Petco Park that streak was kept alive with a single game. The addiction had turned into a soft loyalty.

A downtown stadium may make sense in Phoenix or Denver where downtown is centrally located. Downtown San Diego is geographically extreme. Petco Park is 6 miles further away from my house than the old stadium is. It lessens the additional distance to the nearest minor league ballpark in Lake Elsinore. Fortunately for the Padres they reached an affiliation agreement with the Lake Elsinore Storm three years before moving to Petco Park, so fans’ affinity for Storm players can translate into an appreciation of Padres players in the future. My favorite Padres now are former Storm players, such as Jake Peavy, Chase Headley and Hunter Renfroe. I could care less about stars such as Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado who were acquired by trade or free agency. My preference for former Storm players also includes the likes of David Freese and Corey Kluber who never played for the Padres but have been with other teams.

The concept from the team’s standpoint was that a smaller stadium would make tickets rarer and thus more valuable. That theory may also have the effect of fans deeming their attendance at a game to be expendable. I attended Opening Day at the old stadium on multiple occasions, but I have not attended a Padres’ home opener at Petco Park. Opening Day for the Crawford High School baseball team is now more important to me than Opening Day for the Padres.

The smaller seating capacity also means that obtaining a ticket to the World Series now depends on connections. I have a better chance of seeing a World Series game in person if the Colorado Rockies reach the World Series than if the Padres do. My favorite Major League Baseball team is now the Rockies, and in recent years many of the Padres’ home games I attended in person have been against Colorado and my preference is for the visiting team.

In the 20th century, I never would have thought that my loyalty to the Padres could have been stripped the way it has been. Taking current loyalties for granted doesn’t guarantee that fans will continue to patronize games if the sport is combined with social issues contrary to the fan’s interest.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at jnaiman@reedermedia.com.