They Stand, We Sit

From the WSJ (HT to my colleague Ishuan Li) comes a story about why world soccer fans prefer to stand and US sports fans sit.

It goes back to “the middle ages, when the nobility sat and the common plebs stood,” says Rod Sheard, senior principle of the leading sports architecture firm Populous and designer of the Emirates. “All of America is nobility. Everyone thinks they’re king in America.”

Indeed, 19th-century baseball fans in the U.S. quickly developed higher standards for comfort than British soccer fans, says Steven Riess, author of “Sport in Industrial America, 1850-1920.” “I think there was a sense of entitlement for American leisure clients that they didn’t have in Europe.”

That’s the sociological story.

The economic story is that early baseball entrepreneurs saw a chance to make a profit, and jumped on the chance.

Quite a few people still stood at these early games, sometimes in the outfield. In St. Louis there was a beer garden in right field where players would have to retrieve the ball among the idle drinkers (the garden was in play). But as baseball’s popularity grew, the owners were intent on providing more and better seats. When Albert Spalding rebuilt Chicago’s Lakefront Park in 1883, he added plush luxury boxes with armchairs and curtains to shield kingly spectators from the sun and wind.

So it’s not that Americans felt entitled. It’s that Americans preferred sitting and would pay extra for the ability to sit.

These stories are consistent with the notion that US sports, starting with baseball, came of age in a country where the profit motive led the way. But other sports in other countries, particularly British soccer was developed to bring the game to the masses.

Personally, I always have preferred standing at sporting events, particularly at college football and basketball games. But if others around me want to sit, I’ll sit. But as I find myself getting older, I’ll probably see my preferences shift more toward sitting.

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Author: Phil Miller

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