The Sidewinder Sleeps in a Coil

For an outsider, one of the strangest facets of American sport is the franchise system. Sports teams are surely supposed to be organic entities that grow out of the community rather than pre-packaged commodities that are brought into town and just as quickly removed at the whim of whichever businessman happens to own the right amount of shares. Let me first admit that I know next to nothing about the Tucson Sidewinders but even a brief glance at their history would seem to indicate that the Tucson baseball fan has been given the short end of a very short stick.

Tuc_5031 To summarize,from 1969-1997 the Tucson Toros were Tucson’s Triple-A team, after the expansion of the Diamondbacks the Toros moved to Fresno and became the Fresno Grizzlies, and the Phoenix Firebirds relocated to Tucson and briefly became the Toros before changing their name to the Sidewinders, and to quote that ever reliable source Wikipedia; "This was accomplished by what amounted to a "swap" in ownership in 1997, with Firebirds owner Martin Stone purchasing the Toros and Toros owner Rick Holtzman receiving interest in the Firebirds. The Tucson team retained management and staff primarily from the Toros, and traces its history from the Toros rather than the Firebirds" Now you may already know all this but quite frankly it leaves my head reeling! I’ve read the above about 12 times and I still can’t figure out which team I would follow if I was a long time Toros fan from the pre-Diamondbacks era.

You don’t have to be a Harvard trained business analyst to realize that this is no way to build up a strong and consistent fan base for any team, and unsurprisingly the attendances at Sidewinder’s games have been poor and the team has been sold (to further acknowledge my ignorance I had always assumed that the Diamondbacks Triple-A team belonged to the Diamondbacks) and may well be moved to Reno. Thus surely destroying any lingering loyalty the Tucson based fans may have had (both to the Sidewinders and the Diamondbacks).

I’m certainly not implying that sports in Britain or the rest of Europe is free from commercial considerations, in fact, Premier league soccer in England is probably the most ruthlessly capitalist organization on Earth (it makes MLB look like a more left wing Fidel Castro,that’s why there has been a massive influx of foreign investors into the Premiership including Malcolm Glazer, Randy Lerner, George Gillett and Tom Hicks) but it’s based on the premise that the teams "belong" to the area that they are from and where they began.

The big problem with the franchise system (and especially for the minor leagues) is that it is a really bad business model. The reason multi-national corporations always emphasize their links with the local community is because it engenders customer loyalty and makes people feel that this large organization is a part of them,what has happened in Tucson would seem to be the exact opposite of this.

I’m sure that there are some (maybe many) minor league organizations that are extremely well loved and cherished parts of the locale, but shouldn’t a team who, by definition,are still building their history and ties with the fans be extra careful about what happens to it’s affiliates?

Feel free to completely shoot me down in flames on this one, as always I am only to willing to learn from your superior and humbling knowledge.


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