One of the aspects which, I believe, separates sport heritage from other forms and types of heritage is that it is often corporal in nature. That is to say, sport heritage requires us to continue to play and to watch sport in order to both compare with the past and to create more sport heritage for the future. It must continually be made and remade through play, performance, and spectacle. No heritage building is more “dead” than an empty, abandoned stadium.
Perhaps because of the sensual and emotional nature of sport, we can understand and empathize with the sportsperson. Even though most of us have never played at elite levels, or maybe not have played at all, we can still understand something of what it is like to taste victory and defeat. In Sweet Summers, the collection of JM Kilburn’s cricket writing, the excerpt below perhaps best describes the empathetic connections between all those who have played:
Every boy who has defended a lamp-post wicket is in blood brotherhood with Bradman, and knows Hobbs or or Sutcliffe as himself…every man who has by reflex action or conscious effort flicked a boundary past point knows a thrill of intense physical delight when he sees Woolley bat.
(“The Don” – Don Bradman. Do all who’ve played share a connection to him?)
In many ways, this goes beyond simple childhood imagination and flights of fancy, and rather an understanding of what it’s like to be a sportsperson. When I was an ice hockey goaltender in my youth, for example, it wasn’t that I was prentending to be Grant Fuhr or John Vanbiesbrouck or Ron Hextall when I played, but rather that I knew – like them – what it was like to make a fantastic save or let in a bad goal. We shared an emotional connection that only we, as goaltenders, could understand.
Perhaps our ability for empathy – or, perhaps, our desire to feel empathy for the sportsperson – makes certain sport heritage experiences both desirable and memorable. One of my earliest memories of being at a sports museum was at the ski jump simulator at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Canada. Using a point-of view immersive film screen, hydraulics, and several industrial-sized fans, the simulator gave me a taste of what it might be like to ski-jump, and provided me a level of empathy and understanding that wouldn’t have been possible by simply looking at the ski jump tower. Of course, it was also a mediated form of authenticity – I could “ski jump” without actually ski jumping. However, I never forgot that experience, nor could I ever forget the sensations and emotions it created. It is also top of mind every time I watch ski jumping at the Olympics, knowing something of what each skier must be feeling.
Naturally, the ability to experience something of the athlete, particularly in a unique and historic place, is also one of the features that sets sport heritage apart. It can also be a way for visitors to create connections – such as fandom and support – with particular athletes, teams, and sports. Of course, all heritage sites – to some degree – use empathy by, for example, comparing our lives to those of our ancestors. However, these are more cerebral connections; they are not immediate and current in the same ways that sport is, and perhaps not as sensually felt. We often don’t think about empathy as a topic in heritage, and it seems that sport heritage might be a good vehicle for exploring it.
The city of Liverpool has numerous heritage-based claims to fame. It’s role in immigration, shipping, and transportation is well known. Of course, it is also home to the most famous band of all time, The Beatles. However, it is also a major centre for sport heritage – and, as a recent trip to Merseyside revealed – the city’s sporting past is well represented through museums, tours, and other heritage-based experiences.
Of course, Liverpool’s sport heritage begins – most notably and publicly – with the city’s football teams. Liverpool FC is, far and away, the most broadly and widely represented – at least in the tourist areas in the city centre and at the Albert Dock. In fact, there is a dedicated hop on/off Liverpool FC tour bus that runs between the Albert Dock and the team’s home stadium, Anfield.
The bus runs all day (with the team’s famous anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, blaring from the bus’ speakers). En route to Anfield, the guide provides a thirty minute commentary about the team’s background, as well as it’s historical connections and rivalry with Everton, before arriving at the gates of Anfield.
In speaking with our guide, Paul, he mentioned that the tour bus has been running for a little over a year and has been immensely successful. Specifically, he noted that the bus was initally only going to run during the summer peak tourist season, but that demand pushed it to a year-round venture. It should be noted that my colleague and I were the only patrons on the bus during our tour, though Paul mentioned that this was quite unusual. He did say, however, that as Anfield was undergoing extensive renovations, the stadium tours were somewhat limited and they did notice a dip in visitors this summer. That said, Liverpool boasts over 500 million global supporters and, as such, there seems to be the potential for a steady supply of sport-based pilgrims. It is also fascinating – and, as far as I know, unique – to have a city tour and tour company dedicated to a specific sport club. Indeed, this appears to signal a growing demand – at least in certain places – for sport heritage experiences and particular forms of heritage sport tourism. Places like Anfield appear to be able to welcome a variety of visitors who wish to “make a day” out of experiencing the club’s heritage and culture. Arriving at the stadium, tourists could take a standard stadium tour, a tour with an ex-player (demonstrating the links that both myself and Sean Gammon of the University of Central Lancashire have explored linking sport heritage to “living” artefacts like ex-athletes), as well as visit the team museum, take their picture next to several team statues and plaques, visit a large team shop, and dine at a team-themed restaurant (complete with team and player artefacts adorning the walls).
Just across Stanley Park from Anfield resides Goodison Park, home of Everton FC. Although the two squads compete in the same league, and the stadiums reside steps from one another, they feel like a world away – at least in terms of touristic support. Everton feels like a local club, whereas Liverpool appears to have much larger global ambitions. Similarly, a tourist could spend much of a day at Anfield, whereas Goodison Park did not offer a stadium tour and had a small shop across the road . In fact, my colleague and I appeared to be the only people visiting the stadium. That said, there is still a very prominent representation of the club’s history and heritage around the stadium. For example, the entire circumference of the stadium is ringed with a club timeline, highlighting the club’s major victories, players, and accomplishments.
The main gates to Goodison Park also featured a statue of Everton’s greatest and most beloved player, Dixie Dean.
While the heritage experience at Everton was much more muted, and less public, that at Liverpool, there was a strong appeal to it as well. In many respects, it was a heritage for the faithful; for people who already loved and supported the club, rather than as primarily a commodity for a large international fan base. As complicated as this word is, it felt more real and, in that I suppose, that give it a greater sense of authenticity.
The importance of both Liverpool and Everton football clubs are also prominent in the Museum of Liverpool’s popular culture gallery. In particular, the events of the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 Liverpool supporters were killed at a match in Sheffield in 1989, are described and commemorated in the gallery, and specifically how the two local rival clubs came together in remembrance.
However, the gallery represents much more than football, demonstrating the variety of different sports, pastimes, and athletes that make up the city’s sporting heritage. From horse racing, to athletics, to boxing, the gallery shows just how many different sports are “played in Liverpool.”
Indeed, one of the surprising elements of the gallery are the variety of different sports played in Liverpool and how they have shaped different parts of the city. Perhaps most surprising is that the city has a significant baseball heritage stretching back several generations.
Many cities seem to hide their sport heritage, or don’t actively represent or promote it, perhaps viewing it as less serious than other cultural markers. However, Liverpool is a perfect example of how sport cultures can be embraced, and exist beside – and even enhance – other heritage attractions. Indeed, having the Liverpool FC bus or the city museum’s popular culture gallery displayed next to Beatles exhibits, or contemporary arts galleries, or a slavery museum simply demonstrates the broad heritage palate of the community. Tourists and locals can be both interested in a Jackson Pollock exhibition AND maritime heritage AND architecture AND sport. Liverpool is a great example how these different topics can co-exist in telling the stories of a community, and other cities should look to their example to see how this can be accomplished.
It has become somewhat of a gospel truth that, in order to appeal to sports fans these days, games have to be (among other things) relatively quick. That is not to say that the sports must be speedy in terms of the run of play itself – though, of course, this helps – but rather that a match cannot last an interminable length of time. Get the game over with, and in under two and a half hours if possible.
Of course, there are massive – and massively successful – exceptions to this rule. American football – be it NCAA college football or the professional National Football League – is far and away the most popular sport in the United States, and many matches can take upwards of four hours. If one is actually attending a game, the commitment of time is much greater. And, given that both college and professional football in the US normally involve a significant social component – tailgate parties (or tailgating) – the time commitment can stretch to several days.
However, many traditionally leisurely sports – golf, baseball, and cricket among them – are looking for ways to speed up, mainly to enhance the spectating and television viewing experience, but – in the case of golf – to curb a large decrease in participation. A recent essay in The Economist about golf’s decline in the US and Europe points to several factors: economic decline in the US, the skills required to make golf an enjoyable experience, the time commitment and pace of play, the change in aspirational capital for the middle class, the rise of video games as a form of sporting leisure for young people, the fact that the sport is largely still hostile to women and minorities, and that white males – the bread and butter of the industry – are often significantly more engaged in child-rearing and other family and career activities. As such, many people in golf are looking for ways to engage a time/money stretched population with ways of making golf – or versions thereof – enjoyable again:
Similarly, baseball – the most timeless of sports – is looking to speed up. In particular, as this excellent article from Grantland explains, the sport that has no clock – where a game, in theory, could last forever – has introduced time limits, in particular for the time between pitches and the time between innings. The reasons for this are similar to golf, albeit looking at the preferences of the viewer rather than participant. In particular, the idea that a game should be finished quickly, that the pace of play should increase, and that the sport must attract the next generation of fans who, it is supposed, are not used to a leisurely pace in their leisure, are all part of the reason for these changes. Timelessness, and perhaps a sense of stillness, is not conductive to contemporary habits, it would seem.
(Under the floodlights at Headingley: T20 match between Yorkshire and Durham, July 10, 2015)
While golf is looking to attract more participants through changing their game, and baseball is looking to appeal to more (and younger) spectators through the introduction of time, cricket has been grappling with these issues for years. Indeed, cricket’s introduction of different forms of the sport – the one day limited overs match, and the Twenty20 three hour bash – have, in some ways, both enhanced and divided the sport, particularly between those looking for a pure representation of the sport (such as exists with long – and multi-day – traditional formats like test cricket) and those looking for a fun, exciting, and enjoyable day or night out. Personally, I am a huge supporter of test cricket and, if I was living in England or another cricketing country, I would almost certainly cast my support behind something like the county championship – with their four day matches – rather than any sort of limited overs competition. Still, when I witnessed my first T20 match earlier this month at Headingley, I could see the appeal of that form of the sport. Indeed, the ground was full, the weather was beautiful, and the match was truly exciting.
Sport – at least in the examples I provided – is a business, and the idea that tradition, ritual, and heritage must bend to the demands of Mammon. Indeed, many of the golf pros I know both lament the potential changes to the sport while also acknowledging that something has to be done to bring people back to the course. In baseball, I understand that viewing habits have changed, and that there is a desire to make watching a game – for lack of a better term – efficient. With cricket, there seems to be more of a balance in terms of time – choose your “brand” of cricket, as it were. But, the great success of, in particular, T20 cricket in virtually every cricketing nation has lead to suggestions that longer forms of the sport are inevitably doomed.
However, I wonder if something will be lost if we simply try to appeal to a perception of what non-or-casual participants and spectators want. Indeed, I wonder if one simply “grows” into more leisurely sports. I, for one, have noticed my palate changed considerably in recent years. I simply couldn’t imagine myself at 15 or 20 wanting to watch baseball or cricket, no matter how many rule changes were introduced. But, similarly, now I find that I enjoy the spaces between play that a golf, or cricket, or baseball allows (and for which hockey or cricket or football seeks to eliminate).
In his excellent article about test cricket, Wright Thompson wonders whether timeless – or, at least, time-intensive – sports like cricket might actually be welcome in contemporary society; that we go so fast and cram so much in to our days that a “slow” sporting event might actually be an antidote of sorts for our industrial lives:
I’m into the rhythm. I enjoy the silence. I work a crossword puzzle, looking up every minute or so to see the bowler begin his run. A thought assembles in the white spaces. Being here feels like a vacation, not just because the days are free of responsibility, but because they feel so different from the rest of my life. The world is full of people trying to slow down. There’s the slow food movement, a rejection of consumerism and industrial convenience. Knitting, baking, urban farming. There’s yoga. Folk music is inexplicably huge in England again. People are seeking something.
Maybe Test cricket is part of that search. Maybe slowness won’t kill Test cricket, but instead will spark a revival: the right game at the right time. Not long ago, I read a magazine excerpt of a new book, “About Time,” by astrophysicist Adam Frank. He believes we are living at a vital moment in the history of time. For thousands of years, we’ve been shrinking time, making minutes important, then seconds. Frank says we can’t shrink it any more. An enormous change is imminent. Oil will run out and with it cheap transportation, both of goods and people. He believes that, contrary to our view of a world always growing smaller, the planet will spread apart again. Only the extremely wealthy will be able to afford flying to Europe, for instance. Global shipping will regress. Email won’t be as commercially important since the businesses it exists to support will lag behind. “We’re at a breaking point,” he says. “We just can’t organize ourselves any faster. We’ve grown up with this amazing idea of progress. That’s operating with the mindset that science will provide miracles. There really are limits. One of the things I think about this generation we’re living in: This is the age of limits.”
Time is important in heritage; age often makes particular legacies more important and, in certain contexts, more saleable. However, the idea of time itself – and how we use it, or at least comprehend it – is often overlooked as a kind of heritage value as well. As Wright says, we seem to be interested in aspects of antiquity – even from the recent pasts – as a way of slowing our lives down; that the choice of inconvenience might actually be a pleasure. Certainly, sports have – and always have – adapted to suit contemporary tastes; Stuart Shea’s recent exploration of the Wrigley Field argues that this historic stadium was, through much of its history, considered rather modern, comfortable, and convenient. That said, perhaps not only its there a pleasure – and, maybe even a market – for slow sports, we have to question whether we can make sport any faster than it already is and, if we do, what would that mean? Do we really want a baseball game to last an hour? Isn’t the pleasure of sport that it is different from the rest of our industrial lives; that we can lose ourselves and feel something of our real selves and the real lives of others in a “day out” at the ballpark, or cricket ground, or golf course? Shouldn’t sport be different than the rest of our industrial lives?
When I first began my sport heritage research about a dozen years ago, I was told on repeated occasions – normally by those based in Britain – that sport heritage was strictly an “American” thing. While certainly, at that time, things like sports halls of fame, stadium tours, and the like were more prevalent in the USA, the idea that sport heritage wasn’t really a part of the heritage narrative in Britain seemed farfetched to say the least. Indeed, now it appears that acknowledging, celebrating, and commodifying the many sport heritages of regions, communities, and teams across Britain are a central part of contemporary heritage narratives, particularly in England’s northwest.
Earlier this month while attending the Transnational Dialogues in Cultural Heritage in Liverpool (sport heritage in Liverpool is immense and very public, and will receive a dedicated blog post in the coming weeks), I had the opportunity to experience many sites and locations associated with the sporting heritage of the northwest of England. Some of these sites are famous for being famous, as it were, some featured sporting practices that are traditional to the region, and some are more conscious of their touristic role.
The first site “visited” (in reality, only a quick drive past) was the Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club, one of the courses on the (British) Open rotation, having hosted the tournament eleven times and, most recently, in 2012. There isn’t much in the way of public visitation to the site and, had it not been for my local hosts, I probably would never have been able to find the club. I was not the only tourist lurking outside of the club’s main gates but, as the sign below indicates, it’s not really a club that welcomes visitors in any case.
Indeed, many sport heritages are not really meant for broad, touristic consumption – or, perhaps, are not self-conscious of a touristic gaze. Such was the case when attending a Rugby League match in Wigan. In fact, despite being a sport with a lengthy and distinguished heritage, rugby league has the feel of a sport that is very recent, perhaps as a reaction to making rugby union “more exciting” in the same way that T20 cricket was set up as an antidote to test cricket. However, it is a very traditional sport in England’s northwest and, despite the fact that game presentation (such as the music, etc) had more in common with, say, an NFL or NBA game, there were numerous markers around the stadium indicating the club – and sport’s – history.
I suspect I may have been one of the few foreign spectators at the match (won by Wigan over rival Leeds with a last second penalty kick); unlike other sports like football, rugby league hasn’t attracted vast global attention and, as such, the atmosphere at the match was very local and, dare I say, authentic.
Another community that appeared to publicly embrace and proudly display their sporting heritage was Preston. Specifically, reminders of the town’s home football club – Preston North End (or PNE) – and their most famous player, Tom Finney, were present throughout my brief stay. PNE are one of the oldest football clubs in the world, their home stadium, Deepdale, was the oldest football ground still in use and, for many years, the stadium housed the National Football Museum (the museum has since relocated to Manchester). However, for a club that has been in some of the lower divisions of English football for some years, and have not won many major trophies since before the Second World War, the team appears to welcome quite a few visitors, particularly at a well stocked team shop, through a stadium tour, and via various heritage markers across the stadium grounds. For a town like Preston, which appears unlikely to host many tourists, PNE appears to be one of the community’s star attractions.
The name of PNE’s most famous player, Tom Finney, is also present throughout Preston’s city centre, most notably at the University of Central Lancashire’s sports centre which also has a wonderful interpretation display about his career, his life in Preston, and his contributions to the community
While these examples do not come close to representing the entirety of sport heritages in England’s northwest, they are indicative that sport heritage is not just an “American” thing. Certainly, the role that sport has played in the history, culture, and development of Britain is immense, and it is wonderful to see that many communities – particularly those like Preston – acknowledge the important contemporary role of the sporting past.
I have heard that there are few more passionate and dedicated fans than those of auto racing and, in particular, NASCAR. And, though there are many different locations that are important to telling the NASCAR story, or that could lay claim to some important aspects of the sport’s heritage, in reality the sport’s home is in Daytona Beach, Florida and, in particular, at the Daytona International Speedway – home of the “Great American Race”: the Daytona 500, held each February.
(Main entrance to the Speedway and the tour centre)
Tours of the Speedway are, as you might expect, a mixture of NASCAR heritage, a bit of the mythology of the track itself and it’s creator, Bill France Sr., many of the technical and engineering specs of the track, access to areas of the speedway normally inaccessible to the general public, and a non-too-subtle sales pitch, both for additional track experiences and for upcoming events.
The Speedway offers many different tour options – from the quick-and-dirty 30 minute tour (seemingly the most popular, and the one I took) to longer, more involved tours. As you might imagine, a 30 minute tour does not offer much time to provide a thorough narrative, and the tour is basically taking a large people mover to the infield and to pit row and back to the tour centre. Along the way, tour patrons are given a quick history to the track, some of the people involved in its creation, the technical aspects of the track (number of seats, angles of the turns, etc.), as well as an extensive overview of the track’s expansion and renovation – a project called Daytona Rising. The 30 minute tour’s lone stop was along pit row, where tour patrons were encouraged to sign up for an additional track experience – a $150 three-lap loop around the speedway in a modified stock car.
(Tour patrons can purchase a three-lap stock car experience in one of these modified cars)
The tour ends with guides encouraging tour patrons to purchase tickets to upcoming events, as well as a viewing of the winning car from the previous Daytona 500, which the track gets to keep for a year. Of course, there is also an opportunity to purchase another souvenir – a professional photo next to the car.
(Winning car from the 2015 Daytona 500, driven by Joey Logano)
Perhaps most strikingly is that there was little information about famous races, drivers, or incidents. I’ll admit to knowing next-to-nothing about NASCAR or many of the races at the Speedway, and perhaps the tour narrative is designed both for the complete NASCAR novice who may not know nor care about this information, as well as dedicated NASCAR fans who already know all of this information anyways. Indeed, perhaps the most famous incident at Daytona – the death of Dale Earnhardt at the Daytona 500 in 2001 – was not mentioned at all. Certainly this is by design, as the tour is mainly about seeing a venue famous for being famous, as well as a hagiographical treatment of the Speedway and sport’s founders, though it was interesting that the tour narrative didn’t point out any important locations or spaces on the track.
(Memorial statue to Dale Earnhardt outside of the tour centre)
I will admit, though the charms of stock car racing have thus far escaped me and the up-selling on the tour did get a bit grating, it is a very efficient and, actually, interesting behind-the-scenes tour. Although there is nothing particularly extraordinary about the tour content – and mirrors much of what has been written before about sports venue tours by Gammon & Fear (2005), Ramshaw (2010), and Wright (2012) – I was actually taken back by just how popular the Speedway tours are, and how built-up the tour infrastructure is. And, unlike many venue tours that feel like either a rushed add-on or an inconvenience to the venue managers, the Speedway tours actually felt like an important and integral part of the Speedway’s public face. In fact, I can’t remember a tour where – as a paying member of the public – I felt so valued. Everyone – from the ticket sellers on up – were friendly, outgoing, and more than willing to answer questions. I think in many ways, the tours of the Daytona International Speedway mirrored why NASCAR appeals to so many people, namely that they respect and welcome their fans. Perhaps more than anything, this is what other sites could learn from the Daytona International Speedway.
One of my favourite film scenes of all time, and one in which I believe somehow inspired me to a career in academia, is from very early in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The scene involves Dr. Jones explaining the Ark of the Covenant to two government officials (and providing exposition for the rest of the audience). A bit of biblical history, a bit of archaeology, a bit of drama, a bit of folklore, and a whole lot of fiction – all explained in a beautiful Ivy-League classroom – ends up providing a great deal of urgency and gravitas to Indiana’s adventure.
Of course, teaching and research rarely leads to such excitement and drama, and few of us (myself included) are as charismatic (or, frankly, as dashing) as Dr. Jones. That said, when the light, metaphorically, turns on, I feel a little like I inhabit something of the academic world I still romanticize. Still, archaeology is a sexy topic (beyond Dr. Jones in his three-piece tweed suit). It is uncovering lost civilizations, finding cool things like skeletons and treasures, stuff like that. The reality of archeology is, as we know, brutal, underpaid, and often very unsexy – but there’s a romance to the discipline that makes stories like Raiders so appealing.
Heritage is often not sexy. Heritage is bad history, or something your grandma likes, or is boring, or is reactionary, or is old buildings. Of course, heritage can sort of be all of these things. Heritage, as a concept, is very difficult to categorize, to pin down, and to differentiate from other fields that deal with the past – like history or archaeology. Explaining that heritage is “the present use of the past” doesn’t often clarify things for students, I find, and in fact makes it an even more confusing concept. Thus, it is often something that can be a challenge to convey in the classroom.
Sport and other popular cultures can, I find, be a good hook for students to grasp how heritage works and why it is worthy of study. Unlike more remote forms of heritage, sport is something immediate, often it’s relatable, it is frequently shared or collective, and it’s contemporary use – particularly in terms of promotion and commodification – can be easily demonstrated and understood. In both the sport tourism and heritage tourism classes I teach, I use sport heritage as a way of illuminating concepts and topics like authenticity, urban redevelopment, and event management to name but a few. It is also, I find, a good way of explaining the two major paradigms in heritage studies: heritage as conservation and heritage as discourse. Students may not see sport sites – like stadiums – as necessarily worthy of protection, but when they explore the meanings they associate with these sites they begin to understand why heritage isn’t just a bunch of old buildings and artefacts.
Now, I will admit, it’s a little easier to use sport heritage in places like Clemson which is rather sports-obsessed, and the fact that so much of US culture is associated with sport makes it a relatively relatable concept domestically. But even when dealing with international audiences, many of whom have little interest in sport, I have found that sport can be a powerful vehicle for illuminating broader heritage concepts. It also helps to clarify that heritage is dynamic, and that what is considered heritage – and by whom – is constantly in flux.
At the end of the day, while there are sexy aspects to heritage studies – particularly when they involve the protection of ancient monuments – explaining the actual concept of heritage is unlikely to ever reach the romance of Dr. Jones’ lost ark (The great irony, of course, is that one of the most commonly used examples of the politics of heritage involves the Nazi’s use of public archaeology, but I digress). However, sport can, I believe, be one of the ways in which heritage can be explained and be relatable to a general audience.
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).
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)
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