May 30, 2014

Let's build a Fan Hall of Fame in Bristol

For years, the city has searched for something – anything, really – that ESPN could do for the community aside from growing and growing and growing.
Now nobody’s complaining about all that growth. It’s helped keep the city coffers full and done all sorts of wonderful things to bring fame and glory to this little New England gem.

But officials have long hoped the sports colossus would offer some spillover that would attract tourists to town – from a little exhibit of sports stuff downtown, which is plausible, to an ESPN Zone, which never was.
It turns out, though, that ESPN itself has created the opportunity the city has longed for: A Fan Hall of Fame.
Today's Bristol Press front page.
Don’t snicker.
There’s real promise in this.
Listen to what Aaron Taylor, ESPN’s top marketing guy had to say during the second induction ceremony of particularly outrageous fans at the company’s Bristol campus.
After correctly pointing out that ESPN is “the world’s biggest sports fan,” he said that it figured out there was “a glaring deficiency in the sports landscape” that included halls of fame for every from baseball to boxing. Almost every sport has a hall of fame somewhere attracting people to come gawk at the memories enshrined within.
But there was no hall of fame for fans themselves.
As “The Georgia Joker,” Pierce Wallace, said in his acceptance speech, fans are “kind of half the game” and without them, there’s not much to sports. ESPN, of course, caters very much to those fans. They are its lifeblood.
Taylor said the hall of fame ESPN created in 2012 – which has inducted two small groups of fans so far – is an initiative the company will sustain over time.
Public approval for it, including hundreds of thousands of online votes, “has reinforced our belief in its long-term potential.”
“We want this to be an institution,” said Ben Shields, the ESPN marketing guy who led the team that created and pushed for the new hall of fame.
“It’s something we intend to do every single year,” Shields said.
That sounds pretty promising, doesn’t it?
But what is the hall of fame itself? Just a few vintage stadium chairs bolted down beside a sidewalk on the ESPN green in the middle of its increasingly college-like campus. Tiny signs indicate the names of those inducted in 2012 and 2014.
Forgive me, ESPN, but that ain’t a hall of fame.
Nobody can even see it unless they’re lucky enough to find some excuse to get escorted onto the campus, something that even most people in Bristol have never had the chance to do.
A hall of fame doesn’t have to be as awe-inspiring as Cooperstown or Canton. It doesn’t have to include a giant basketball like the storied museum in Springfield.
But it has to include a building, a place where people can come and see who’s been inducted and why.
And a real Fan Hall of Fame offers so much to both Bristol and ESPN that it’s seems like a can’t-miss opportunity.
Imagine people driving past ESPN on Route 229, gawking at its satellite dishes and wishing they could catch a glimpse of Stuart Scott or Hannah Storm, and then continuing on to a new Fan Hall of Fame.
Inside they could see videos of the inductees in all their glory as well as walls of pictures of other fans, maybe divided up by teams or sports or colors, whatever.
Have a computer where people could look up a previously filed fan profile of himself and then call up their pictures on a giant monitor lined with ESPN logos or something so they can picture themselves in the hall of fame.
Have some monitors showing highlights of fans over the years, from the idiotic to the tragic moments, and some showcases with their pig noses or green hair or bald heads or whatever. The country’s chock full of the appropriate flotsam. And ESPN itself has plenty.
Carol Wallace, the mother of the Georgia Joker, told Taylor ESPN ought to consider putting up a real hall of fame.
And you know what? She’s right.
Right here on the border of Red Sox Nation, where the New York Giants and the New England Patriots fans begin to meld together, at the very place where every game in every land seems to pour in to ESPN’s vast headquarters to be sliced, diced, analyzed and highlighted.
This is the place where fans should be honored.
Let’s build this Fan Hall of Fame. It would spur tourism and bring more glory to Bristol’s biggest employer and taxpayer.
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

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