Arts and Entertainment

The World Around The Game

With a greater emphasis being placed on performances and fan engagement, sports have become increasingly dependent on the entertainment industry for survival.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Throughout history, sports have been a crucial element of cultural identity, going hand in hand with entertainment. Until recently, modern sports have seen a strict line drawn between the two. Attending games was essentially restricted to fans, and events rarely provided any form of entertainment outside of the game itself.

That all changed when Jerry Buss entered the picture. Buss acquired the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979 and decided to redefine the experience of a basketball game. Gradually, he brought in the NBA’s first dance unit and filled breaks in the game with music, adding a new dimension of spectacle to his events that drew in non-fans.

Drawing upon the success of Buss’s incorporation of music and dance, other leagues began involving celebrities in an attempt to cater to a larger audience. The NFL’s Super Bowl Halftime Show has been featuring headliners since 1970, but it saw a complete overhaul in the 1990s. Headliner performances from superstars like Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan, Queen Latifah, Stevie Wonder, and Boyz II Men collectively transformed the Halftime Show from an auxiliary bonus to the Super Bowl’s main draw. What had once been a mere marching band was entirely reimagined, with dazzling lights, mammoth stages, meticulously choreographed dance routines, and breathtaking performances. Headlining the Super Bowl became an honor bestowed upon only the most popular artists, a fact which remains to this day; the 2022 Super Bowl drew in more than 70 million more viewers than the NFL Conference Finals, of which many tuned in solely for the Halftime Show.

However, Buss’s most successful achievement was the Forum Club, which saw a host of celebrities flock to every Lakers game in courtside seats that were easily spotted by TV viewers. Lakers games became the shiniest part of Los Angeles, as people traveled from across the globe for the chance to be in the same arena as their favorite artists and influencers. Other leagues also put their own spin on Buss’s Forum Club. The MLB invented the “first pitch,” in which teams bring in an A-List fan or hometown celebrity, creating an exciting atmosphere for fans before the game.

While Buss’s Forum Club has had many lasting impacts on the sports world, his influence predominantly shines through in the development of devoted celebrity sports-goers. Perennial chart-topper Drake is the pinnacle of the superfan archetype. He has repeatedly proclaimed himself a lifelong fan of his hometown Toronto Raptors, and more often than not, he can be seen sitting (or standing, yelling at the game and clapping) courtside, right next to the Raptors’s bench. In 2014, he was named the Raptors’s official global ambassador, with his extraordinary fame drawing recognition to the team. The organization has even collaborated with Drake’s brand, OVO, on a limited edition line, and Drake was granted a championship ring after the Raptors won the title in 2019.

Additionally, following Spotify’s sponsorship deal of the club, the streaming giant turned to OVO to craft the Barcelona jersey design for El Classico, one of the most watched soccer games across the world. Drake’s involvement with the Raptors, and now Barcelona, represents a much greater shift in sports, as notable celebrities have begun to involve themselves in the day-to-day affairs of sporting clubs. Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have launched a documentary series following the Welsh soccer club Wrexham F.C., which they bought in February 2021. The docu-series, titled “Welcome to Wrexham,” follows the duo as they attempt to propel the club back into a competitive division. Rather than crafting a story about sports like hit drama “Ted Lasso” (2020), they are spinning real sports management into entertainment, uniting soccer fans and television viewers alike.

Another prominent way sports culture has propagated into the arts world is through fashion. In the early ‘90s, the NHL’s jerseys garnered the attention of Hollywood A-Listers and fashion designers, who began showing support for their hometown teams. Hockey jerseys became a cornerstone of common streetwear, and teams suddenly shifted to place emphasis on their jersey designs. This trend has continued today, with NHL teams profiting off of a high demand for unique jerseys, leading to a new mainstay––alternate jerseys. The NHL introduced the “Reverse Retro” jersey in the 2021 season, and many teams have begun to bring back heritage jerseys for special occasions. The Toronto Maple Leafs also released a jersey collaboration with Drew, the brand of newfound fan Justin Bieber, which, like Drake’s Raptors collaboration, led to much recognition for the team outside of the hockey world.

The NBA has experienced many of the same trends, most notably specially designed jerseys with non-conforming color schemes and styles. The Raptors and Miami Heat have seen much success in their Purple Dinosaur and Vice Collection jerseys respectively, as each has become an integral part of local streetwear. The same can be said for baseball caps; the New York Yankees vs. New York Mets rivalry has made its mark off the field as the two teams battle not only for New York supremacy but also for stylistic superiority. As a whole, baseball caps have become a simple way to demonstrate team loyalty while remaining in the center of mainstream fashion.

Any discussion of sports fashion, however, would be incomplete without the discussion of shoes, specifically Air Jordan, which has become one of the most popular brands in all of fashion. Air Jordan launched their first ever shoe in 1984 during the climax of Michael Jordan’s career, and the shoes immediately gained an almost cult-like following. Air Jordan went on to produce 23 iconic lines of shoes (among hoodies and other popular fashion items) and has collaborated with an expansive range of high-end brands. Michael Jordan’s dominance in the world of popular fashion inspired many of today’s superstar athletes to launch their own merchandise, each of which has seen their own degree of success and cultural relevance.

Entertainment has now become an integral part of sports culture. In many ways, this has distracted from the game itself––much to the detriment of the older generation of sports fans––but it has also added a new element of spectacle that helps sports remain in the cultural lexicon, even off the field or court. A simple yet revolutionary touch of Buss’s fanfare and musicality skewed sports towards the younger generation. At their core, sports are still the same games they were 50 years ago, but because of the entertainment revolution, the world around the game has grown exponentially.