The comparative advantage of loyal fans

The rise of salary caps, luxury taxes and the like in professional sports has forced even comparatively wealthy franchises to lure marquee players with different kinds of incentives. The first one to crop up was location. In basketball, for example, Orlando is considered a nice place to play because so many players have off-season homes ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

The rise of salary caps, luxury taxes and the like in professional sports has forced even comparatively wealthy franchises to lure marquee players with different kinds of incentives. The first one to crop up was location. In basketball, for example, Orlando is considered a nice place to play because so many players have off-season homes nearby. In baseball, St. Louis is considered to be a great baseball town, leading to a lot of free agent signings for the Cardinals. The trade of Curt Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Boston Red Sox could mark a new kind of lure -- passionate fans. A lot of reports suggest that one tipping factor in Schilling's decision to approve the trade was his late-night interaction with the Red Sox nation on a fan web site, the Sons of Sam Horn. According to mlb.com:

The rise of salary caps, luxury taxes and the like in professional sports has forced even comparatively wealthy franchises to lure marquee players with different kinds of incentives. The first one to crop up was location. In basketball, for example, Orlando is considered a nice place to play because so many players have off-season homes nearby. In baseball, St. Louis is considered to be a great baseball town, leading to a lot of free agent signings for the Cardinals. The trade of Curt Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Boston Red Sox could mark a new kind of lure — passionate fans. A lot of reports suggest that one tipping factor in Schilling’s decision to approve the trade was his late-night interaction with the Red Sox nation on a fan web site, the Sons of Sam Horn. According to mlb.com:

Schilling’s messages — coupled with his chats on the Sons of Sam Horn (SOSH) site — further demonstrate the powerful community the Internet has provided and what may yet lie ahead. “I don’t know what role it played, but it left a huge impression on me,” Schilling said of the fan interaction when asked about it during his news conference announcing the trade. “I was overwhelmed at their passion, at their incredible desire for this to work out. They all had their own ideas, most of them being to screw the Yankees. But I was overwhelmed. I was in awe of their intensity in November when the Patriots are playing and the Celtics are playing and they’re having good years, and the Bruins. It was pretty awesome. “I had a chance to be in a private chat room (at SOSH) with 24 Red Sox fans last night and talking baseball. Once we got past the first two minutes of them calling me a liar and telling me I wasn’t who I was, we got to talking about the situation. It was fun. It’s what I do when I’m in the clubhouse or when I’m hanging out. We were talking baseball. It was a pretty neat thing.”

Of course, the fact that the Florida Marlins won the World Series this year with a pretty apathetic fan base suggests the possible limits to this trend. And God help Schilling if the Red Sox Nation ever turns on him. Still, it will be interesting to see if this is the beginning of a larger trend of players sounding out fans before deciding where to sign. [Hey, you could combine this trend with sabremetrics and argue that whichever group of fans embraces the right stats the quickest will have the best team!–ed. I’ll leave that to David Pinto]. And, as a Sox fan, I’m much obliged to the Sons of Sam Horn! UPDATE: In Slate, Seth Stevenson points out that Schilling’s online habits also have a negative effect on sports reporters via disintermediation.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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