The World Cup requires the nation state. Or does it?

Watching the World Cup, it is impossible to ignore the organizing logic: countries compete against other countries to be the winning nation for this cycle. On a global scale, this is a common logic in a number of sports, particularly those in the Olympics system. But, does it have to be this way?

Photo by Riccardo on Pexels.com

The nation state is a relatively new development in human history. The idea of a centralized bureaucracy and a political entity spanning many square miles or millions of people is not necessarily new; empires and city-states had this. The modern nation-state is different in numerous ways and was firmly established by the twentieth century. The fervor for the nation-state and the geopolitics that go with it help animate the World Cup.

What other logics could organize a global sports competition? Here are a few other options:

  1. Have club teams compete. There are versions of this already but limited global competition between clubs. This would run into issues regarding money, access to players, level of competition in different national leagues (though there do not have to be national leagues), and more.
  2. Borrowing from video games, have ultimate or fantasy teams. Perhaps fans could pick teams. Or, a global body of experts. Perhaps there could be a global draft.
  3. Have city states compete. Since nations can be so large, why not narrow the geographic scope to have more variation? Imagine Team London playing Team Tokyo or Team Cairo or Team Los Angeles.
  4. Let players be free agents globally and form their own teams. They could select friends, good competitors, players from their clubs or country, or utilize other logics.

In the end, does organizing a sport by country provide the best sport experience and outcome? Does the World Cup do more to reinforce the importance of nations than highlight sports or other values?

Divided fan loyalties: QB1 is on my team, my opponent’s team, and my home team

In recent weeks, I have run into a situation unique to Chicago Bears fans: do I always cheer for our quarterback who is scoring points at a prodigious rate? Here is where loyalties can be divided:

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
  1. In one fantasy football league, I drafted Justin Fields at the beginning of Round 5. This put him after all of the established quarterbacks and somewhere in the middle with a number of other unproven players. (Trevor Lawrence went next, I drafted Tua Tagovailoa at the beginning of Round 7, etc.)
  2. In other fantasy leagues, I have now played Justin Fields as the opposing QB in multiple weeks. He is scoring a lot of points recently – but now against me.
  3. As a fan of the Chicago Bears, I almost never draft Bears players because for decades the Bears have not scored consistently. Even with an exciting young quarterback, the Bears are still not winning. Should they lose more for a higher draft pick? Should they do more for their young QB?

Fantasy sports and gambling has introduced this conundrum for years: do I enjoy watching sports or do I reduce my teams and the players to individual components that I can profit from?

If I had to decide, I go with my lifelong fandom with the Chicago Bears. I want them to do well. Even as I have played fantasy football for almost two decades and Madden football for three decades, I enjoy being a sports fan, even of an unsuccessful team.

It is less clear whether others sports fans agree with this. It is much easier to follow particular players or certain teams as they become famous and successful. Why stick with the Bears when you can enjoy the play and exploits of others? Why not turn it into a matter of my own success?

Perhaps sports fandom will look very different in the coming decades. Sports will continue and I suspect the push toward individualizing the fan experience, particularly prioritizing those teams and players who are successful, will as well.

The factors behind the spread of suburban pickleball courts

Pickleball is increasingly popular in the United States and the game has also spread through the Chicago suburbs:

Photo by Raj Tatavarthy on Pexels.com

Bill and Linda Graba of Hoffman Estates are widely considered to be the godparents of pickleball in the Northwest suburbs. They picked up the game after retiring to The Villages in central Florida, where they spend their winters…

Graba said he and his wife started promoting the game locally in about 2009. They helped get indoor courts at what was then known as the Prairie Stone Sports & Wellness Center in Hoffman Estates and outdoor courts at Fabbrini Park in Hoffman Estates. For the past 10 years, they’ve organized a six-county tournament that brings in about 200 participants.

Graba said public outdoor courts are popping up throughout the suburbs, including Palatine, Schaumburg, Streamwood, Hanover Park and St. Charles.

“It’s basically all over every suburb,” Graba said. “If they haven’t had them in the past, people are asking and they will have them soon.”

This seems ripe for some analysis at the community level:

  1. In what communities are pickleball courts showing up?
  2. What are some of the common processes by which pickleball courts come into existence? Who is asking for courts and who is building them? For example, are park districts primarily funding these?
  3. The space and resources for pickleball courts is coming from where? Is this about the transformation of tennis courts or are other spaces being used?

I suspect there are some patterns to who is playing, where they are playing, and how the game is spreading. As the game spreads, there could also be some change to the answers to these questions.

Suburb of Elk Grove Village now turns to NASCAR race car ad

Elk Grove Village has sponsored a college football bowl game. Now, it is sponsoring a NASCAR car:

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Northwest suburban municipality — of Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl fame — has inked a two-year marketing partnership with the Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team that will enable it to affix its business marketing tagline, logo and brand to the No. 6 Ford Mustang stock car during the NASCAR Chicago Street race events next year.

The announcement was made during the ninth Made in Elk Grove Manufacturing & Technology Expo at the high school. The daylong exhibition, awards and networking event highlights businesses within the village’s sprawling industrial park — which the village has sought to promote through several unconventional marketing sponsorships. The town sponsored the college football bowl game in 2018 and 2019, plus three USA Olympic teams last year.

“Elk Grove Village is home to the largest industrial park in North America. We’re surrounded by incredible transportation options and our town works hard to make this a destination for businesses,” Johnson said in a statement. “Partnering with RFK for a marquee race allows us to reach a huge audience with a partner that shares a passion in American business and manufacturing.”

Suburbs continue to market themselves in order to stand out from the hundreds of other suburban communities with which they might be competing. Lots of suburbs could say they have industrial space, nearby transportation options, and are business friendly. Fewer might be able to say they have “the largest industrial park,” sit near O’Hare Airport, within such a busy region for railroad traffic, and right next to major highways, and offer exactly what Elk Grove Village can offer businesses. This branding effort will help highlight these distinctive features.

But, the big question is whether this broader exposure translates into increased business and development activity in the community. Will those watching Brad Keselowski zoom around a track visit makerswanted.org in large numbers or relocate their firms to the suburb? Is it enough that the suburb might have an increased status but no change in activity?

Can a successful suburb have a thriving downtown and a stadium-driven mixed-use district?

With the Chicago Bears considering building in Arlington Heights, one village trustee expressed concerns that a sizable project would compete with the suburb’s successful downtown:

Photo by Philipp Silbernagl on Pexels.com

But, he said, “I’m going to tell you right now I’m not a fan of the site plan. And I hope this doesn’t blow up and ruin things for you in any way because I’m just one person sitting up here. But I have to be true to myself and true to my thoughts.”

Tinaglia, who founded his Tinaglia Architects firm in Arlington Heights in 1991, blasted the mixed-use transit-oriented development aspect of the Bears’ proposal, arguing the plans for restaurants, stores, offices, hotels, homes and more on 206 acres of the 326-acre property would detract from what is in downtown Arlington Heights.

“For a community that doesn’t have a downtown — that doesn’t have what Arlington Heights already has — that community would die to have this,” Tinaglia said. But he said he didn’t believe Arlington Heights’ current business owners could survive the competition from the kind of development being proposed.

Just how many entertainment centers can exist in the suburbs, let alone in one community?

Many suburbs would like to have a thriving downtown. Arlington Heights has one. It boosts the status of the community with its older buildings, current businesses bringing in residents and visitors, and possibly residents living downtown and also visiting local businesses and restaurants. Not all suburbs have downtowns; some never had them due to consisting of multiple suburban subdivisions joined together while others may have had a downtown that is now struggling or non-existent. The suburban downtown has had numerous challenges over the years – strip malls, shopping malls, driving and parking, big box stores, and more – so having a successful one is not something a suburb would lightly give up.

On the other hand, not every suburb has an opportunity to be home to a major sports stadium and all of the development around it. This is a new opportunity that could be worth a lot in terms of business activity and tax revenue, population growth, and status tied to being the home of an important football franchise.

It will be interesting to see if there is a compromise to be had here where both a downtown and a new mixed-use development coexist. Do they have to be in competition or can they serve different audiences?

Sports teams want the state-of-the-art stadium – and all of the nearby mixed-use development – to profit

The conceptual plans released earlier this week from the Chicago Bears about what they might construct in Arlington Heights follows a recent trend: sports teams are interested in stadiums and all the other development around those facilities.

Photo by Mikael Blomkvist on Pexels.com

The plans revealed Tuesday by the Bears call for a multipurpose entertainment district anchored by a stadium that could host the Super Bowl, college football playoffs and college basketball Final Four, with an adjoining commercial/retail and housing district. While cautioning that the long-term vision for the entire property is a work in progress, the team said the site could include restaurants, offices, a hotel, fitness center, parks and open spaces.

The team’s open letter provided a series of economic projections, saying the large-scale redevelopment would provide “considerable” economic benefits to Cook County, the region and state.

For instance, construction would create more than 48,000 jobs, result in $9.4 billion in economic impact in the region, and provide $3.9 billion in labor income to workers, the team said.

The development would generate $16 million in annual tax revenue for the village, $9.8 million for the county and $51.3 million for the state, according to the Bears.

Yes, a stadium is necessary for football but teams now want to develop more land and generate additional revenues adjacent to the sports playing surface. If they help generate such development and/or retain an ownership stake in the surrounding development, this can both bring in significant annual revenue and further boost the value of their franchise.

This also follows on-trend development ideas where a mixed-use property helps ensure a regular flow of activity. Instead of separating land uses in different places, putting them all together can create synergy and additional revenues.

Another way to think about it is that a lot of sports teams are in the land development business. How exactly this fits with a goal of fielding a winning team might get complicated.

10 of 30 NFL teams play in the suburbs of the city whose name they hold

Ten NFL teams have a big city in their name but play in the stadiums located in the suburbs of that big city. Here are the 10 (sourced from here and here):

Photo by Robert Hernandez Villalta on Pexels.com

-Buffalo Bills play in Orchard Park

-Dallas Cowboys play in Arlington

-Los Angeles Chargers play in Inglewood

-Los Angeles Rams play in Inglewood

-Miami Dolphins play in Miami Gardens

-New York Giants play in East Rutherford (New Jersey)

-New York Jets play in East Rutherford (New Jersey)

-San Francisco 49ers play in Santa Clara

-Washington Commanders play in Landover (Maryland)

Two bonus suburban teams: the Arizona Cardinals, not named after a city but a state, play in suburban Glendale and the New England Patriots, named after a region and not a city, play in suburban Foxborough.

If the Bears end up in Arlington Heights, that would push the number of suburban NFL teams up to 13 total.

If every life event was sponsored, baseball edition

I enjoy listening to baseball games on the radio. The pace of the game, the voices of the announcers, and the ability to do other things while listening add up to an enjoyable experience.

Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

Except for one growing trend: the number of commercial reads throughout the game. At this point, it seems like almost every baseball event has a sponsor. Strikeouts, walks, doubles, home runs, the fifth inning, the seventh inning…you get the idea. Baseball has a lot of small events and apparently they can be attached to an advertiser for the right price.

I am aware of multiple factors behind this. Radio is a dying business. Live sports is one of the few shining spots where there are certain to be listeners (or viewers). Commercialization is alive and well. There is money to be made here.

But, I can only imagine how this might spread to all areas of life. Go beyond the Internet and social media ads tied to your browsing and shopping habits. You tie your shoes; brought to you by [blank]. You run the dishwasher; brought to you by [blank]. You read a book; brought to you by [blank].

At this point, there do not seem to be any officials guardrails against more and more of this happening. People can push back but this has consequences. If I do not like the baseball ads, I can stop listening. But, if we move to more immersive devices – Google Glass, virtual reality headsets, a house full of Internet equipped objects – this will be very hard to push against or escape.

How much the big city mayor needs to fight to keep the major league team

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has publicly stated what the city could do to keep the Chicago Bears:

Photo by Trace Hudson on Pexels.com

Via Sports Business Journal, a Chicago mayoral committee will recommend that the city consider the feasibility of putting a dome over Soldier Field.

A dome, as reported by Crain’s Chicago Business, could cost between $400 million and $1.5 billion.

Other possibilities include upgrades to the stadium (including significant rebuilding of certain parts of it) and selling naming rights to generate revenue for improvements.

The Bears are most interested in pursuing plans for suburban Arlington Heights.

In the long run, it is not probably not worth it for the city and the others to spend hundreds of millions to keep the Bears. The team would benefit the most from new arrangements. The money spent on eight Bears home games a year will be spent elsewhere in the city. The team is not leaving for another market but just for the suburbs.

At the same time, losing the biggest team in town to a suburb is not a good look for leaders. The Bears have played in the city for a century. They are the most popular sports team in town. Soldier Field hosts other events but it has been the home of the Bears for decades. The loss of the Bears could be added to the narrative of losing companies and residents.

Discounting whether the offer from the city is a viable one – putting a dome on Soldier Field is no easy task – I think this is a necessary political move. The mayor and city leaders need to make a good offer to save face. The big city leader cannot let the big team leave without a fight. And ten years from now, when the Bears are playing in a suburban property that earns the team even more money and the city of Chicago has moved on, there may still be lingering blame for those who let the Bears leave no matter what offer or public statements they made.

“The stadium is the spiritual home”

With the opening of a new stadium for Nashville SC, the team’s CEO described its importance:

Photo by Tuur Tisseghem on Pexels.com

“For any team, whether it’s in soccer or other sport, the stadium is the spiritual home,” Nashville SC chief executive officer Ian Ayre said. “If you’re renting, it’s not the same as owning, right? Of all the infrastructure and the parts we build, it’s the most important.”

The team’s coach added:

Nashville SC coach Gary Smith called the crowd “magnificent,” adding that the players felt the energy from the moment they walked onto the field for warm-ups. “The expectation and excitement that surrounded this opening game was huge,” he said after the match. “To think that the players didn’t feel that would be inhuman. The atmosphere was terrific.”…

“To have our own home is vitally important,” Smith said. “This venue now will be the place over the coming years and decades that fathers and sons will come to and look back on and say, ‘Do you remember?'”

As a sports fan, I understand this sentiment. Going to the physical home of your favorite team or to an interesting stadium or a stadium where there is clearly fan interest is exciting. It is not just watching teams play in a physical setting; there is a collective effervescence that can arise to the level similar to how people describe spiritual experiences.

On the other hand, the team benefits from this spiritual home in the terms of dollars and cents. The stadium and all it entail makes money. It is an improved property. And increasingly so these days, owners and teams develop the land around the stadium in ways to further enhance revenue. This is not a sacred place maintained for the well-being of people who visit; it is for a business.

This mixing of business and spirituality is not uncommon in the United States or elsewhere in the world. Is the spiritual homeness of the sporting event ruined because money is being made? Perhaps not for most of the fans who are there for what the trivial can produce. For some of those fans, the sports stadium is more sacred than a religious building or congregation. At the same time, a new stadium and sports in general are big business where producing spiritual homes and transcendent experiences keeps consumers coming back for more and cities eager to keep teams or introduce new teams to the local economy.