The Atlantic City Blackjacks of the Arena Football League will play their first game in Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall on May 4. Many people in the region would like to have a local professional sports franchise and maybe this will be it. Whatever the team’s fate, its backers deserve credit for putting up the money and effort to try it.
Arena football offers a faster game with some potentially exciting changes from regular pro football. Punting is illegal — teams must go for it until they give up the ball. More points are awarded for field goals and extra points if they’re done with a drop-kick (an American sports relic unseen for many decades). And the receiving team may field any kickoff or missed field goal that rebounds off the net. These changes presumably help football work in a more confined indoor setting.
The team also will bring a new approach to the traditional performance of the national anthem before the game. The singing of the anthem by an individual or ensemble will be a perk for groups who have bought $1,500 worth of tickets to the league’s season of six games.
Previous local sports franchises had no ticket purchase requirement to sing the anthem. A kindergarten and music teacher whose class had performed the anthem for some of them was angered by the change and called the policy “bad” and “horrible.”
It’s not. Making the anthem performance — which includes hanging out on the sidelines during the game — a reward for groups that buy a significant number of tickets is just a different approach to business.
Pro sports is a business, part of the entertainment industry. At all levels it has to earn enough to pay its expenses and show at least a little profit. Most amateur athletics is also a business, just one that doesn’t pay its players in cash.
For that matter, even organized sports for children behave much like businesses in which the profits are the intangible benefits to kids and parents.
Sports leagues, franchises and other businesses take several approaches to selecting performers for the national anthem. The big leagues on television pay the expenses of celebrities, and the performance benefits their careers and the franchises and leagues.
Corporations and organizations often pay performers to sing the anthem at the opening ceremonies of their events and conventions to ensure an uplifting, patriotic tone.
Former Atlantic City teams such as the hockey Boardwalk Bullies and the basketball Seagulls couldn’t afford to pay anthem performers nor offer enough exposure to boost those with performing careers. Instead they offered some free tickets to locals who they figured might at least encourage more people to attend their games.
The approach of the A.C. Blackjacks, which has been successfully used by the league’s Philadelphia franchise for several years, ensures that performing groups or individuals give attendance a boost. It also makes the performance available to the public — any business or organization that wants to have a day at the football game can also get time on the sidelines and the thrill of performing the anthem.
It’s easy to imagine this becoming a fun outing for groups, who might sing as a group or have a pre-game contest to see who gets to sing. The president of the Arena Football League said the slots to sing in Philadelphia sell out quickly after the schedule is announced.
Let’s give it a try and see how it works out. Some may prefer how past teams did things, but keep in mind that what they did overall didn’t work and they disappeared.
And one more thing: We strongly encourage those who get the honor of singing before a Blackjacks game to choose “God Bless America” instead of “The Star Spangled Banner.” It’s much easier if you’re not a professionally trained singer with natural talent.