Do Sports Teams Owe Fans Wins?

Do professional sports teams owe their fans wins?

This might seem like an absurd question at first look. Who knows whether or not a team will win any particular game? Sports games do not have given outcomes, as do movies or books. When someone pays for a seat at this year’s Super Bowl, will he know in advance who will win? Bragging, hoping and praying aside, no. The worst team can win, in an upset. The better team can win, as predicted. And there is no guarantee who will win any particular game, game fixing scandals aside.

image from Wikipedia Commons
image from Wikipedia Commons

But look at the question in a different light. Sports games are a commodity, a consumer good, and other commodities and consumer goods have warranties. People complain if the cars they purchase are not running well; they gripe if hotel rooms are disgusting; they carp about shoddy clothing and toys. Even if sports events are forms of entertainment, fans can (and often will) fuss about losing teams in financial terms:

“Why should I pay a high price for tickets if my team keeps losing?”

A fan pays for her tickets and expects that a game will be played, barring horrifying unusual circumstances such as freakish weather, a plane crash into the sports facility, an extended power outage, or something of this level. Otherwise a fan expects a game will be played. And fans, especially dedicated fans, may expect the management and owners of a team to do anything legally it takes to assure a decent number of wins.

What if the fans think that management and the owners are doing a horrible job, the team’s players are doing a horrible job, and the fan base is being let down? Is this just sour grapes, or a true economic issue?

Current case in point: the New York Knicks basketball team. When the Houston Rockets beat the Knicks on Thursday night, January 8th, the New York team had blown its 14th straight game, a franchise-record for consecutive losses. Knowledgeable fans point to awful trades of players, mismanaged opportunities especially by Knicks president Phil Jackson, poor coaching by Derek Fisher, and more.? My husband HD, a diehard lifelong Knicks fan, has been grousing a lot about this team and its blown chances. He has complained that management “owes fans for all the mistakes they’ve been making.” What exactly DOES the team management owe to fans? Can a team actually compensate fans for poor performance?

There have been a few pro sports teams with infamous losing streaks and lousy records: the 1962 Mets debut season of 40-120 and the 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers losing 26 games straight over two seasons are just two prominent examples. Will the Knicks snap their losing streak and end up with a decent win-loss record? Or will they be even more of a laughing stock? If they end the season in such dire straits, should they bow in shame to a large contingent of fans?

Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.