Baseball’s Fan Cave: Is Nothing Sacred?

The MLB Fan Cave might not be everything it seems. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Roberts)

The MLB Fan Cave might not be everything it seems. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Roberts)

With winter soon encroaching and baseball now fallow in much of North America for the next several months (and no worries of pooh-poohing the already waning joys of the World Series), I take leave of my oilcan, pennant-pinned, and inhospitably drafty lair to air a complaint about the cultural thorn in my side.

Perhaps you already know about the “Fan Cave,” an increasingly popularized and seemingly innocuous marketing scheme that began in 2011, courtesy of the good people at Major League Baseball. Or if you’ve been caught unawares and out of the diamond’s loop, please read on: This matter bears relevance to just about any self-respecting sports spectator.

Indeed, the site of this calculated, corporate-hatched ploy positions itself as a cultural locus by its very location. Utterly metropolitan and glamorously central, the MLB Fan Cave resides in one of those criminally costly, renovated commercial buildings in upscale Lower Manhattan . In essence, the venue is home to a handful of dedicated, baseball-loving troglodytes or “cave dwellers” (seriously, that’s their official name) beneficently chosen by MLB oligarchs to watch games and participate in social media relevant to the kingdom of professional baseball and its multitudinous forms of fandom. Actually, I previously learned about the Fan Cave’s web presence well before now; in fact, it’s difficult to overlook, especially considering the promotional time dedicated on many game broadcasts.

Of course, the Fan Cave also makes an obvious allusion (and a lamentable one) to that domiciliary territory known as the “man cave.” However, before bemoaning the co-opted and commoditized degradation of my compatriots’ proudly governed, cavernous spaces—be it the basement, garage, or ill-lit den—I should acknowledge some historical background for MLB’s latest capitalizing offense.

One productive context would be the far-reaching history of the owners vs. players struggle, as this conflict easily illustrates what continues to be a pervasive situation in which all scruples go to the wayside so capitalism in baseball can run amok. For the majority of its existence, the major leagues’ arrangement of quasi-indentured servitude was so crooked that some players even framed their arguments against the system in terms of those old, deplorable power structures in the South when they spoke of the now infamously known reserve clause, abolished in 1975. Of course, with the way star player salaries thereafter skyrocketed like an excess of so many steroid-inclined home runs, it seems the greed swings both ways or, if I may, switch hits at both sides of the plate.

But to return to the man cave, as well as my point: While already out for every penny, every buck it can make (no matter the ethics), MLB has been in the business of oppressively appropriating whatever else it can, so long as it fits into the expanding business model. Before, the owners staked out claims on players’ lives; now they’re out for other domains, including our vernacular. It follows then that even a cursory look at corporate branding can prove informative to understanding some of capitalism’s equally troubling ideologies and practices at work in this colloquial appropriation of our collectively romanticized man cave, now so profitably commercialized as the Fan Cave.

First, we need to acknowledge how a for-profit company will co-opt almost anything and everything in the public’s linguistic, visual, and even natural realms when executives and their marketing minions anticipate a strong potential tie-in to their products or services. Through a perfectly ridiculous and legal process of registering, copyrighting, and trade-marking, companies regularly transform what was once a freely, publicly, and universally held thing into their privately owned “intellectual property.”

Apple®©™ is probably the best modern-day exemplar of this trend in capitalizing public-into-private material. Actually, the trend has been such a protracted one and so long taken for granted as to conceal the practice—and its cultural drawbacks. Again, take Apple®©™: apart from the Egyptian elements of earth, water, fire, and air, is there anything much more ubiquitous than the apple? Well, if you limit the field to the human diet, perhaps not. It’s even biblical, for Christ’s sake. Yet somehow a company (initially a garage-founded start-up business, or so the bootstrap mythmaking goes) in a sense managed to linguistically appropriate this perfectly naturally occurring nutritional resource simply by filling out and filing some U.S. trademark forms.

To continue with the zeitgeist of the Apple®©™ example, think about the depth of influence exerted here. What if you were to walk up to someone and blurt out the mere word “apple” without any conversational context? Of course, first they might think you just escaped the nearest gurney and straitjacket institution. But, secondly, chances are the next thought to brim to the conscious part of their mind would be the technology products of Apple—rather than the food, apple.

While this illustration isn’t quite what executives mean when they talk of “market penetration,” a simple fact remains: This kind of psychologically deep-rooted, almost semiotic association that results from such perfect branding (coupled with marketing and advertising saturation) is every CEO’s billion-dollar wet dream. And Apple®©™ continues to perpetuate the same lamentable practice—now with the word, nay letter, “i.”

In as much, the grimly monolithic MLB organization has done the very same by appropriating and manipulating a most prized and personal sanctuary, albeit with some simple word substitution. For the man cave carries more than purely rhetorical value for our society. The deeper meaning lies in what it signifies as a specially demarcated, private, and very real and physical space in many a household otherwise overrun by all manner of effeminate decor and needy, pedigreed pets. And, no, the paradox here in this oddly capitalist language is not lost on me. But this isn’t a communist argument; like baseball’s absolutely team-oriented nature of fielding, this is socialist.

More importantly, do not mistake such nostalgia as patriarchal. On the contrary, I believe the world would be a far safer place if governed by matriarchy’s norms and customs. I also wholeheartedly agree with Virginia Woolf when she so eruditely reasons that every “woman must have money and a room of her own.” Likewise, all baseball fans must have money (for beer) and a cave of their own. And do take note of that plural pronoun intended as gender neutral and standing in for the cumbersome his/her. In other words, although I frame this diatribe from what I’ve witnessed as the typical man’s man cave,  certainly many loyal sports spectators are women who have laid claim to their own lairs.

But back to my operational definition and question of: What is the man cave? While it varies widely by income and taste, the quintessential man cave is a wood-paneled realm of imperfection, rarely upgraded and thus consistent with an element of 1970s kitsch. The man cave often appears casually styled in a haphazard, screw-it aesthetic of duct-taped furnishings. It’s bordered by cheaply spackled walls ornamented unevenly with dents or holes and the sporadically commissioned artwork of the late Sir Thumbtack and one glossy Mademoiselle Upton. Garage, basement, or loft, the man cave exists as a humming, neon-lit den whose signage flickers homage to Heineken, Pabst Blue Ribbon, or the monosyllabic Bud.

Meanwhile, the man cave could not be any farther from the utterly corporate-envisioned Fan Cave so lacking in any such character or intimacy. Indeed, the MLB Fan Cave predictably showcases a slick interior design. It even boasts an elevated deck of polished, hardwood flooring (or maybe it’s faux wood). And, of course, there is the Fan Cave’s centerpiece, the “Cave Monster.” It’s nothing more than a wall of liquid crystal or plasma technology, an overall cold and expansive monument to high-definition, flat-screen TVs. Clearly some overpaid SoHo decorator won the bidding for the job but completely missed the mark, for the blue-collar man cave has nothing to do with sprawling sofas, expensive upholstery, and other such finery.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Please do not mistake me if you think that all of this is little more than the exaggerated ranting of some malcontent with a suspiciously un-American slant. Do you truly think the MLB Fan Cave is merely an innocuous bit o’ fun generously provided to baseball fans without highly calculated, strictly profit-driven aims? If so, then you really need to read what MLB’s executive vice president of business, Tim Brosnan, said about the Fan Cave in no uncertain, unabashed terms in an article from 2012 for Lost Remote:

The MLB Fan Cave grew out of our desire to address three specific areas in which we saw opportunity for growth [for more money]: engaging with fans via social media [for their money]; reaching younger fans [and their milk money] while converting casual baseball fans [into money]; and raising the profile of our players [as products to make money] by showcasing their off-field personalities [all to attract … YOUR MONEY].

Frankly, I have had enough. In the seminal film satire Network (1976), Peter Finch as Howard Beale tries to galvanize a nation of couch potatoes. Red-faced and impassioned, he urges a citizenry to shout at the night to all the blind stars bleakly set in the deaf and distant sky: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” So, too, let me galvanize you:

I / want / my man cave back!

I / want / our man cave back!

We / want / our man cave back!


M. G. Moscato’s work has appeared in CineAction, Spitball, Sports Collectors Digest, Aethlon, Stymie, Harpur Palate, among others. Read his blog Pulp Ephemera and follow him on Twitter @PulpEphemera.
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Jim S.
7 years ago

If people are taken in by all this marketing, it is their problem. I choose to ignore it.

bucdaddy
7 years ago

My own complaint:

“poo-pooing”

It’s “pooh-pooh,” as in Winnie.

“Poo-pooing” is what babies do. A lot.

Greg Simonsmember
7 years ago

Thanks for the catch, bucdaddy. That’s my fault. It’s been corrected.

Steven
7 years ago
Reply to  Greg Simons

When you say corrected, do you mean cleaned up or the article was edited to reflect the spelling change?

Also, intriguing article.

bucdaddy
7 years ago
Reply to  Greg Simons

All good, Greg.

Pirates Hurdles
7 years ago

Is this meant to be serious? Its almost too hard to tell with the inordinate, almost undecipherable prose. There are many of us that think the whole idea of a “Man Cave” is idiotic. Who cares how MLB is attempting to reach tech savvy youths?

Bill
7 years ago

Sorry, M.G. but I have to agree with Pirate, as well. Your prose is unnecessarily dense with out having Cistulli’s fun self effacing tone. Your tone is pretentious and unapproachable. Furthermore, you’ve so thoroughly obfuscated your point with your absurd grandiloquence that I have no idea what it is.

Tess
7 years ago

This article uses words like “quintessential” “quasi-indenture”and “bemoaning” to talk about a “man cave”and how MLB is robbing you of your rights, ha. What did we learn? MLB is a money making scheme? This is nothing new. You hate the fan cave because it looks cool and tries to engage people with baseball? Have you ever even been there? (like in person?). If you are going to hate on stuff like MLB and Apple, I suggest you write for sites like deadspin. And when I hear the word “apple” I think fruit first, then the computer/electronics brand (and I own an iPhone). The fan cave was an innovative concept and I do think it attracts younger people through social media, I wouldn’t call it a major breakthrough but does not bother me a single bit. If you have some time, I recommend you visit it, they treat baseball fans really nice in there.

Fred
7 years ago

What the hell is this pompous, overwritten, so-cute-it-can’t-stand-itself drek doing in my Hardball Times?