Baseball tries a “fan-led franchise”

The issues raised by “Snakes on a Plane” have nothing on those raised by letting sports fans pick the team lineups for real:

“Just goofy enough to work” may prove to be the operating principle of the Flyers’ experiment with fan-picked lineups as part of “Fan Club: Reality Baseball,” an Internet show that takes fantasy baseball leagues to new levels of interactivity.

To promote his club, Ehrenreich signed on to have cameras follow the Flyers through a half-season of baseball — 48 games — in the independent Northern League.

And Ehrenreich agreed to let fans, voting online, decide the team’s starting lineup each night. Diehard supporters, opposing fans and Web surfers who know nothing about the team have an equal say about which Flyers play and which ride the pine.

“It’s ‘Bull Durham’-meets-fantasy-sports come to life,” said Larry Tanz, chief executive of LivePlanet, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based production company that created the reality show, which can be seen on Microsoft’s MSN Video site and at

In reaching out to customers, Ehrenreich has ticked off his manager, many players and even some fans. They say the promotion threatens the integrity of baseball.

The notion that this “threatens the integrity” of baseball gets at the same fears people seem to have about fan engagement in authoring in any way — fan input threatens the integrity of YOUR FAVORITE THING SOMEONE ELSE CONTROLS HERE. But unlike with those things, this seems to offer a pretty clear measure of how well letting the fans have more power works — do they win more games?

The point that “even some fans” question integrity raises a lot of questions about what many fans want in their experience. I know I like the idea of fiction-writers taking into account input from fans. But I also know I don’t want my favorite pop bands letting fans write their songs. I’m not sure I really want them taking that much input: ‘we like the fast ones better than the slow ones’ I’m ok with, but ‘this chord change is better than that one’ — well at what point would they not be my favorite pop band anymore?

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