How sport has started to become more player-centric

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It is relatively standard to be asked who you support, for any given sport, however this question is almost always referring to a specific team rather than a specific player. The biggest sport leagues in the world all connect each team to a particular location, and this makes it easy for fans to pick their favorite club depending on which team is closest. Yet with the creation of the internet and social media, you can stay up to date with every team that you want to, no matter whether you are able to attend each match. Slowly, younger fans have stopped instantly gravitating towards their local club; instead, they are more likely to choose a bigger, and better side. These teams have the bigger stadiums, the greater following, and are on the TV more often, but crucially they are more likely to have the best players.

Firstly, the concept of clubs has become less appealing to newer fans, and this can be seen on social media and the followings of teams in contrast to players. For example, the most followed team on Instagram is Real Madrid with 88 million followers, whereas the most followed athlete is Cristiano Ronaldo, with 221 million followers. The local teams have a smaller reputation and are less interesting to watch. Why would you support a team that plays at a mediocre level, when you have just as much access to the teams playing at a much higher level? In fact, why support the team with the most stars, when you can just support the stars?

In America, there is even less focus on teams, not least because the big teams in the national leagues represent a larger area. There are 72 teams in the English football league, with England having a population of roughly 65 million, whereas the 22 MLS teams are forced to represent around 330 million people. This leads to the greater team rivalries being at the college level and players taking the spotlight over teams in the professional leagues. A player can also only play for a college for 4 years, so once these athletes have left, the fans of the college may follow their career, regardless of where they end up playing.

In American sports leagues, the owners also have a lot more freedom, to the extent they can change their team’s location. In the case of the Vancouver Grizzlies, one of 2 basketball teams in Canada, they moved to Memphis in 2001, deserting life-long fans. It is harder to care for a club in the same way when it can move at any moment; it does not feel so much like the local team if it can uproot at any moment to a location a plane ride away.

As players keep moving to different clubs, because of the appeal of higher wages, and the chances to win more trophies, fans are starting to follow the players as they move clubs, rather than sticking with a single team. As a result of key players leaving clubs after a few years, fans claim that teams lose their identity, with their styles changing and the first team with it.

As well as the players, as more money is invested into the clubs, managers are also not lasting as long, partly due to owners and investors having higher expectations, but also since the financial loss of sacking a manager is becoming less of a concern. This is another reason why a team’s style of play might change frequently, and different managers may also not share the same opinions on the same players. Take, for example, Unai Emery and his reluctance to give Mesut Ozil any serious playing time at Arsenal, even though he was one of their stars before the manager’s arrival. This has resulted in fans buying the team’s shirts for the name on the back, not the team on the front.

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Overall, there is very little evidence to argue that professional sport in general is becoming more player-centric, but it is interesting to note that home attendance is always boosted by a high team win percentage. Therefore, if big players like Lebron James are helping to win games, they will be the reason why fans will be coming to watch. Teams will always have their loyal fans, but now it’s looking like the players are getting them too.