Team loyalty should have rewards

Things are good for me as a baseball fan. The Texas Rangers are leading the American League West, and until Monday night Josh Hamilton had more homers than the San Diego Padres.

My Rangers have not always been good. I accept this as the ebb and flow of sports, and enjoy my team during both periods.

During a Lubbock trip over the weekend, however, I felt like I was the only one who accepted those rules. I couldn't walk anywhere without seeing a Texas Rangers item being worn by somebody. It's a nice feeling to be around other people who follow the Rangers, and it's nice that the team's winning ways make their gear more available.

I just don't like the bandwagon aspect. I just want to ask, "Where were you guys when the Rangers finished 43 games out of first place?"

I confessed this to a friend, who's a Mets fan. He's a lifelong fan, and it's fair to say it's low tide for the Mets right now. However, we'll paint him as unsympathetic.

"What do you want, a medal?"

I thought about the question for a minute, and realized I didn't so much care what other fans thought but felt compensation would be nice.

And then it struck me: Why not a loyalty program? The most virtuous part of sports is loyalty, after all. Cleveland still hates LeBron James for the way he left. Hamilton had to pull a 180 after he said he didn't owe the Rangers anything when he became a free agent. Why not apply that same quality to the fans who are around long after an average player's career is done.

I would love to see a sports team install a loyalty program. Here are some starter ideas:

Issue a loyalty card, and give it a team-themed name if you want. The member numbers are XXXX-XXXX, where the first four digits are the earliest year you can prove fanhood, and the next five numbers are the order in which you applied. The first 10,000 fans in get the card for their year (i.e. you don't sign up in time for a 2001 number, you get signed up for the earliest 2002 number). Charge a nominal fee if you want to ($1?) to pay for the rewards. For every year since your first year of fandom, you get an annual $1 off an item of your choosing. You've been a fan since 1990? That $25 hat will be $3. I recently got $500 in clothing from a men's store, through the combination of sales and rewards certificates; why not admit sports is a business with an emphasis on customer loyalty and do the same? Every season, there's a raffle conducted for each year of the program, with bigger rewards. Let's say 2009 wins a free T-shirt, and 1960 wins a pass for five people to the owner's box.

I may be on the top and lecturing now, but I'm giving this pitch for the current fans of the Kansas City Royals, and people who are still fans of the Atlanta Braves.

Membership has its rewards. So should loyalty.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Clovis Media Inc. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by email:

kwilson@cnjonline.com

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