Today’s running of the Boston Marathon, on Patriots’ Day, is among the starkest examples of sports’ impact on our society. This exceedingly positive impact, especially against the emotionally charged backdrop of today’s race, can be attributed to a phenomenon known as “cultural distinctiveness.”
Sports are part of our social fabric, and part of our social capital. Dating back at least to Olympia, Greece, sports have been distinctive to human culture, bringing us together in an otherwise disjointed and often indifferent world.
It’s fathers teaching sons how to throw a curve ball, hockey moms heading to early morning practices, neighbors leaning over the back fence to talk about a controversial play, and it’s folks rallying at the local bar after work to watch Monday Night Football. What would Green Bay be without the Packers? Liverpool without its football club? Would either city really want to find out?
Day in and day out, the sports business industry has generated tremendous revenue and built extraordinary shareholder value because of the powerful position sports enjoys in society.
Look no further than the owners of professional sports franchises who routinely seek public investment when hoping to build a new stadium or arena. Indirectly, they hope to monetize, via taxpayer subsidies, the positive externalities their team will bring to the city. In a roundabout way, these owners hope to be paid by those who live vicariously through their team, but not necessarily paying directly for the enjoyment the team creates.
On this day we are all living vicariously through the running of the Boston Marathon – and not only is that a good thing, it is the pinnacle of the cultural distinctiveness sports provides. For this we should be most grateful – even if, especially if, the sports industry takes a few hours off from worrying about revenue and asset value, and focuses on the purity and healing sports can lend a community and provide a nation.