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May 24, 2006

Fenway Park, Fan Tourism, and The Experience Economy

Few entertainment organizations understand the experience economy and especially the use of tourism among the fan community as well as sports franchises.

In the latest Journal of Popular Culture, Michael Ian Borer writes about the power of the sports arena as a tourist attraction. His essay, entitled "Important Places and Their Public Faces: Understanding Fenway Park as a Public Symbol." The essay, which appeared in the latest JPC (39.2, April 2006, 205-224), focuses on The Boston Red Sox and their beloved Fenway Park. (Well, I'm a Bostonian now, so I guess I should say "our" beloved Fenway Park.)

Borer points out that, since 1912, the park has taken on a sacred meaning, not just for Red Sox fans, but for fans of Major League Baseball in general. The arena's meaning has changed through each season, and it has lasted as a symbol of baseball's history so that it is now one of the greatest tourist attractions of any arena in the country. Borer writes that, as one walks outside the park, "you get the feeling that you are treading on sacred ground, andthat by being there you are doing something important" (205). This is the essential feeling for an experience economy and illustrates the way in which Fenway Park has become a quasi-religious symbol for fans to make a trek to, either to watch a game or for an off-season tour of the park.

Fenway is not only valuable as a tourist attraction but also a symbol in the narrative of the Red Sox. As fans construct and constantly adapt this narrative, the meaning of Fenway may change as well. Borer writes that, when the Red Sox won the final series game in 2004 and became champions again after a winning droubt that had lasted almost 90 years, "in that very moment, the ballpark took on a new meaning or at least a meaning that had not been connected to Fenway Park since 1918: Home of the World Series Champions" (222).

For those of us interested in understanding the experience economy first espoused by Pine and Gilmore and the meaning behind fan-constructed narratives, Borer's essay is illuminating both as a detailed look at the image of Fenway Park and as a reminder of the power and unerstanding the sports world has had for years of fan tourism and the importance of physical spaces in the construction of fan narratives.

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