The Fans Who Knew Too Much
All information is available to everyone, all the time, thanks to the internet. Virtually anyone has access to anything they could possibly want to learn. There are swaths of podcasts, youtube vidoes, blogs, databases, etc on every subject one could imagine, especially sports. Compared to a fan ten years ago, today's fans are exposed to more specific information about their sport than ever before. The sophistication of the modern fan when discussing their favorite franchise is unmatched. There are play breakdowns by former NFL players on twitter, most NBA podcasts reference advanced stats to back up points, baseball broadcasters often reference sabermetrics, the application of statistical analysis to baseball records, especially in order to evaluate and compare the performance of individual players, to give insight on players. Today’s fans have more information readily available to them than ever and are better versed in the nuances of their favorite sports. But with the gift of knowledge comes disappointment, as fans have never been more aware of the pitfalls of their teams and the ignorance of the people who run them.
The average fan does not have to have a degree in mathematics in order to understand advanced analytics. All they need to do is listen. Many podcasts, studio hosts, broadcasters, you name it, list advanced stats to prove their points. Sabermetrics are no longer for the nerds but have become commonplace in sports. As a result the fans know more about their teams. They know what they succeed at and what they fail at. In football a fan can know their team's success rate on play action or what percentage of plays result in positive yards. Though knowledge can be a double edge sword. When you know what your team succeeds in you must also carry the weight of knowing what they do fail in. Using football again, a fan knows when a team may favor play calls that aren’t as advantageous as the play caller may think. An easy example is punting on fourth and short. If a team is in their own territory and they punt, which some teams still do, their win percentage instantly drops. The fan has to watch as the people who are paid millions of dollars to make the right decisions fail to do so.
Of course advanced stats don’t tell the whole story, and there is still a human element to sports that determines the ends of games. But statistics are not supposed to be a stop gap solution, they are there to tell us the most likely outcome and how to exploit inefficiencies. They provide insight into the game and highlight potential hurdles that lie ahead. And with that coaches (and fans) have a better understanding of what needs to be fixed and changed. But the troubling fact for fans is when a painfully obvious solution, when backed by the numbers, is ignored by the coaches due to pride, or ignorance.
Additionally the modern fan is well versed in in game scenarios. When John Madden first started writing on the screen it was a novel idea. Now every NFL broadcast utilizes it. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. Every studio show goes at great lengths in order to break down the on field/court/ice events to its viewers. They have former players reenact plays and break them down step by step, share personal experiences, and go over win probability with every decision. And if the fan wants to know more than they can find any number of youtube videos explaining the different types of formations, plays, anything you want. With 20 minutes and an internet connection, anyone can tell the difference between a nickel and dime package. But the caveat to all of this is that when you know the difference between right and wrong, you can point it out. Even when the person who is doing wrong is supposed to be the more qualified and intelligent individual who is paid to make the right decisions. That is not to say the average fan who watches youtube knows more than a professional coach, butin leagues of 30 plus teams there is a 30th worst coach -- and that coach does a lot of really stupid things that are painfully obvious to everyone but them.
Information is a burden, and in years past a fan could trust that their people in charge likely knew what was best. Today, it is far too easy to find out that they don’t. The mistakes are too obvious and are backed by truck loads of data that spell out every problem a fan thought they had. Sabermetrics and the internet didn’t ruin sports, they enlightened the fans. But an enlightened fan isn’t necessarily a happy one, an enlightened fan begs the question: is ignorance bliss?