Fan. It is an interesting word. It typically is considered to be the derivative of the longer term ‘fanatic.’ Looking at the definition of fan we see what we already know: that a fan is an enthusiastic devotee or an ardent admirer or enthusiast. This does not require, necessarily, fanatical behavior.
But, do you see what is missing? The term consumer. In these trying times for Oregon football fans, this is an important distinction. Sure, fans are consumers if they also purchase tickets or merchandise, but there comes the rub. Where does the fan end and the consumer begin?
Following the loss to Colorado, and having spoken with those who are familiar with athletic department conversations, more fans are considering the consumer aspect of their support and choosing to exert their influence in a negative economic manner. I get it – I guess. But then I don’t. Fans are supposed to be an enthusiastic devotee and I can think of no better manner in which to express that enthusiasm than in-person. Yet, it is true, there are fans who are attempting to exert their will of who is employed through their own silent boycott of the team.
The long term consequence, though, seems to be lost on those who choose to see the consumerism of their fanship; stability. As we exert our economic influence over a football team, we exacerbate the havoc of losses by creating instability. Even if the coaching staff turns this season around, gets on to some wins; maybe even gets the team to a Pac-12 North title, the seeds of doubt and instability have been planted. These kids, they see that the sellout streak has ended; they see that the fans are not showing up in droves like before; and they heard fans booing last Saturday. They saw the malaise that seemed to extend from the team’s first half performance to the fans response afterward.
Football is no longer fun for the fanbase. Winning has become all that matters and the fans are taking it personally. Every team wants to win every game. On each Saturday, half of the population of college football leaves disappointed. That’s a whole lot of gloom. And what if they allow this gloom to perpetuate itself throughout their experience? At some point, only one team will have fans left with hope.
Look, I get the desire to support a winning team. And, if this were the NFL, I’d say, use your economic might to get the team winning. But if you’re going to treat college football like a business, then let’s look at it from that angle. College football is about more than mere entertainment; it is about tradition, rivalry, kinship, fun, education, oh, yeah, and football. So, depending on how we balance all these factors, taking our ball and going home does far more bad than good. If a team is developing men of character, providing a safe and fun environment in which to watch the game, is educating the young men, is entertaining and competitive, how does exerting influence with our wallet make the team better.
The University of Oregon is blessed with a couple of SuperDonors. Are we to expect them to pony up $11 million to get rid of one coach? And, when they do, who do you realistically think that they are going to get? Do you think Nick Saban is leaving the rabid fan base of Alabama for the flaky, temperamental fan base of a team who flees the stands when things look a little gloomy?
Suppose for a moment, who is going to take this job should Helfrich get fired. It is going to be somebody a little more off-the-grid. It will not likely be a ‘name brand’ coach. Without a name brand coach, that makes the team one in flux for three or more years; that’s three more years of not being elite; that’s three more years of dwindling attendance, shrinking revenues and increasing pressure. These are the recipes that traditional powers like Notre Dame and Nebraska used to stay mediocre for well over a decade. Is that what Oregon fans want?
The truth is, Oregon is ‘new elite’ meaning that taking this road is far more dangerous than it was for those former traditional elite powers. Should Oregon go down this rabbit hole and fire Helfrich, who’s to say that the next unknown coach won’t go further down the ladder of mediocrity?
Does this mean that Helfrich gets free reign to burn down the stadium with stupidity and losses? Of course not. What it does mean is that I think it is a bad play to use economic means to force a change that may not be in the teams best long term interests. Fans stay fans. Fans support their team.
If we see ourselves as just consumers, then our allegiance can be bought by the best product on the market. It cannot. We are more than consumers and I think we need to act as such. Otherwise, we are selling our souls for entertainment, and that is something which I cannot stomach nor fathom.