Name a golf course

Even the world’s oldest golf course is getting in on the fan-creativity action:

Golf fans around the world will have a chance to carve their name in history next month when St Andrews Links Trust runs a competition through its website to find a name for its seventh course which is under construction. (from St Andrews News)

Again, it’d be cooler if golf fans got to vote instead of its going to committee, but you can’t ask for everything at once now can you? After all, this is the sport that still thinks its cool to ban women from their clubs.

Social Sports Explosion!

Mashable runs through the many new social networking sites suddenly flooding the sports fans scene. Now there’s one for cricket joining several others, most of which have debuted in the last 3-4 months. How much is too much? How do fans decide which to join when there are so many to choose from? Interface? What’s on the front page? My guess: which one their friends use — or which ones the people in the online sports networks they’re already hanging in talk about — will be the biggest influence on which ones people adapt.

I suspect each will develop its own subcultural niches, some will fail, a few will thrive. Last time I wrote about this I said I was sure there was room for two. But surely there isn’t room for 7. It will be interesting to see which ones succeed and what they did that the others didn’t.

Mark Cuban’s take on online fandom

Last summer I saw a talk sponsored by the Aspen Institute on “The Digital Future” with Mark Cuban. For those who don’t know, Cuban made one of his fortunes by selling his media streaming company to Yahoo way back in the 1990s. He’s now the owner of HDNet, the first all-high definition tv network and, more famously, the Dallas Mavericks. He’s also got a number of side projects like his movie theaters, his investigative stock report, and his blog aggregator. It was the first time I’d heard Cuban, and I came away with the impression of a man who’s really smart, knowledgable, and who’s got an integrated vision of how it all fits together.

He’s written on his blog that convergence is over, everything is already digital, and he argues that media content ought to be available in any form the consumers want it. My favorite line of the night was his summary of this position: “bits are bits, I can deliver. I’m agnostic, I don’t care how it gets there.” But, other than the need to provide them with a variety of delivery platforms, there was very little said about media audiences in the talk, and I wondered what Cuban would have to say about the changing role(s) of the media viewers as fans also get more control over bits and bytes and make their own products, connections with one another, and so on.

So I shot him an email and asked, and (with his permission to reprint), here’s what he had to say:

Its nothing new. Its been going on for years. From fan clubs to high school clubs to CompuServe and Prodigy forums and usenet groups and AOL discussion groups and chat rooms to IRC rooms. People contract their sphere of connections to where they can either feel smart/important, feel comfortable as part of a group, or can improve their communications. Today they call that social networking and it happens on discussion forums for sports teams, on myspace, friendster, xanga and many other sites.

Youtube is an old concept. The only difference between what they have been able to do and others is that the copyright police didn’t shut them down. Two years ago they get closed down faster than you can say RIAA.

You are right, there is no question that fandom and online community has increased, but I think it can be traced back to digital content organizations giving social networking a pass rather than shutting them down.

Youtube is a perfect example. All the people putting up their favorite songs on their myspace pages is another. No way the RIAA lets that happen 2/3 years ago. If they did, all the old hosting companies like geocities would have thrived and evolved rather than devolved.

The concept of friends is just a better implementation of website rings. Blogs are just templates for daily entries on websites.

Broadband made it more fun to be online, faster to participate and enabled the faster, smoother use of media/video/audio.

When I bought the mavs I got on discussion groups to answer questions, most are the same today.

When I started my blog, it just made it easier than updating a page on the Mavs website.

Putting up trailers on sites is old news, as is downloading movies. For all the discussion about progress, look back 5 years and ask just how much broadband progress has been made. Broadband has gotten marginally faster, but dramatically cheaper from competition.

I guess what Im saying, its just business as usual. Like the fashion world, pants are pants, shirts are shirts, they just seem cooler when they are first coming out in new styles, but when we look back, we realize it was no big deal.

I appreciate the perspective he brings here, that fandom has been going on for a long time and that its boom right now may be triggered more by changes in the legalistic environment than by real transformations of technological capability or ways that fans engage the media and one another [rumour has it Universal Music Group is going to sue MySpace and YouTube for copyright infringement]. When I look at online fan groups now, I certainly see a lot of the same dynamics and processes I was seeing when I started writing about them in 1991.

At the same time, I’m not sure it’s really “business as usual.” Audiences may have been doing these things all along, but they weren’t getting noticed as they are now, and they weren’t getting addressed and engaged directly by the objects of their fandom in the way they are now. I think those create real changes in the expectations fans develop about the people behind the teams/music/shows/movies/etc that they love, and in how those people need to behave toward fans to make the most of what they’re doing. Technological capabilities and fans’ uses of them may not have changed much, but the social/commercial environment in which these things happen has.

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?

‘MySpaces’ for Sports

And the winner for first sports-based MySpace goes to … oh, well, looks like there are two vying for that claim. A press release from SRN announces:

the launch of the beta version of a new web portal,, on Wednesday, August 30th. is the world’s first online platform for the interaction of sports fans, created by fans, with content driven by fans. In addition to the major sports, will provide a national platform for sports such as archery, kayaking, and lacrosse, which are largely overlooked by mainstream media.

Super duper! Except for that there’s already another one out there: brings sports fanatics, sports rivals and sports enthusiasts to its site to gab and jab about teams and athletes they love and hate. Launched in late July, the site so far has about 1,800 registered users, including some from Santa Clarita, who take verbal shots at one another on personal Web pages about their positions on local and national teams.

“We view it as MySpace meets a sports bar meets talk radio,” said Elon Werner, director of communications for Beckett Media LP, the Texas-based sports publishing company that created the site. (The Daily News)

I’m sure there’s room for more than one.