As I’ve delved deeper and deeper into the unique world of Japanese anime, more than a few things have caught my eye for good reason. Let’s just say I should’ve a synopsis of Rosario Vampire before I watched the first episode on Netflix. What I’m talking about here is fanservice.
Fanservice has become more and more prevalent in the everyday Japanese anime culture, especially thanks to the otakus out there. For those who don’t know, fanservice is defined as anything inserted into an anime for the sole purpose of giving the fans exactly what they want. While this term is often seen as vague, it is used mostly to describe the “naughty” content that pops up every once in five seconds that make you immediately regret watching the show with your parents.
Fanservice doesn’t just show up in anime though. In America, there is more than enough of it in the world of sports if you know what to look for. So without further ado, here are the top 5 examples of fanservice in sports.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way right away. Cheerleaders are the literal definition of fanservice much like redskin is literally a defamatory comment toward Native Americans.
Cheerleaders are of course a tricky subject to talk about since it is so engrained in the American sports culture and many people have parts of their lives invested into it but here at Spor Repor I’m going to call a spade a spade. Need any proof? Just turn on almost any NFL football game in the fall to see what I’m talking about.
Tell me one legitimate reason why they patrol the sidelines and if you say “to direct the fan’s cheering” than I have a couple thousand drunken English soccer fans to show you that do the same thing as cheerleaders every Saturday during the soccer calendar and do it much better. Seriously, no NFL crowd compares to the typical European soccer crowd in terms of cheers.
Cheerleaders of course aren’t the same depending on what level they’re at. High school cheerleaders can’t compare to NFL cheerleaders. At the high school and for the most part the college level, those girls have turned cheerleading into an actual sport and take it quite seriously. This is the literal example of a rose growing out of pavement. Kudos to them for turning what used to be a way for high school boys to narrow down their options for Prom Queen into something that takes more hard work and effort than manly sports like baseball.
2) Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is a prime example of a legitimate news source doing one non-legitimate thing once a year in order to fill their coffers. You can’t win every day of the year I guess.
If you consider the Swimsuit Issue as anything more than a once-a-year attempt to pander to and trick the same crowd who have a yearly subscription to Playboy or Penthouse into buying a sports magazine than you are mistaken. However, if you consider the Swimsuit Issue a “sports magazine” than you’re also sorely mistaken. It’s nothing but hot women in bikinis people. It’s 2016. That’s what the Internet is for.
At least ESPN’s Body Issue attempts to highlight the athletic phasic and gives male and female fanservice. Just through a hunky guy on the cover next year in a speedo and let’s see if the Swimsuit Issue’s legitimacy as a sports magazine on par with the rest of Sports Illustrated’s catalog holds up.
3) Instant Replay/Best Plays
In no other source of television content is the idea of an “instant replay” or a “best plays list” put into play quite like sports. Why are these fanservice? Do you need to see someone dive for a baseball or have their body rocked by an open field tackle a half a dozen times over and over again? No, no you don’t. So why do you then?
That’s the definition of fanservice. There’s absolutely no purpose for you to see the same play over and over again when the game has already moved along past that point. Yet, live TV broadcasts and shows like SportsCenter are more than happy to oblige because that’s what the fans want. There are more than enough rabid Game of Thrones fans out there but you don’t see HBO pausing the show every time a major character dies in order to show you the same exact death scene a half a dozen times before they move on with the rest of the show.
You don’t think there is a bad side to instant replays? Have you seen the Joe Theismann injury? Did we really need to see a reverse angle of that? Probably not unless you’re a masochist and like to live vicariously through others.
Best plays and lists such as SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays are no better. Sure a last second touchdown catch to win the game has its value and is worthy to be consider a best play but a double play in the 5th inning of a blowout has no other purpose than to be fanservice.
4) Sports Cards
Much like cheerleaders, the sports card industry is engrained in sports Americana but it’s a bit harder to see as fanservice on the surface. Let me just show you an example of why it is.
Over a decade ago, a company called Bench Warmer International began to sell trading cards that were very similar to the types of cards we’ve come to expect in the modern day. You have basic player cards that have different color variants with corresponding serial numbers. There are autograph cards that have different color ink depending on the card’s rarity. You can also score a relic card that has a small piece of fabric from a uniform that player wore in a game. All of that seems pretty normal, right?
Well, unlike Topps and Upper Deck and Panini who focus on MLB, NFL, or NBA cards, Bench Warmer International has cornered the market on female model cards. That’s right. There’s more than enough negative comments too directed toward Bench Warmer for selling what opponents describe as a tasteless product.
Why doesn’t Topps and Upper Deck receive the same amount of criticism as Bench Warmer? Other than the fact that they don’t have cards where you can get a piece of a player’s lingerie, it’s because it’s seen as harmless and apart of America’s sports history. That doesn’t discount it from the fact that it’s blatant fanservice. Why else have sports card companies geared buyers toward autograph cards and relics cards instead of completing team sets which the sports card market thrived on up until the market crashed in the early 90s? They’re giving the fans what they want the same way Bench Warmer is.
5) Online Sports Blogs
Now that I’ve put four things under a microscope without their permission, let me redirect that lens back onto myself and the people I call professional colleagues online. I’m not saying that all online sports blogs pander to the lowest common denominator of their respective fan base in order to receive as many clicks as possible…but most do.
While you could argue that the sports departments at local newspapers and local TV station do pander to the home crowd every once in awhile, the modern-day online sports blog has cranked up the dial to 10 in order to pump out as many views as possible.
Sites like Bleacher Report and SBNation with their hundreds of individual team blogs rely on the fans enjoying the sound of their own voice and create content accordingly. Heck, Sports Illustrated’s answer to these websites is named FanSided. Way to be subtle about it guys.
Sites like Rivals and 24/7 Sports have turned the obsessive college football fan into an easy cash stream by pumping out every little piece of information regarding as many recruits as they can find. A four-star recruit likes a team’s Facebook page? That deserves a 300-word article behind a monthly paywall. At this rate, I wouldn’t be shocked if more 40-year old men are more interested in the everyday life of a high-value recruit his senior year than his high school girlfriend.
Sites like Spor Repor, along with similar sites such as Onion Sports and Sports Pickle, even fall victim to these tropes. How else am I going to attract more otakus to Spor Repor unless I write articles using otaku lingo such as fanservice? At least comedians or people who attempt to be comedians are a bit more realistic and honest about their situation.
What does all of this mean? Nothing really. Sports fans are quite alright with the fanservice and most of what I’ve described is so engrained in Americana that it’s tough for many to see it for what it is. That doesn’t mean fanservice is a bad thing. As long as it doesn’t severely detract from the games then give the people what they want.