Shoppers on Black Friday
Robyn Beck  /  AFP via Getty Images file
Shoppers try to work their way through the crowd that mobbed a Wal-Mart in Duarte, Calif. shortly after the retail giant opened its doors at 5 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving last year. The traditional kick-off to the holiday shopping season has turned into a kind of a competitive sport for consumers.
By
msnbc.com
updated 11/24/2006 10:27:45 AM ET 2006-11-24T15:27:45
COMMENTARY

As the kickoff to the season approaches, they pick out their running lanes. Having researched the competitors and concocted their strategies, they go over their plan of attack one more time. Unflinching in their desire to be first, they are willing to be bloodied to get what they want.

Players during National Football League games on Thanksgiving Day? Far from it. Rather, they’re shoppers on Black Friday – the start of the holiday shopping season that's because and one of the biggest American sporting events of the year.

Shopping as sport? On Black Friday (not to be confused with Black Sunday, the 1970s novel/movie about terrorism at the Super Bowl), the parallels to sports are amazing — especially to football.

When the doors swing open Nov. 24 — some at the stroke of midnight — consumers spring into a 40-yard dash, some with a quickness that would make NFL scouts drool. They use complete strangers as blockers in their quest to grab one of the limited supply of discounted iPods, found in stores the size of football fields. The two-minute warning kicks in when they realize it’s time to switch from Target to Macy's. Armed with an SUV full of the winning load, they return home, exhausted and triumphant.

And even before the masses arrive at malls, they’ve conducted research with the intensity of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick dissecting the drop of Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning. They find out where the bargains are and what time they need to arrive to snatch victory from the jaws of other shoppers. Compared to Black Friday, shopping during the rest of the year is preseason; it doesn’t count, although the person who pays the credit-card bills in each household may disagree.

True, many Americans whine and gnash their teeth over Black Friday. They say it’s a disgusting nod to unabashed consumerism, a revolting frenzy that displays the shallowness of our culture.

And the popularity of this burgeoning annual event really is quite surprising. On Black Friday in 2005, about 2 million shoppers appeared with credit cards in tow — and that's just at Wal-Marts across the nation, within the first hour of their opening. Tens of millions more scurried through retail stores from Seattle to Sarasota. More than $20 billion is expected be spent this year on the day.

But rather than mock these shopping warriors — whose intensity shimmers on the frozen tundra of Best Buy parking lots — it’s time they were celebrated the way athletes are. In a land struggling with obesity, Black Friday gives many of the nation’s hefty the most exercise they’ll have all year, as they hustle carts crammed with boxed goods through the aisles. And who isn’t heartened by the tenacity of a harried mom as she dives to grab the last available $69.99 diamond bracelet — shades of New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter taking away a sure single — as time runs out and the store is closing?

Jenny Judge-Nagy, a psychologist who lives in upstate New York, believes that Black Friday has become a time-honored tradition thanks to the copious advertising and people's desire to buy into deals. And she points out that the way a sports atmosphere permeates the day is unmistakable.

"There is a competitive aspect to it, in that people are in a race, so to speak, to purchase items before others get them and before the time runs out," she noted. "I would also think that it takes stamina, and it results in some sort of rush of adrenaline when one is successful."

In fact, only one addition is needed to make Black Friday an official sport in this land — right before the doors open, Wal-Mart and other retailers should play the National Anthem.

David Sweet is sports-business writer based in Chicago.

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