New Research Articles: A Conceptual Model for Nostalgia, and Baseball Fan Sculptures

A couple of new sport heritage-based research articles are now available for view and (for a limited time) free download:

In the Journal of Sport & Tourism:

A conceptual model for nostalgia in the context of sport tourism: reclassifying the sporting past” by Heetae Cho (Clemson University), Gregory Ramshaw (Clemson University, and William Norman (Clemson University).

Abstract:

The concept of nostalgia is complex and difficult to measure, in part because of its diverse emotional perspectives. Various authors have attempted to classify aspects of nostalgia to further describe this phenomenon and understand its broader application. However, the nostalgia that sports fans experience, particularly in a tourist context, appears to be unique from its other types and forms. This difference is in part because the relationship between sport – and, by extension, sport-related travel – and nostalgia appears to be distinct. To address this issue, this paper provides a classification and a conceptual model to clarify the concept of nostalgia in the context of sport tourism. Specifically, this research suggests a four-way classification of nostalgia in sport tourism: (1) experience, (2) socialization, (3) personal identity, and (4) group identity. In addition, the conceptual model shows the process of the development of nostalgia by emphasizing the importance of the types of experience. The classification and model suggested in this paper are important for future empirical research to accurately measure the concept of nostalgia and to understand it in the context of sport tourism.

Download this paper here

In the International Journal of the History of Sport:

Standing out from the Crowd: Imagining Baseball Fans through Sculpture” by Chris Stride (University of Sheffield), Ffion Thomas (University of Central Lancashire), and Gregory Ramshaw (Clemson University)

Abstract:

Sculptures of athletes that immortalize heroic feats have long been part of the sporting world. More recently, statues of sports fans have appeared, particularly at baseball stadiums across North America. Whilst athlete statues usually represent specific subjects, fan statues typically depict anonymous figures, giving commissioners and sculptors broader license to incorporate particular ideals. This paper investigates how the fan statuary’s form reflects commissioners’ motivations, values, and views of fandom, and whether fan statues promote a preferred (but often imaginary) narrative regarding the fan experience. A tripartite fan statue design typology is proposed: hero worship, family experiences, and the crowd. By examining an example of each type, with context provided by a unique database of baseball statuary, the fan statuary’s predominant themes and tensions are illustrated. Fan statues are concentrated at Minor League ballparks, and all feature children. The majority are alloys of both real and imagined components of the idealized fan experience of the baseball organization’s ‘ideal fan’, projecting inclusive, family-friendly, and timeless game day experiences, and evoking nostalgia for childhood. Crowd-type statues offer a more free-spirited and spontaneous aesthetic, with the crowd creating and becoming part of the spectacle – a reality that sports organizations may be less comfortable with. 

Download this paper here

What’s Next?

On Friday, I received a spot of good news – I was granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor. It wasn’t necessarily surprising news – my internal letters of support were strong, and I was told by members of our promotion and tenure committee that my external evaluations (which I don’t get to read) were outstanding.  Of course, all of this is very humbling, and I feel that – rather than just simply crossing some academic threshold into a life of ease – I have an obligation to use the freedom and privilege of tenure to continue to (hopefully) do good work.  Still, it is gratifying news that took much effort and patience – and not just by me – to achieve.

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Of course, now that it is official, I wonder what is next – both for me and for the research lines, in sport heritage and elsewhere, I have helped to build. In many ways, I have looked on this news a little like the fictitious Jed Barlet of West Wing fame; taking it in briefly, then moving on to the next item:

This week, in fact, I’m working with a couple of scholars on some research here in Belgium that’s entirely unrelated to sport heritage.  I still have numerous projects in various stages of completion. Classes will still be taught. Grad students will still be supervised. In reality, my reality hasn’t much changed.

There are several good blogposts out there – here in particular – that make suggestions of what a post-tenure life might look like, and perhaps what that life should set out to achieve. And, thankfully, I have a sabbatical this autumn that might help me to think through what my tenured future might look like.  I really can’t imagine pausing my research – I enjoy the writing and the collaboration process too much to simply put it on hold – though the focus of that research I think, and I hope, will broaden in the coming years. I feel, to an extent, I have taken on a role of a shop steward for untenured faculty in the past year, and I would like to continue this to a greater degree. I also hope to take a little better care of myself and my family going forward. The tenure process is not always great for one’s physical and mental wellbeing – stress, deadlines, and churlish behaviour from colleagues all being contributors – though I hope that these can be managed, rather than endured, a bit better. And, I hope to do “good” – whatever that means.

From a sport heritage perspective, I hope to have some time and space to think about what this topic means and where I would like the focus of my contributions to go going forward. My goal, at least for the past decade or so, was to firstly establish sport heritage as a research topic, and secondly get sport discussed in heritage research and heritage discussed in sport research. I think this has largely been accomplished and, thankfully, a few others appear to have grasped onto this sport heritage thing and are taking it in some new and exciting directions.  I hope that I might build upon this work and, hopefully, contribute to new and exciting insights. But this will take time that I’m privileged to now have.

Sports Beach Books – 2015 Edition

Last summer, I wrote a blog post about some of my favourite sports-centric books that I would recommend for “beach” reading. That is to say, “beach reading” in that they are sports-based books with a bit of heft but not so weighty as to feel like assigned reading for a graduate sport sociology or sports geography class. They should be page-turners, but also be engaging, critical, and interesting as well.

With that in mind, here’s the 2015 edition of Sports Beach Books.  Of course, few (if any) of these books were released in 2015, some are very well known while others are quite obscure, but I found each to be engrossing in different ways.  Happy Reading!

The Last Great Fight by Joe Layden

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I haven’t yet completed this book yet, but if sleep lost to reading “just one more chapter” is any indication, this is a surefire page-turner.  Layden’s book looks at the intersecting lives of Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas and how (spoiler alert) Douglas’ upset defeat of Tyson in Tokyo in 1990 strangely resulted in the downfall of both fighters.  A fantastic read thus far!

Eric Liddell: Pure Gold by David McCasland

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Perhaps the least interesting aspect of Eric Liddell’s life, the Scottish runner made famous in the film Chariots of Fire, was that he was a gold medal winning Olympic athlete.  McCasland’s book covers Liddell’s unlikely athletics career that became just a small part of his international mission work.  An engaging read about a fascinating man.

Boy on Ice by John Branch

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The other, darker side of sports biography’s, Branch explores the life – and tragic decline and death – of hockey enforcer Derek “The Boogeyman” Boogaard. Engrossing, but often an upsetting read.

Stolen Season by David Lamb

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Lamb, a long-time war correspondent in the Middle East, returns home from his assignment tired and jaded. He decides to take a summer sabbatical and rediscover both his childhood love of baseball and the country he no longer recognizes by travelling the country in a beat-up motorhome watching minor league baseball games.  In many respects, both a baseball version of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charle and a time-capsule of minor league baseball and the United States in the early 90s (most of the teams and stadiums Lamb visits no longer exist), it is a reminder of the beauty, simplicity and romance of an American road trip.

The Last Flannelled Fool by Michael Simkins

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In some respects, an cricket-based English version of Lamb’s Stolen Season, Simkin’s funny, nostalgic book takes him on a road trip of sorts through England’s cricket landscape, as well as his own cricketing memories.  Though understanding the appeal of cricket is probably necessary to enjoy this book, I found myself enjoying Simikin’s travels to the cricketing places that once were so important to him, though the realization that both he and the places had irrevocably changed was, surprisingly, very poignant – particularly for a book firmly rooted in self-mocking humour.

On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates 

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Probably the weightiest in terms of ideas and content of all the books on this list, nevertheless Oates’ collection of essays about the people, history, ethics, psychology, and geography of boxing is a page-turner. Once I picked it up, I rarely put it down.

Anticipatory Sport Heritage

Back in November 2003, when I was working on what was to become a major section of my doctoral dissertation, I saw a poll on the Edmonton Oilers website about the Heritage Classic that struck me as a little odd.  The poll asked respondents something to the effect of “Where will the Heritage Classic place in the history of the National Hockey League?” The multiple choice responses ranged from “most historic even ever” to “not very historic” or something of the like.  The strange aspect was that, at the time of the poll, the Heritage Classic was still weeks away from happening so, of course, it was impossible to assess the event’s historical significance (and, as it turned out, took over a decade until it’s legacy could be examined.)

I was thinking about that poll and our predilection – particularly in sport – to anticipate the legacy of a particular event before it has happened as I scrolled through the coverage of this weekend’s heavily anticipated Mayweather versus Pacquiao boxing match.  The fight was built-up as the Match of the Century, with many anticipating that it might be the most important boxing match in history.  Certainly, the amount paid by spectators and pay-per-view viewers suggests that much of the appeal of the fight was to see “history made.” HBO’s pre-fight coverage, to their credit, did attempt to separate the different “histories” from one another, arguing that the fight would be historic in terms of its revenue, as well as the fact it was the first major match of the social media era, but that it was far too soon to assess its historical importance, both within the sport itself or within a broader social, cultural, and political context (a-la the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle“). Their assessment – at least as far as the different histories are concerned – reflects the “heritage of sport” and “sport as heritage” argument Sean Gammon and I made in our “More than just nostalgia” article, specifically that some sport heritages are self-contained within the sport themselves while others transcend the sport and become part of a wider cultural heritage.

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In any event, the idea of anticipating what the history, or legacy, of an event might be may not be a recent phenomenon, but perhaps it is simply a part of our rapid consumption of culture – that we expect we can assess the cultural and historical worth of something either beforehand or immediately after (as some have done mere hours after the fight). Again going back to my doctoral years, I recall reading Arthur Danto’s Narration and Knowledge as part of a Philosophy of History course and remembering his thoughts about how we talk about the past, specifically that time and distance are required to assess the importance of an event and that we, while living in another era’s history, cannot possibly understand what is and is not of “historical” value.  Mayweather versus Pacquiao may very well fit the moniker of “Fight of the Century” and it may reveal something about the social, cultural, and political context of 2015. Or it may mean nothing.  We may simply have to wait to find out.

Selling Sport Heritage

A number of months back, I took a look at the website of the new College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta to see who were the people involved in interpreting the site.  I imagined that I’d easily be able to find the researchers, historians, and curators working at the Hall, as I was hoping to connect with them during my next trip through town.  I find that talking with the people directly responsible for presenting and interpreting the heritage helps me to understand the current tensions, struggles, issues, and challenges at contemporary sport heritage sites.

Interestingly, I was unable to find anyone related curatorship or collections management or interpretation at the Hall.  In fact, the Hall’s “Leadership” has (from what I can tell) no experience in museological practice. This is not to say that there aren’t any researchers, etc, working at the Hall (they simply might not be on the Hall’s webpage), nor is this to suggest that the Hall itself is lacking in contextual or critical content (I’ve never been to it).  But, I did find it strange that the Hall’s leadership not only uniformly comes from sales and marketing backgrounds, but seem to have no experience running a hall of fame or any other museum or heritage attraction.

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In their foundational text, The Geography of Heritageprofessors Brian Graham, Gregory Ashworth, and John Tunbridge remind us that heritage is a commodity that is sold in different ways to different groups at different periods of time.  As such, even at the most traditional museums, the objects and exhibitions at any given time are commoditized in different ways, from selling tote bags and memberships to soliciting political, cultural, and financial support.  However, often, even the most brazenly commercial heritage attraction will make at least a nominal nod to being “educational” or having worth beyond its business aims.

Perhaps that’s what struck me most about the way the College Football Hall of Fame is positioned – it makes no such pretension to being anything other than a commercial venture whose job it is to sell the college football “experience” back to consumers (Perhaps the strange thing is that, for many of the visitors, the college football “experience” will be familiar to them – after all, there are numerous top-level college football programs both within Atlanta as well as a short drive from the city. But, I digress…). Simply put, there is little – at least that I could find – about the educational value of a visit to the site (there is a teacher resource guide buried in the site, but that’s about it). Other Halls of Fame are commercial crowd-pleasers as well, but will have centres for public research for example (such as at the National Baseball Hall of Fame or the Hockey Hall of Fame), or will have specific “education” or “learn” sections on their websites perhaps both as a lure for school and family visits, as well as for remote research – say, for school reports.  However, the College Football Hall of Fame appears to not view itself as a resource or educational centre at all.

Rather than this be a critique of the College Football Hall of Fame (again, I’ve never been there), I wonder whether the Hall shows the future of sport heritage, particularly whether sport heritage sites see that they should play an educative role beyond their commercial needs. Furthermore, I wonder whether places like the Hall demonstrate the new wave of sports museums, ones run by marketers and sales people and interactive games designers and without the traditional museum positions of curators, or interpreters, or historians, or educational programmers. Again, this is not to say that sport heritage attractions need not be commercial ventures, or that they ought not look to develop revenue streams – these are integral and necessary in today’s environment.  Rather, do contemporary sports museums and sport heritage attractions believe they are educational resources, that they are learning centres as well as attractions, and that they have a role in creating, hosting, and housing debates about sport history and contemporary sporting practices?  In other words, do contemporary sports museums believe they have a public role beyond their private commercial aims? Or, are they (and perhaps, should they) only be interested in these roles if they somehow augment their commercial ventures?  Does a resource centre or research room or archive only matter if it can somehow help rent museum space for weddings and birthday parties?  Is the College Football Hall of Fame model the future in sports museums, and what might that mean for the conservation, interpretation, and dissemination of sport heritage?

Behind the Scenes

Stadium tours are fascinating sport heritage experiences. The idea of going “behind the scenes” to see locations not normally on public view has become one way in which sport heritage has been commodified; going to the “sacred spaces” of a team locker room, or seeing artefacts from championship seasons can be a powerful experience for fans and supporters.

However, as Sean Gammon at the University of Central Lancashire raised the observation in his excellent chapter “‘Sporting’ new attractions? The commodification of the sleeping stadium” that people on, say, a stadium tour aren’t always major supporters – if fans at all:

…stadia tours will often comprise of highly identified fans, who display a degree of veneration towards many of the tour highlights, as well as the less-attached visitors whose interests are far more casual, and ephemeral at best. (p. 125)

In terms of visitors to stadia, and certainly this has been my observation as well, that many people go to them – and perhaps go on a tour, but on many occasions go just to be near the venue.  Or, as Gammon again contends:

…the stadium has grown in importance, from an often aesthetically indifferent utilitarian structure into an iconic symbol of a place, team, sport and/or event. (p.116)

Indeed, part of the appeal of touring sports stadia is that they are, in some sense, a repository of a community’s culture.  This is, of course, not to say that sport is all encompassing when it comes to representing culture, but rather that sport – and the places where sport is played – can become one of the representations of culture and cultural performance.

In any event, touring famous sports stadia can be an important tourism experience as well.  Places like Boston’s Fenway Park and Barcelona’s Camp Nou are some of the most visited attractions in their respective cities – and, given that each community hosts millions of visitors annually, the stadiums’ touristic importance cannot be ignored.

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Having been on dozens of different stadium tours in several countries, and being one of a handful of scholars who study stadium tours, I can attest that many tours follow similar paths and patterns.  Almost all begin or end at the team or stadium shop (stadium tours are, after all, a good way of driving retail services on non-game days and in the off-season), and most include stops at the media centre, a luxury suite, at or near the top of the stadium (The “birds-eye” view), the change rooms, and beside the playing surface or pitch.

However, not all stadium tours are alike.  I have been on awful stadium tours where I was deeply interested in the team or venue, and been on wonderful stadium tours where I knew little or nothing about the home team (and, sometimes, even the sport!). Of course, what a good stadium tour can do is connect the committed supporter more closely with his or her favourite club, and perhaps even make the nominal or non-supporter gain an interest in the club, venue, or sport.

With that in mind, these are some of the facets I believe makes for a good stadium tour:

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  1. Knowledgeable and passionate guides: Obviously, the abilities of the guide is important on any tour – stadium or otherwise – but, I believe, the best stadium tour guides are the ones that have a strong cultural memory of the club or venue (particularly those with some memories or nostalgia of visiting the venue in their youth), know about the current club, can deviate from the “script” when appropriate, and can answer virtually any question about the stadium’s history and legacy.  This is a tough ask, but I have been on a few tours when the guide demonstrates (or, flat-out states) that s/he has no interest in the venue, or the sport/team that plays at the venue.
  2. Employing the senses: Stadium tours are, of course, about seeing places not normally open to public view.  However, the best stadium tours go well beyond just seeing behind the scenes at a venue.  Many of the best tours employed all of the senses: asking tour patrons to touch, say, the locker of a famous athlete, or listen to the (simulated) crowd noise piped-in for the tour, or smell the sometime malodorous locker rooms, or the preparation of food before a match. Some tours even suggest that patrons experience something of stadium cuisine before or after the visit.  Seeing behind the scenes is great, but sensing behind the scenes is even better
  3. Imagination: Stadium tours offer a bit of a juxtaposition. On the one hand, patrons are touring an infamous sporting venue. On the other hand, they are touring the stadium it when it is “sleeping” and therefore not as it would be on a match day.  As such, the best guides and tours are adept at firing the patrons’ imaginations during the tour.  One guide, I remember, when touring the locker room asked patrons to imagine it was five minutes to kick-off.  He went through, minute-by-minute, what each one of the players would be thinking, feeling, or doing.  He even pointed to different patrons, asking them to imagine that they were a famous player and would say, “You! You are listening to your music in your headphones, head-down, focusing on what will be a very tough match.”  Finally, at the end of the five minutes, the guide rapped twice on the door and said, “It’s game time!”  I’ll admit, I had shivers up my spine.
  4. The soft sell: Stadium tours are an opportunity for teams and venues to sell merchandise, rental space, team or venue experiences, and catering.  The best stadium tours might mention these, perhaps in passing, but don’t do the hard sell.  It’s much more effective and enjoyable.
  5. Access: The best stadium tours provide the illusion of access – even though the “backstage” is always a kind-of front stage that is dressed-up for visitation.  That said, I have been on stadium tours that did not go to the locker room area, or near the pitch, or anywhere that wouldn’t otherwise be available to anyone with a ticket to a game.  The stadium tour must provide access that is not otherwise available, and certainly wouldn’t be available on a game day to anyone else but players and team officials.
  6. Souvenir: Many stadium tours provide patrons a kind-of lanyard during the tour – likely to identify patrons for safety and security purposes, but also to bring home as a souvenir of their visit.  Interestingly, many of that lanyards and other souvenirs also have contact information for further tour bookings, tickets, and hospitality services.  A nice way to have a memento while also providing a soft sales pitch.

The Second Half

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This week, I turn 40 years old.

As many (many) blog posts and articles discuss, turning forty remains symbolic; that there is, perhaps, more behind than ahead, that aches and pains are getting just a little more achey and pain-y, and that there is a tendency to be slightly nostalgic and wistful for one’s lost youth. There are times, certainly, when I feel great pangs of regret for roads not taken, lessons not learned, and skills not acquired. As Jesse, one of the protagonists in Richard Linklater’s excellent Before Midnight, says, “Every year I get a little more humbled by everything I don’t know and will never learn.” Playing a music instrument, understanding structural equation modelling, learning a second language, and hiking from Land’s End to John O Groats all seem irretrievably lost to me. One of the better essays on turning 40, by Troy Patterson at Slate.com, ends with stanza from Donald Justice’s “Men at Forty.”  It suggests both the ache of leaving a past behind, as well as a realization of one’s own limitations:

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

There is a confidence in middle age, as well as a sadness.  There is a sense of inertia, I think, that is both comforting and frightening.  You know who you are, what you like, and probably who you want to be with.  But, there is that nagging feeling that it is too late for anything new, or find again something once lost.

Turning this back to sport (this is a sport/heritage blog, after all), I realized the other day – looking at my old goaltending equipment when I was cleaning the garage (a metaphor, indeed) – that I’ll likely never play hockey again. Being a hockey goaltender has been a big part of my identity for as long as I can remember; it was my (borrowing from Wang’s 1999 paper) my intrapersonal authenticity.  I still identify myself as a goaltender, but it has been six years since I last played and, frankly, the cost – in money and time – is probably not worth it to try and reacquire something of my very modest puck-stopping skills.  I will keep my goaltending equipment for now, perhaps as a material reminder, perhaps as something to show my son when he’s old enough (and, perhaps a misguided and vain hope that the equipment would be fabulous artefact for the “early years” wing of the Gregory Ramshaw Museum – opening 2025! :)  But, that time and those skills are, for all intents and purposes, gone, and that’s a little difficult to accept.

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I’ll also probably never, ever care about sport as much as I once did.  This is less about the million dollar athletes, billion dollar sponsorships, concussions, alienated labour, and everything else that comes with it.  In a strange way, I can (hypocritically) compartmentalize enjoying sport and being critical of it.  But, I guess, sport just doesn’t matter in the way it used to. I have the capacity, I suppose, to know the highs and lows of sport – I’ve seen a lot of it, after all.  I have lost two teams I loved to relocation. Most of the teams I support are awful, and I’m much more interested in watching my son navigate his way through his own sporting preferences. Perhaps that is why I enjoy the sport heritage side of things, that there is time and distance and perspective to understand what it is about the sporting past that we care about now and wish to remember.  I like to see which sport heritages become prominent, and which fade into the background.  I like to see how sport is remembered in the public arena, how it’s used, and for whom.  Even my own personal sporting memories have changed, in that I remember less the result and more who I was with.

And, I guess, as I enter the second half of my life, I find I am interested in different things – in sport, and in life – than I once was.  I have been exceptionally fortunate to have seen many different places and events thus far.  In sport, I’ve seen the Stanley Cup awarded twice, been to the Winter Olympics, played sports on hallowed grounds, met many of my sporting heroes, watched matches in lots of different countries, and played against some remarkable athletes.  Those, of course, were not separated from my life experiences either – sport was played out while I loved, lost, felt joy, pain, and anguish.  So, what I want as I go forward is something different.  I’m less interested in bucket lists as I am making sure that my inertia is occasionally punctured by something new and unexpected; that my nostalgia is tempered by a realization that I am incredibly fortunate in the life that I’ve been given. I mentioned to someone recently that I am sentimental, but not necessarily nostalgic.  I don’t want to go back, but I want to look around me.  I want to move forward.

I want my work to change in that, I want to know more about sport heritage, research it, and disseminate that research – but, I want to do things that are not related to sport too.  I want to travel and see sporting events, but I want to do those with my son and wife, and with my mother and father while I still have them, and with my brother and his family as we all grow old together.  I want to try cricket, and maybe run a race (though, I hate running outside), and I want to write a book that isn’t filled with academic citations.  I might even want to play hockey again, but as a forward this time! I want my second half to be…not great, because that’s the wrong word…but, perhaps, right. Not correct, mind you, but knowing that I can look back, knowing the regrets and accepting them, knowing the limitations and accepting them, and still being able to say, “yep, that’s what I wanted. That was right.”  I want to, as Jonathan Smith says in a rather apt sporting metaphor, “to play the games of the mind and the body and the spirit and to keep playing (because) one day it will all be over.” Because, one day it will all be over, and – for now – I want to get started. So, blow the whistle, drop the puck, kick the ball, and let’s get this half underway.

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