When the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, they erased 86 years of failure. Yet their true legacy may be the emergence of “Red Sox Nation.”
The historic franchise’s success increased the visibility of millions of Red Sox fans nationwide. Many were bandwagon fans, true, but others were long-suffering Boston fans. The team had -- and has -- a real national following.
Not every sports team has a fan base as large as Boston’s. But every team wants one. So since 2004, we have seen countless teams declare nationhood status.
The latest, and perhaps most ridiculous, is “Clipper Nation." Yes, the Clippers, long regarded as the worst franchise in all of sports, are now claiming “nation” status.
It’s time to put an end to it all. Let’s all agree that a team and its fans must meet certain requirements to use the term “nation.”
There is no Mets Nation. No Jets Nation. No Islanders Nation. No White Sox Nation, no Angels Nation. And, most assuredly, no Clipper Nation.
Why? Because if a team doesn’t even own its hometown, it can’t be a nation. A nation can’t exist if it doesn’t have a capital city. Heck, the Clippers don’t even have a house of government if the Lakers or Kings are using it.
If the people who know a team best have relegated it to second-tier status, it can never achieve nationdom. There is no way around it. At the very best, the Clippers may one day earn a seat at the Sports U.N., but they can never vote.
A team, and therefore its fan base, has to have existed for 15 years in order to earn “nation” consideration. At least one generation must be unable to remember a world without that team in its hometown. This means, despite its name and wealth of young talent, there can be no Nationals Nation for several more years.
There can also be no Thunder Nation. In fact, anyone outside of the state of Oklahoma who is a Thunder fan is automatically the lowest life form of fandom: a front-runner. You’re a 35 year-old guy in Alabama who suddenly decided he’s a Thunder fan? All you did was jump aboard a bandwagon.
Not to completely disparage bandwagons. Bandwagons are very important for the growth of sports team nations. Just as Conestoga wagons helped settle the American West, bandwagons – if they travel more than a few seasons – eventually settle in their own nation.
Attendance and winning
The Pacers had the second-lowest attendance in the NBA this season. If you hear someone say the term “Pacers Nation” in light of Indiana’s 2-1 lead over the Heat, punch that person square in the throat. A nation draws fans for years, not weeks. If a bandwagon is new and shiny, it doesn’t belong to a true nation.
Winning also matters. Winning championships. The teams with the largest national followings -- the Red Sox, Yankees, Steelers, Packers, Cowboys, Lakers, Celtics, Kentucky basketball, Notre Dame football, etc. –- have won multiple titles. This so-called “Clipper Nation” thinks one season with the fifth-best record in the conference is reason to celebrate. Citizens of true nations see a season like that as a failure.
Apparel and uniforms
T-shirts and jerseys of legit nation teams are sold in sporting goods and apparel stores across the nation. True nation teams also tend to have iconic uniforms that rarely change. The Red Sox don’t release a new logo every few years in hopes of generating interest, just as the United States doesn’t come out with a new flag every decade or so. (Although that might be a good way for the government to generate some revenue. Let’s just make sure we don’t let anyone from Oregon, Maryland or the Nets design it.)
Nationally televised games
This should be pretty obvious: If your team doesn’t have any nationally televised games, that is because people throughout the actual nation don’t care to see it play. Or, if your team does happen to be given a nationally televised game and it produces terrible ratings – coughjaguarscough – you definitely are not allowed to have “Nation” status.
“But, but, but … the Jaguars were bad last year! That’s why their "Monday Night Football" game didn’t get good ratings!” Partly, yes. But teams with true national followings move the needle even when they are completely irrelevant. For example, think the last decade-plus of Dallas Cowboys football.
Organic vs. marketing
From the Los Angeles Times on May 5: “The Clippers are playing in front of a Staples Center crowd that looks like a red sea … The team doled out red ‘Clipper Nation’ T-shirts at the door and almost everyone in the stands, which appears to be of the sell-out variety, has put them on.”
A true sports team “nation” grows from the bottom up. Nation status is not granted just because some intern in the team’s marketing department comes up with the idea to hand out a few thousand T-shirts. That is not how a nation is built. There is much more to it than that. For example, this conversation did not occur in 1861.
“President Lincoln, the South has seceded and declared itself a nation.”
“They printed up some T-shirts calling themselves a nation.”
“Well, there’s nothing we can do then. The Union is over.”
Common Sense / “The North Dakota Test”
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said of pornography in 1964, “I know it when I see it.” The same holds true for sports nationhood. If the average person laughs at a fan base referring to itself as a “nation,” it’s not a nation.
Or look at it another way. Say you’re in North Dakota. I don’t know why you’re in North Dakota. But you’re there. Someone walks by you in a Lakers T-shirt. Or a Celtics T-shirt. Or a Texas football T-shirt. You wouldn’t think anything of it.
But if someone walked by you wearing a Clippers T-shirt, you instantly would think: “Why is someone in North Dakota wearing a Clipper T-shirt?” The North Dakota Test: if you can’t conceive of a fan of a team living in a far-flung state, that fan’s team does not have a “nation.”
Just as real nations have enemies, sports nations have enemies, too. Or, to use sports terminology: haters. (I guess we could say that North Korea drinks U.S. haterade.)
The reason sports nations have “haters” is because people throughout the nation are sick of their success and sick of seeing their fans everywhere. No matter where you go, you see Red Sox or Yankees hats. While annoying, those hats serve as a nice reminder to root against those teams.
But if millions of people don’t hate a team, that team can’t claim “nation” status. People all across the country root against the Celtics and Lakers. You won’t find too many people hoping and praying for the Thunder and Clippers to lose in humiliating fashion.
And there is the main benefit of not belonging to a sports “nation.” People won’t want to punch you in the face when they see you. Only nations need national defense.