4 min read

To Win Back Fans, Major Leagues Should Focus More On This

To Win Back Fans, Major Leagues Should Focus More On This

As more athletic league owners seek to rein in control of their brand, fans are looking to gain even more access and influence over the business decisions of their favorite sports teams.

As primarily an entertainment medium, major sports like the Olympics, Major League Baseball, national football and basketball leagues, world soccer federations and more have a symbiotic relationship with their biggest supporters, customers and stakeholders - the fans.

Unlike most industries where an attitude of the “customer is always right” can carry some weight, major organized athletic  leagues have a duty to not only protect and pay their employees (the players), but they also have an ethical responsibility to ensure that fans are not investing their time, money and heart into toxic or harmful behaviors.

In order to balance these dual responsibilities to players and fans, many major leagues and sports organizations have an association that represents the interests of the players, yet there is only a handful of similar groups to advocate for fans.


What does a Major League Players’ Association do?

Most of these organizations act as a labor union for major athletes in order to ensure fairness when it comes to trading rules, salary caps, and even player pensions and retirement plans. The NFL’s player association will differ from the Major League Baseball’s and so on, as each sport has it’s own nuances and different benefits for its players. Some example of major sports league associations include:

  • National Football League Players’ Association: NFLPA
  • National Basketball Association Players’ Association: NBAPA
  • Professional Footballers' Association: PFA
  • United States Rugby Players Association; USRPA
  • The National Hockey League Players' Association: NHLPA

And more, but what about the fans and stakeholders?


Who makes the final call for participation and democracy in sports?

Fan voting occurs in major sports for events like the All-Star Game or Pro Bowl, fantasy leagues, charity games and more, yet fans almost little to no control over the fate of the team itself.

While local sports fans have the ability to vote on issues like new stadiums or whether to host a championship game via local ballots, most fans have no say so on how or whether or not a team can:

  • Increase salary caps for key players or approve trade deals (think Chris Paul’s proposed Lakers trade)
  • Manage their personnel decisions from the front office down to draft selections. (Over in eSports, fans have pressured Overwatch League team’s head coach to step down, although the Overwatch League is not fan-owned, the lesser expense of being a team owner in virtual gaming league makes the playing field between fans, gamers and owners a bit more level.) 

That’s not to say that fan-owned sporting leagues don’t exist, in fact, there are fan-owned teams in American and international sports.

Some of the most famous fan-owned professional sports teams include:

  • NFL’s Green Bay Packers
  • Spain’s FC Barcelona and the Real Madrid
  • Seattle Sounders Football Club
  • a few of Australia’s National Rugby League teams

Obviously the culture of professional sports can’t be expected to change overnight, but for now, owners and league executives are trying new techniques to improve their relationships with disengaged fans.


How owners are attempting to make amends with fans

For example, most recently, American athletic leagues have been updating or changing the voting rules for fan favorite events like the Hall of Fame awards ceremony, the ESPYs and even the NBA is making changes to their MVP selection process.

Going a step further, a media company has recently launched a blockchain platform that will allow soccer fans to monetise voter rights on key club or team decisions.

The techonology is looking to globalize the democratic process in professional soccer clubs by bringing fans together from all over the world to buy, trade and exercise their voting rights over team changes.

That said, fan engagement through democracy and group decision making can be achieved even at the amateur level.

Let’s take a look at the ways that online voting can incorporated into intramural, local and recreational athletic or gaming leagues.


Voting in amateur, local and intramural sports

While most college and local sports leagues have governing bodies like the NCAA or an aforementioned players/owners’ association, many community sports teams and amatuer leagues like the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) or the Babe Ruth Baseball League can and do depend on their members/fans’ input on key organizational decisions.

Does your town or local community have it’s own sports league, or want to create one? You can use online voting to:

  • Decide on a name for new teams
  • Determine which areas or neighborhoods are best suited for hosting games and matches
  • Elect leaders to handle logistics such as hiring referees, getting and maintaining equipment and more.


Recreational Sports

Sometimes adults need an outlet for their competitive desires, and what better way to do so than hosting or creating an adult kickball tournament, holding organize neighborhood snowball fights or just creating your sports league for other fans with your desired athletic abilities.

Even recreational running and jogging organizations can get in on the fan engagement momentum by:

  • Using easy to create, shareable ballots or surveys for group organizers to determine a time, date and location that will work best for all participants.
  • Offering online or digital nominations for team captains and superlative categories like Most Valuable Players, Most Improved, etc. to create a more equitable and organized selection process.
  • Giving players and participants the options to select their team’s name, colors or mascot through ranked choice votes.


Fan/Player Created Gaming & Athletic Leagues

Physical sports are the only kind of leagues in existence; in fact, fan/player created leagues can benefit from more democratic processes as well. Having a decision support solution or feedback tool could help:

  • Bowling leagues
  • Gaming tournaments
  • Local and national roller derby clubs
  • Competitive equestrian groups
  • Semi-professional swim teams

Taking all of this into consideration, if your major sports, amateur league, athletic hobby group is looking to organize a voting event (election, nomination, survey) online for fans and stakeholders, learn more about our self-service and managed election ballot tools today.

Mastering Online Voting For Associations: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

Mastering Online Voting For Associations: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

We are all guaranteed the right to form associations under the first amendment and no matter which industry or common goal you are working towards,...

Read the full article
Prom Elections & Digital Democracy: Shaping Tomorrow's Voters

Prom Elections & Digital Democracy: Shaping Tomorrow's Voters

As we reach the second half of the school year, prom season approaches! This event brings more than just excitement of dances and celebrations for...

Read the full article
Rethinking Employee Recognition: Beyond Watches & Tenure-Based Awards

Rethinking Employee Recognition: Beyond Watches & Tenure-Based Awards

Retirement and gold watches may no longer define our professional milestones, but the question of how companies recognize and retain their employees...

Read the full article