Not long ago, the New York Times published an article titled “Why Sports Fans Risk Life and Limb for a Rolled-Up T-shirt” about the way that getting something for free is enough inducement for American sports fans – who may have paid hundreds of dollars for seats, parking, and $12 beers – to risk injury for a cheap souvenir fired at them by an air cannon.
I have been in this position. I cheered crazily for the guy with the cannon to shoot the shirt-bullet at me. And it worked! I made a backhanded catch inches from my wife’s face without spilling my beer. This athletic feat, however, was not in Madison Square Garden in New York City; it was in DRFG Arena in Brno.
Sports are basically the same everywhere in the world. They are big business and a fantasy replacement for failed athletes who suffer terrible jobs in all parts of the world. Seats for professional games cost a lot of money. And countries burst with patriotic pride when their teams or athletes compete at the international level.
The Czech Republic has a lot of the same sports as America. Many Czech hockey players are stars in the NHL. Soccer / European football is similar. There are no million-dollar racehorses here, but still racing. And baseball, basketball, and American football are played, albeit at a level that is nowhere near that of the professional leagues in the United States.
As a sports fan, Brno is a fantastic place to live. Personally, I love baseball and American football. Both are played here. Draci Brno are a national powerhouse in baseball, and Technika and Cardion Hroši Brno are competitive. Brno Alligators, unfortunately, have not yet experienced a lot of success in American football but it is still great to watch the offense and defense square off on a gridiron, regardless the interceptions and missed tackles.
The level of competition doesn’t matter to me. I simply like to watch sports. When I am in the garden on a Saturday and I hear the whistle from the nearby FC Sparta Brno football field, it is like a Siren song that pulls me away from the weeds and to the game (and the beer). What could be better? There is no script and you never know what is going to happen next. It could be an amazing moment that you will never forget.
March is usually a good month for local sports. The hockey regular season closes early in the month with a flurry of games to set up the postseason matchups and football gears up for the nicer spring weather. This year is actually still up in the air in both sports at the professional level: it could be okay or it could be terrible.
Kometa, the hockey team that has won 11 Czech titles, is a pillar of the community, basically selling out every game at DRFG Arena. It is currently building a new arena and, to celebrate, it hosted outdoor games in January that attracted glowing reports even in Canadian newspapers. In the second of two games, a national attendance record of 21,500 was set.
Unfortunately, Kometa have hit hard times recently, losing 10 of 12 games in January and February. The bad news: they may be playing for their Extraliga lives in the relegation tournament. The good news: tickets may be available.
Zbrojovka has played football in Brno for 103 years. With a new striker, they have, for the first time in several seasons, positioned themselves a few wins away from guaranteed survival for another year in the top league. It is no mean feat after several seasons of battling relegation.
Ah, relegation. That is where Czech sports differ significantly from America. Czech teams that finish at the bottom of a league move down; the top teams from the lower league move up. The concept would be impossible in the United States because of the money involved: relegation would cost millions of dollars because of the socialist way that television revenue is shared equally among all of the teams in leagues. In the Czech Republic, however, competition runs from the players through the ownership.
Kometa, for example, was in the second and even third league for almost two decades. Yet, they had a rabid fanbase that still packed the arena with an average of 5,000 fans a game. A few years ago, they finally returned to the country’s top league. Zbrojovka, too, dropped down into a lower league for a recent season, returning only because more deserving teams did not have adequate facilities for the top league. Nevertheless, the professional teams of the second biggest city in the country are back in their respective top leagues.
Beyond the standings, physically standing is another difference. American fans sit at games (probably because the seat cost so much). In Brno, however, standing is the way people prove their passion. The only time many people sit at Kometa or Zbrojovka games is actually a squat so that they can dramatically rise as part of the team anthem.
Speaking of songs . . . they don’t exist in most American sports. Maybe in college sports, but not in professional baseball or basketball. In fact, songs and chants had to be carefully introduced to the American audience as part of the emergence of Major League Soccer. Here, every team has its set of songs.
There are flares here and explosions – all of which somehow get regularly smuggled into games – and there are a lot of banners and signs. There is also back and forth risqué chanting. For example, when Sparta fans yell that Kometa fans are homosexuals – “Brno, Brno, buzerantů plno!” – the Kometa fans respond with acknowledgement and so what? – “Tak jsme teplý, no a co?” Who knew that hooligans were so open-minded?
The level of vulgarity is definitely different, too. Entire sections of fans can rain swear words down on players. I have learned a lot of choice words from old, dissatisfied sports fans.
Actually, dissatisfaction with one’s team is the same in both countries.
Unless, of course, you catch the shirt-bullet.