When American sports franchises begin to lose their on-field mojo, in order to remain relevant in a busy cultural and social environment, the typical executive response is to expand their interest-base.
Bring the family! There’s gourmet food for Mum, a run-the-bases opportunity for Junior, and competitions the entire family can enjoy - like guessing which coloured craft will cross the finish line first in a simulated speedboat race (Green. Always pick the green one). Why do these three items spring readily to mind? Because I live in a city which boasts one of baseball’s most futile recent enterprises, the Seattle Mariners.
Executives have tried for years to make the actual sport at a sporting event secondary to “the experience”; which to me, has always seemed akin to putting the decor before the flavour at a restaurant. It’s no coincidence, however, that such events almost always occur when the team’s fortunes are flailing horribly (c.f. the aforementioned Mariners and their 0.300OBP) - the Boston Celtics, forever the NBA’s pater dominantis, only brought in cheerleaders and “animations” when stars like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish moved on.
The simple and elegant philosophy of a bygone age: the sport should be enough, even if your team stinks.
But it isn’t. Especially when your team stinks. So, how do you make sport more exciting for the spectator? There are three simple methods: gambling, alcohol, and fantasy sports.
With the Ashes series approaching fast and the Australian camp careening towards a whitewash defeat, fantasy might create a little more debate around the actual mechanics of this upcoming test of Australian nerve. To whit, myself and colleague (and Englishman) Dave Siddall attempted to “fantasy draft” our own Ashes squads - at stake: pride in ourselves, if not our homespun countries.
The rules were simple: each team can pick only one “starting” wicketkeeper (Matt Prior and whoever Australia elects to use as a glorified backstop, likely Brad Haddin), and each team must select four bowlers and two batsmen who could be classified as openers. Players could be selected by only one “manager”, with a coin flip determining who selected first. Thirteen players would be drafted by Aussie and Pom.
We will revisit each individual player scores after each Test match, and at the end of the Northern Summer.
The first Ashes Fantasy Draft was held on Friday morning, 28th June and the results will be published sequentially over the next six days until we arrive at the first Test.