Predictions on the future of fan experiences from a former NFL quarterback, now VP of a SportsTech company

I just want to say it now to get it out of the way: We are living through unprecedented times.

Every sector and every industry has had to rethink traditional, and timeless, annual events. They’ve had to relaunch practices that have been in play for years and years. Sports, entertainment, hospitality, and more, have all overcome the new normal of social distancing in industries that survive and thrive on packed stadiums and sold-out concerts and events.

Let me back it up a little. Hi! I’m Quinton Porter. VP of North America for Pico – Get Personal and a former quarterback in the NFL and CFL. It’s safe to say that like all of you, I’m an avid sports fan. And as a former player, I feel lucky that I’m able to work in the SportsTech space and tie my experience of the fan-to-player dynamic to my work on the business side helping teams know what their fans want, what they engage with, what they look for on game day, and what they expect out of their fan experience.

What I’ve seen – both pre- and post-COVID-19 – is that sports fans are naturally engaged. They’re hungry for team content, news, and updates in ways that other industries just can’t compete with. So when you look into what makes a positive fan experience positive, it’s important to go beyond the classic antics often seen in sports media and sports in general and begin the process of learning who your fans really are. Especially in these times when fans aren’t able to physically attend games like they always have, it’s been interesting to see how teams are mimicking fan interactions and game-day experiences for those of us at home. 

Here are my predictions for the future of the fan experience in sports:

At Home Digital Activations

Digital activations are a great way of keeping fans engaged with digital content that’s shared across any and all digital channels and it’s something we’re seeing more and more in the industry, across all leagues. They bring value to teams, sponsors, and they help in fostering those personal experiences and connections often felt within fans. 

Let me paint more of the picture for you. At Pico, our digital activations are paired and created from the content that our clients are already sharing. We’re adding a layer to the trivia, voting polls, and shared memories to ensure the fun part stays while being able to natively capture data that benefits both fans and teams, without driving them to external web logins, app downloads, or different pages. We’ll never ask a fan to leave the channel they’re currently engaging on. While engagement is important – it’s not everything. 

The engagement seen on social media makes for great bragging rights, but it doesn’t really tell more of the story on who is behind the likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc. Through Pico’s digital activations, teams are able to learn more about their fans and collect valuable data points in a non-intrusive, organic way. And in these challenging times, when game attendance by fans is fairly uncertain, the industry as a whole needs to understand who their fans are, separate from the ones that buy tickets. Engaging and identifying digital fans opens new revenue streams by creating a strategy that allows organizations to serve more personalized and relevant content and offerings. 

Let’s take the below example from the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals that went live earlier this summer. They wanted to connect with their fans and offer a comforting distraction. In this case, it was raffling off free merchandise from their pro shop. The quiz, with just 4 questions, called on their fans to choose what type of merch they would prefer, which Bengals player they relate to the most, their favorite touchdown dances, and the best way to contact them should they win. Fun, unique, and engaging.

The value here is the team learning which type of merch that fan prefers and the best way to contact them – in this case, personal email. Now the Bengals have two additional data points on that fan which will help in making data-based decisions when pushing content, offers, push messages, emails and more.

At-home digital activations are something we’ll definitely be seeing more of in this space. 

Second Screen Marketing

There’s nothing abnormal about second screen usage within the sports industry. In fact, it’s estimated that in 2020, over 91% of internet users are expected to use a second screen while watching TV.

When it comes to sports fans and their second screen, however, they tend to still be focused and engaged with what they’re watching and use the second screen as a way to share predictions, check stats, live-tweet/converse with other fans, post memes and more. There’s a creative and interesting opportunity to utilize second-screen usage as part of a digital fan-marketing strategy. 

If sports teams and broadcasters embrace second screen usage they can find a way to retain the fans’ attention and keep them engaged with their content in a way that’s very complimentary and can be part of both viewing experiences in an organic way.

Today especially, fans are tuning into broadcast programming even more than they have before. With more eyes on screens and less (or no) fans in stadiums, implementing a second screen strategy presents an opportunity to not only engage fans but to also capture data on live viewers. Who is viewing what, and when? What content are they engaged with outside of the game? What app are they using? Where are they tuning in from? Are they engaging on social, checking for tweets or memes? Are they subscribed to a newsletter?

Through embracing various second-screen strategies, sports organizations and broadcasters can start connecting the dots on who is watching or listening and who is engaging on social and can use that information to learn more about their fans’ viewing habits and preferences when watching a game.

It’s all about the views!

This time, I don’t mean social views. I mean actual views, in the Drake kind of way. The view of the game from home. Aka, advanced stadium technologies that allow for player-fan tracking, high-tech replays, new camera angles, and more. The NBA already started this journey back in 2018 and it’s crucial that other leagues begin to follow suit for a more optimal viewing experience in fanless games/stadiums.

One (of many) great parts about being a fan, is finally going to a game. Seeing all of the action on the court or field, listening to the stadium get louder from excitement – or quieter from tension. Hearing the sneakers squeaking, the balls bouncing, and whistles blown by the referees. That’s why it’s important that these sights and sounds that generate feelings from fans need to be reached now at home to keep building on and enhancing that part of the fan experience. 

More and more stadiums, leagues, and teams are implementing new camera and microphone technologies to enhance the viewing experience. It’s even more important for all of us at home watching the game.  

The future of the fan experience within the sports industry is that of an exciting one. With new technologies, practices, and more entering the space, it’s cool (to say the least) to watch and see how each league, team, and/or player adapts to them. How they use innovation for us, their fans, for the game, and for their own business objectives.

Expansion Series 9: Kansas City

The next region I want to dive into is somewhat tricky, and I think the best way to discuss the state of Missouri would be starting with the home of the current Super Bowl champions: Kansas City.

KC is an area that is dominated primarily by the SEC and college sports… Nevertheless, the spotlight of the NFL has never been higher in Kansas City than it is right now, and it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world to expect a dynasty to begin as long as Patrick Mahomes is in the driver’s seat.

The offensive and defensive weapons that veteran coach Andy Reid has been given were speculated to be on the brink of a long-standing dominance, and now that they have proven battle-tested in the biggest game of the season and came away as champions, I would imagine that a lot of other NFL franchises are going back to the drawing board to try and combat the Chiefs.

Shifting focus to baseball, the Kansas City Royals tell a much different story. The Royals were World Series champions in 2015, but not much else has been positive since then, especially since the loss of their all-star infielder Mike Moustakas.

Where the Kansas City story gets tricky is when it comes to basketball. The closest team of interest with professional basketball would be the Oklahoma City Thunder, but this would be considered a locational stretch by any means. If a basketball team was extended to KC, it would be reasonable that there could be a considerable fan following. There is no record of a basketball team that called KC home, but that may be due in part to the Thunder.

The same story could apply even more so for a professional hockey team. The brief NHL history of Kansas City lies with the Kansas City Scouts, a former professional hockey team that only saw two years before relocating. The city also had the Blades (1990-2001) of the IHL and the Outlaws (2004-2005) of the UHL before the Kansas City Mavericks of the ECHL were founded in 2009.

For more in this series, read why Las VegasBuffaloIndianapolisHouston, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland and San Fransisco are also in need of expansion teams.

The Analysis of Sports Amidst COVID-19

After a long and argumentative time span in May and June, the NBA and MLB have concluded that the season will resume in the month of July.

For the majority of sports fans, it is a pleasure and a sign of hope that sports will finally be on television again. For the opposite side of the scale, there is reasonable doubt, as well as reasonable concern, for the continuation of sports.

In a world that seems to change relentlessly on a daily basis, the sports scene is certainly no exception and the above-average sports fan has certainly been starving for some sort of entertainment on television.

For a while, there was a considerable crowd that was highly invested in “The Last Dance” documentary, which then transitioned into a less than entertaining golf match between all-time rivals of Tom Brady vs. Payton Manning and Tiger Woods vs. Phil Michelson. Even though these two isolated programs attracted a considerable crowd, the background of the continuation of sports was still up in the air.

Fast forward to late June when Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred reached an agreement with the MLB Players Association to play a 60-game season in specified, semi-neutral locations to minimize travel. Similarly, the NBA reached an agreement to colonize the since-abandoned Walt Disney World to accommodate the players and their respective staff.

The NHL has released a schedule in which the remainder of the season – including the postseason – will be played without any solidified ramifications or logistics of how, when, or where the games will be played. Lastly, the NFL is still up in the air in regards to gameplay, although the presence of fans crowding into a stadium seems highly unlikely.

Essentially, I would like to analyze the intent and the possible outcomes of sports returning in the disastrous year that is 2020.

In a year where a pandemic was not plaguing the entire planet, the average sports fan would be just finishing the NHL and NBA postseasons and beginning to get a feel for their current MLB team before the all-star break to identify any changes that may need to be made to make a playoff run. Additionally, that same average sports fan is more than likely already thinking about football, imagining the outcome of the team they support after all the final trades and personnel changes have been made. Maybe they’d even be pooling the final contestants in the annual fantasy football league.

In 2020, baseball seemed nonexistent given that the peak of the epidemic and shelter-in-place orders began on what would have been opening day for several different programs, but furthermore, the climax of the NHL and NBA seasons was about to be in full swing.

Having said that, the question then becomes “If a franchise were to win a championship this season, what will be recorded in history?”

In my observation of the NBA, the season will resume. But there have been several players – even all-star players in fact – that have contracted the disease and are absolutely subject to miss a portion of this season. That will then affect a coaching strategy going forward; not to mention the health and wellbeing of the other players and staff.

Hypothetically, if the Lakers were to finish the remainder of what would be the 2019-2020 season as champions, this season would be the first dynamic of its kind and will be deserving of an “outlier” distinction. This same paradigm applies for the NHL and even more so for baseball given that the season will be played with less than half as many games as a normal season.

Is that deserving championship prestige? I believe history will decide.

Going further, sports have a tendency to bring everyone together. Not just by the overwhelming support for a team or an individual, but entertainment of any kind can cause the looming sensation of melancholy and cabin fever to subside while the game is on.

In that aspect, I cannot wait to be surrounded by sports and the culture alike again. I miss the premise of sitting down with my friends and loved ones and watching a sports game or match. Perhaps even more so, I miss those conversations I have with others about a terrible umpire, an astounding home run, a near-impossible three-pointer, or a rapid-paced power play that can seem to make any problem feel small.

However, sports in that respect are still just a game, but the athletes and the coaches involved in these games are real. In other words, these teams and individuals supporting these teams will be at risk, no matter what safety precautions are put in place.

COVID-19 did not by any means disappear, and will more than likely be amongst the populous of the United States for a lot longer than most are prepared for, especially me. I would rather remain in the comfort of my own home watching the same shows and highlight reels in perpetuity than sacrifice the health or safety of any athlete.

With more athletes testing positive for COVID-19, I am still under the impression that the beginning or resuming of sports this summer is still into question, and if gameplay were to resume, I will remain hopeful that everyone stays safe.

Expansion Series 8: San Francisco

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every die-hard sports fan has missed out on some key events that otherwise would have occurred.

The possibility of not having a football season (college or professional) has me pinching myself to make sure that I’m not living in a dream. In an uncertain time in the sports world, it’s perfectly normal to let the mind wander when thinking about hypotheticals that otherwise would never happen.

Sports is what brings us all together, and one thing that every sports fan has in common is that the player, team, or coach that they cheer for represents something unique to them. The majority of fans resonate with a team regionally, and mainly reside locally. That being said, I will dive into each region that is craving a major sports team.

Going even further in Northern California, San Francisco has an incredibly fortuitous history of sports.

Beginning with football, the 49ers saw themselves in a bit of a haze after the departure of Colin Kaepernick, and the backlash of how the NFL dealt with that complex situation that is still discussed years later.

On the brighter side, Jimmy Garappolo and George Kittle helped lead the 49ers to a shot at winning the Super Bowl last season. Given that this team is currently very young, very hungry, and very talented, other teams in the division are left with a looming fear that this team will be problematic for years to come.

Nevertheless, San Francisco’s passion is staying for good not only for football but for basketball and baseball as well.

The Golden State Warriors had a reigning empire in the NBA for several years with regular season and postseason records rivaling the impressive run held by the Bulls in the nineties. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson still have unfinished business in the West despite their season disrupting injuries last season.

On the topic of Curry, some regard him as an individual who changed the nature of the game in that even the big men who would normally find themselves underneath the hoop are trying to prosper behind the arc. Along with changing the game, he also revived the energy of the fandom behind the team and the tickets have been sold out since, regardless if he is present on the court or not.

Shifting towards baseball, the Giants began the 2010’s as a powerhouse and succeeded with three World Series championships in the first half of the decade and have maintained a reputation of having a roster of power hitters and a strong pitching staff.

Before I dive into the hockey scene that, in my opinion, is the only thing missing is from this city, is a reference to the San Francisco Demons, which was another team in the original XFL in 2001.

The only hockey history that the city by the bay has is shockingly brief. The San Francisco Spiders of the IHL operated for one season and one season only.

Is the interest in hockey simply non-existent? There is only one way to find out.

For more in this series, read why Las VegasBuffaloIndianapolisHouston, New Orleans, Baltimore and Oakland are also in need of expansion teams.

Expansion Series 7: Oakland

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every die-hard sports fan has missed out on some key events that otherwise would have occurred.

The possibility of not having a football season (college or professional) has me pinching myself to make sure that I’m not living in a dream. In an uncertain time in the sports world, it’s perfectly normal to let the mind wander when thinking about hypotheticals that otherwise would never happen.

Sports is what brings us all together, and one thing that every sports fan has in common is that the player, team, or coach that they cheer for represents something unique to them. The majority of fans resonate with a team regionally, and mainly reside locally. That being said, I will dive into each region that is craving a major sports team.

While Las Vegas has been a top prospect for new teams to expand to, the Oakland area is on the exact opposite end of the spectrum.

The Raiders found a new home in Las Vegas and the Golden State Warriors share the fandom from Oakland to San Francisco, which then turns into an entirely new discussion of who locals from the bay area decide to support.

The only team that currently calls Oakland home would be the Athletics who do indeed have a very long and interesting history. The A’s have been producing decent wins and have produced consistent wildcard berths in the last few years, but the crowd has been lacking for some time. The fans tend to filter back into the seats when the postseason begins, but the regular season has seen some declining ticket sales.

That narrative could be used to explain other sports interests combined with the Raiders leaving town. Raiders fans were incredibly passionate and now there could be some sort of a void on who to root for. Sports fans in Oakland more than likely would cheer for the team even though they are in Las Vegas, but perhaps there should not be a team expansion to the Oakland area.

In the case of hockey, the California Golden Seals had a brief tenure that ended in the mid-seventies, and that about does it. A very unlikely scenario would be that a football team could take the place of the Raiders, but passionate sports appreciation does not get replaced that easily.

For more in this series, read why Las VegasBuffaloIndianapolisHouston, New Orleans and Baltimore are also in need of expansion teams.

Why The Patriots’ Next QB is Primed for Success

From a Patriots fan’s perspective, the mutual decision to move on from Tom Brady felt like a bad breakup with your high school crush. The GOAT played his entire twenty-year career with the New England Patriots, where he was symbiotically paired with the greatest coach of all time.

The relationship visibly soured, as arguments between Brady and the coaching staff and teammates became a typical Sunday. Even with tensions running abnormally high in the Patriots locker room, it still seems inconceivable that Brady would set out to search for greener pastures elsewhere.

The climate brought upon the 2020 season by COVID-19 could perpetuate this notion that there truly was a disconnect between Brady and his young receivers last season. This also may ring a bit more true than the fanbase’s favorite narrative of “oh Tommy’s too old” or “Tommy can’t throw the longball anymore” as the reason why he was not re-signed.

The Patriots, as a team, could be better off with transitioning to Jarrett Stidham this season than they would in another year with the GOAT.

One doesn’t need to speculate on the benefits of having crowds attend games. Having home crowd noise is an undoubtedly big part of a game; so much that the Falcons were fined for pumping in artificial crowd noise during games in 2015.

The likelihood of playing the 2020 NFL season without fans is becoming more realistic by the day, but the lack of noise can help some players establish a rapport with their teammates. Young players in particular will be able to settle with a given team’s offensive schemes and packages quicker.

Establishing communication with a new offense in a sterile environment can only work in Jarrett Stidham’s favor. Having the sport in its purest form as a young player can open up avenues for communication, and can allow for a clean exchange after the snap.

While he isn’t Tom Brady, Stidham can be a sufficient pocket passer. Having a good defense can cover up some offensive blemishes, but having strong communication needs to be a tenant of an effective offensive plan. Some young blood at the QB position can open up the offense. Although Brady seemed to struggle with communication with his young receivers in 2019, a fresh start with a young QB can make a huge difference for the 2020 season.

Expansion Series 6: Baltimore

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every die-hard sports fan has missed out on some key events that otherwise would have occurred.

The possibility of not having a football season (college or professional) has me pinching myself to make sure that I’m not living in a dream. In an uncertain time in the sports world, it’s perfectly normal to let the mind wander when thinking about hypotheticals that otherwise would never happen.

Sports is what brings us all together, and one thing that every sports fan has in common is that the player, team, or coach that they cheer for represents something unique to them. The majority of fans resonate with a team regionally, and mainly reside locally. That being said, I will dive into each region that is craving a major sports team.

Baltimore is another city that has some potential for growth, but the majority of baseball and hockey fans cheer for the teams nearby in Washington D.C.

I say the more the merrier, and teams in close proximity have been known to forge great rivalries, i.e. New York against Boston. Given that Lamar Jackson was the youngest player to ever win the league MVP as well as being one of the most versatile quarterbacks the league has ever seen, let alone the entire league, this stroke of good fortune has certainly taken the eyeballs off of the misfortunate orioles.

The Baltimore Orioles have been significantly low performers in the last few years, trading away what little they had for prospects and seeing a steep decline in ticket sales. Regarding my earlier statement, the Baltimore area has not seen a local hockey team since the Baltimore Skipjacks, Baltimore Clippers and the Baltimore Bandits, which were members of a variety of different minor league associations until both were dissolved.

The story in regards to a history of Baltimore professional or even semi-professional basketball is even less prolific, but the Maryland Terrapins Division I basketball team has been a consistent powerhouse in the Big 10 conference.

In these strange times with an even foggier path going forward, Baltimore could benefit from another team to support. For more in this series, read why Las Vegas, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Houston and New Orleans also in need of expansion teams.

Expansion Series 5: New Orleans

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every die-hard sports fan has missed out on some key events that otherwise would have occurred.

The possibility of not having a football season (college or professional) has me pinching myself to make sure that I’m not living in a dream. In an uncertain time in the sports world, it’s perfectly normal to let the mind wander when thinking about hypotheticals that otherwise would never happen.

Sports is what brings us all together, and one thing that every sports fan has in common is that the player, team, or coach that they cheer for represents something unique to them. The majority of fans resonate with a team regionally, and mainly reside locally. That being said, I will dive into each region that is craving a major sports team.

Shifting gears back to the south, there is one thing that each state in the southernmost region of the country is common: a divine love of sports and a consistent breed of talent.

SEC sports are treated as a religion in certain areas, and the state of Louisiana is no stranger. New Orleans has been on the brink of some serious breakthroughs in the world of football and basketball, but have been put through agony in the case of injuries and perhaps more serious, less-than-reputable officiating.

The Pelicans were so excited to be given the number one draft to take the promising and thunderous Zion Williamson from Duke, but injury issues relating to his monolithic size resulted in an early injury that he quickly rose above once he laced up and took the court consistently. Then when he started to heat up, the season was abruptly cut short.

Additionally, in 2018, the Saints were on the fast lane to the super bowl to face the ever-so-exciting Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs or the veteran and stress-tested defense of Bill Belichek and the New England Patriots. The only thing standing in the way of the biggest game of the season: The Los Angeles Rams. This postseason was some of the most exciting games in recent football history, with an unforeseen level of talent that presented endless possibilities. At the final hour, a questionable call, or shall I say lack thereof, caused a disappointing end to the game resulting in a loss. Each and every year, the Saints are an incredibly talented team that can never seem to reach the finish line.

In any case, the southern states are emphatic about sports, so there is more than enough room for a baseball team to expand. Unfortunately, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins – and a contender for the best name in the league, the New Orleans Baby Cakes – closed its doors this year and relocated to Wichita. Even though the closest thing to professional baseball has left, there is still potential for a professional team to take its place. The hockey scene swiftly began and ended in 2002 when the New Orleans Brass emerged into the ECHL, so I doubt there would be any desire for a hockey team to return.

For more in this series, read why Las Vegas, Buffalo, Indianapolis and Houston are also in need of expansion teams.

What Happens When a City Supports You

Growing up outside of Boston, I’ve seen more than my fair share of sports stories slide across the kitchen table. One could say I was born in the golden age of Boston sports, where winning was treated almost as an expectation, and in the winter when the Pats, Celtics, and Bruins were all playing, if one team was losing, all I had to do was change the channel and one of the other two teams were more than likely winning.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of the best players in sports history wear a Boston uniform, and some of them have built their legacy here and gone onward, some have established an all-star status and celebrated their success with the city, and for an especially unlucky bunch, some were sent packing with no desired return.

In core sports environments, the location and the overall energy of the crowd can mean a lot which will be very interesting to observe just how much it matters. With the average sports fan starving for some sort of entertainment, the leaders of sports associations have been toying with the idea of resuming gameplay without the presence of fans. The reemergence of sports on television would provide those who have been starving for sports entertainment something to chew on, but the majority of fans would agree that enjoying a game at a ballpark, a stadium or a rink is much better than enjoying it from the living room. Before I go on and on about my memories from the various sporting events I have attended, I would like to discuss a few examples of players and how their careers were fashioned by the crowds that supported them.

The Boston Red Sox have housed all walks of life when it comes to talent, and the variance is even more skewed when it comes to the crowd’s reaction to this talent. For example, let’s take a look at Pablo Sandoval. To many Red Sox sports fans, that name brings little joy to those who know the back story.

Pablo Sandoval was brought into Boston with open arms given that his resume with the San Francisco Giants was very impressive. He was a two-time all-star, three-time World Series Champion and a world series MVP. However, once he put on the uniform, his gameplay had clearly deteriorated while reports of an eating disorder had started to reach the surface.

The Red Sox have indeed had a history of over-inflated contracts, some that they are still paying off and will be for some time, including Pablo Sandoval, but that resume surely warranted a good portion of that contract. This may be seen as an unfortunate error, but Sandoval’s tenure is Boston was short-lived before he was traded back to San Francisco. He belonged there, he was beloved by the people of San Francisco, and the crowd in Fenway couldn’t have been bothered to have him as an active member of the team.

Rafael Devers would go on to replace him on the team in some way given that he is a power-hitting third baseman, but Rafael is much younger and has a very bright future in this league, and his potential is absolutely recognized within the Red Sox organization. Sandoval will be sure to go down in history as a mere waste of time in the eyes of fans as well as being an even bigger waste of money for the organization.

On a brighter note, let’s shine a light on two individuals who had either some or no spotlight placed on them until they came to Boston and were universally loved by the public, and frankly would have been regardless of winning the 2018 World Series or not. At the beginning of the 2018 season, it was announced that J.D. Martinez would be coming over from Arizona to be an additional power hitter in the Red Sox lineup. The season went on and J.D.’s unconditional chemistry in the dugout was obvious as he quickly built a relationship with Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, and once Hanley Ramirez began producing below expectations in the batting order, J.D. quickly filled that void. Going forward, the Red Sox began acquiring serious buzz around leading analytics, and their statistics behind their wins and their talent began creating a narrative of Boston being the team to worry about.

I remember coming home from class and turning on a game to see the Red Sox, and if they were down by four in the top of the fifth, I wasn’t worried because I knew that they could still more than likely come away with the win. However, something was still missing. They picked up Steve Pearce from Toronto midway through the season as another weapon to add, and it was during the series with the Yankees that the Red Sox went from being treated as a team that was interesting to a team that was a problem. Pearce would go on to win the World Series MVP in Los Angeles, and I don’t think that the Red Sox ownership core even knew what kind of offensive weapon they acquired.

My point in expressing the stories of these two athletes is that in the teams that they had previously been a part of – Toronto and Arizona, respectively – they had decent numbers, certainly enough to gain attraction from Boston. When they came to Fenway, they were welcomed with open arms and universally celebrated. Is it the power of the fans and the energy Fenway Park can provide that gave these two the grounds to flourish? In my opinion, absolutely.

In the Celtics locker room, there are several similar stories that require a slight history lesson. In the 2016-2017 season, the Celtics were a very strong team. The playoffs were incredibly contentious, the chemistry was binding, the talent was young, hungry, and focused on getting the finals. Isaiah Thomas was a strong leader of this squad, Jaylen Brown was an up and coming rookie whose potential level was seriously doubted up until everyone was proven wrong. Al Horford was a top center in the league with an innate ability to shoot the three-ball effortlessly, and Brad Stevens had developed a gameday routine that had been proven to be very strong.

However, the headline of this team was Isaiah Thomas for sure. He had been doubted ever since being drafted last in the 2011 NBA Draft because of his height but then came to a place like Boston where the phrase “Heart over height,” came to have meaning once again. Every game, every shot, and every minute was played intensively, and he gave every ounce of try each and every night in the TD Garden.

A prime example of Thomas’ tenacity and mindset is when tragedy struck his family when his sister unfortunately was killed in a car accident. He turned on the jets during the playoff game that was happening later that night and won the game in spectacular fashion. The season came to an end, and the Boston Celtics made an incredible move to acquire all-star Gordon Hayward from Utah for a very sizeable contract. Soon after, posts were being made about ‘Boston’s New Big 3’ in Isaiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Thomas even released a video dancing in his apartment from the excitement of his new teammate but received some disappointing news shortly thereafter.

I remember listening to the radio live while I was at work, and the topic of discussion was an interpretive phrase Thomas used in an interview about his upcoming contract in which he stated something along the lines of wanting to “back up the Brinks truck,” or in other words, he’s looking to get paid. Did he put the last nail in the coffin with that statement? No, but it certainly didn’t help his case. A few days later, it was announced that Kyrie Irving was incredibly unhappy playing with LeBron James in Cleveland, and there was an unsurmountable amount of speculation as to why.

Some said that the relationship between Irving and James had gone sour, others implied that he had been a key cog in the Cavalier machine and wanted to be the star of the show rather than LeBron’s sidekick. Kyrie asked for a trade, and Danny Ainge, the current owner of the Celtics, saw that opportunity and jumped on it. Isaiah was traded to Cleveland in addition to having a season compromising hip injury in exchange for Kyrie. The aftermath for both of these all-star point guards in their own right could not be any more different, as well as being a very strange footnote in Celtics history.

Isaiah would go on to be traded to three other teams after Cleveland without receiving significant playing time in the slightest. He would move from Cleveland to the Los Angeles Lakers, then to Denver, and then to Washington to pick up the slack from John Wall’s season-ending injury. In conclusion of the Isaiah Thomas saga, he went from producing all-star numbers to being traded four times without being a starter. Is this because of the fallout from being traded out of Boston, or perhaps a looming injury with lasting effects? Perhaps both, or maybe something else.

The fact remains that Thomas still talks about his time in Boston and would more than likely return in no time to be reunited with his former teammates. In the case of Kyrie, he was the talk of the entire NBA for months and released a variety of Nike ads claiming that he would retire in Boston if given the chance, and was even the cover of the NBA 2K’s upcoming game cover in his brand new Celtics jersey. He got along with the team very well, and Celtics fans were in the mindset that Kyrie was here to stay, considering he came out publicly stating so. As time went on, some minor injuries plagued his performance, but something began to be seemingly fishy in the locker room.

As luck would have it, Irving was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, which was correctly speculated by leading analysts across the NBA, and Kevin Durant would be soon to follow. Irving would go on to campaign in press conferences as advocates for the young Celtics core that in my opinion, was abandoned by Irving, not because of “Leadership” in his own words, but personal goals that he felt would have been accomplished with the creation of a super-team caliber squad with the help of Kevin Durant. Durant and Irving were clearly in contact about playing on the same team, and the remaining Celtics core responded with a tenacious start to the season, as well as being rewarded with the added offensive weapon in Kemba Walker, the all-star point guard from the Hornets.

Lastly, the New England Patriots certainly have a passionate bunch of fans who let their opinion known about the players they choose to support, but frankly, I cannot think of any players that have been overtly disapproved of rather than an obvious and swift exit from the team. The combined list of Eric Decker, Tim Tebow, Chad Ochocino and Antonio Brown, just to name a few, are all phenomenally talented wide receivers that held a position on the Patriots for an almost comical amount of time.

These eyebrow-raising names joining the team would be a point of discussion for a week or a month or so, but no expectations were placed on these athletes because they simply don’t fit the narrative that is Bill Belichek. If a player comes to New England, there are expected to work towards a team goal and not a personal goal, and if a player has personal goals, they are well known far before the wear the jersey. The same goes for when a player is cut from the team. Although the reason never may be stated outright from Belichek or the organization as a whole, no one is ever surprised when a player gets cut or traded.