I just spent half a day immersed in Raider Nation -- a fun Sunday afternoon in Oakland in Row 7 near the Raider Club section. The game was actually great, some really well-played, competitive football. This was only my second Raider game -- the first many years ago, when the New England Patriots came to Oakland a year after the famous "snow-blower" game, where a field technician in Foxboro, MA, used a snow-blower during a time out to clear just enough snow away from the field to enable the Patriots to win a playoff game with a field goal. It was payback time for Raider fans, and if you wore an item of clothing other than black -- let alone in any shade of blue, Patriot colors -- you risked at a minimum verbal abuse, were threatened, and were one eye-catching glance away from getting the crap beat out of you by the rabid Raider Nation faithful.
My good friend, another former NYer, invited me and I decided to go because he told me the tickets were at Club level, most likely a less-gnarly crowd. I swore off wearing green and did my best to blend in by wearing black and adopting the thousand-yard stare I typically don't need in Sacramento. I said above it was a fun Sunday afternoon. And it was. But it almost wasn't. It seemed that at any moment all hell could break loose. Every football stadium deals with violence, typically perpetrated by drunk fans, also often accompanied by gender abuse of women by men. I may be a soft white guy in my late forties, but I'm no stranger to sticky situations. Once took the subway home from Tribeca to the Upper West Side in NY at 3am -- was the only person on the local, making stop after stop...until I wasn't alone anymore, and had to negotiate my way out of a freaking terrifying gang situation. Not fun. I also used to play street-ball in Harlem after dark, against the recommendations of good friends and teammates (and the league's schedulers, who usually didn't let teams with white kids play after dark). But nothing ever happened, thankfully.
So, what exactly happened at O.co Park during the Raider game? Nothing. Not that I could see, anyway. But the atmosphere contained a volcano simmering on the edge, which a couple of people sitting near me also seemed to feel -- at a moment's notice the whole place could erupt in violence. Whether you were walking through the parking lot, a sea of inebriated tailgaters, or just sauntering to the men's room during the game. Look at someone the wrong way and it's a throw-down that could spark an all-out riot. Why? Could be undercurrents of gang warfare (it was totally easy to spot groups looking at other groups, talking into ears, whispering among dozens gathered around beer stands, etc.). Could be people just really hate the Jets. Could be the economy, the uncertainty, and that the "getaway" of a Sunday Raider game might not feel so good if they didn't win.
So what does any of this have to do marketing? I would suggest that if Al Davis (the long-time owner of the Raiders, the architect of Raider Nation and its zeitgeist) donned makeup that enabled him to walk the hallways of his hallowed ballpark incognito for an hour he'd go back to his office bathroom, throw up, then stumble to his desk and slump over with a stroke.
I fully suspect he's shuttered himself from this reality simply because the stadium is filled every game -- but that the truth is that these are not the fans he wants. He doesn't want the drunk, bloated, angry mob that trolls the men's room dripping piss on themselves because they could give a shit about their own hygiene. I don't for one minute think he wants tailgaters chugging tequila spitting on families as they walk to the stadium just because they look like suburbanites and aren't wearing silver and black. I don't believe for a minute that he, or any sports team owner, spends the time or energy on their precious franchises to bask in the glory that the weekly gatherings create -- tinder boxes, ready to explode simply because a fan of the visiting team proudly sports their non-Raider's jersey. Just ask the San Francisco Giant fan who was beaten nearly to death by the Dodger faithful earlier this year.
What this has to do with marketing is that if you're a brand with integrity and honesty, there are some fans you don't want to have even if they want you. I bet that every non-hoodlum Raider fan would have just as good a time at every game if alcohol wasn't served and if they outlawed alcohol during on-premise tailgating. I bet Coca-Cola would think twice about selling soda to some obese kids who are addicted to Coke, so much so that, according to some reports, more than 60% of their caloric intake is from Coke. Politics? The same thing -- reasonable conservatives and liberals cringe when they hear how some "supporters" misrepresent positions.
Wouldn't any brand owner rather not have these wing-nuts in their tents...or in their seats? Won't they curry greater favor by catering to the broader base of core fans, who don't subvert the brand's good will, products, or services, to satisfy something entirely different? I'd like to think so.