Thursday, September 30, 2010

Big Changes in the American Sporting Scene

We are beginning to see a massive shift in how Americans watch sporting events. From the time the first games were broadcast sixty years ago, it has been incredibly difficult for television to replicate the "at-the-game" experience. That has now changed and the American public's habits are fast-changing as a result. HD broadcasting, the amazing capabilities of instant replay and the sophistication of production teams have given the viewer of virtually any sporting event a more visually appealing experience in his living room or the local bar than he can get at a game. Obviously the communal experience isn't replicated, but in these economic times most are willing to forgo that and save the hundreds of dollars spent on tickets, parking and food. Sixty-inch HD tv sets, a recliner and a stocked fridge are more than capable substitutes.

As a result, more and more NFL teams are facing blackout restrictions as they struggle to sell out their home games--and the NFL is the healthy league. This week alone the Chargers are virtually certain to have their second blackout of the year and the Rams, Raiders and Jaguars are all facing similar issues. That's 25% of the league's home games potentially blacked out in local markets. In baseball the Tampa Bay Rays, in a tight battle to secure their second post-season berth ever, had to give away 20,000 tickets to one of their games this week as they tried to fill their stadium. The Yankees and the Mets sodomized their fans with outrageous ticket price increases when they moved into new stadiums two years ago, turning off many in what they mistakenly believed was an endless pool of paying customers. Larger television contracts, like the one the Texas Rangers signed, will stem the tide in franchise values for a few, larger-market teams, but that trend is also now firmly in place. Values are going to fall and cost-cutting will be the only measure by which value can be retained. 

Over the last five to ten years, the owners in all the major team sports have recognized a need for fiscal sanity and have aligned their interests accordingly. The renegade, free-spending owners that dotted the landscape the past thirty years have been reigned in and businessmen looking to maintain profits have taken control. The NHL looks like a pioneer in fiscal conservatism as the owners locked out the players a few years back in order to secure a hard salary cap. That league is on its best footing in years as a result, although it most-likely will be short-lived as price and attendance increases will be impossible to sustain. The NBA will certainly follow suit with a lockout after the 2010-11 season in an effort to secure its own hard cap, and even the NFL, the undisputed king of the sporting scene, has a lockout looming this coming March because of owners' concerns about the current cost structure.

Cable broadcasts have become a staple of our sporting society and while cable bills will continue to climb, the American sporting public will happily pay because they will no longer be shelling out hundreds of dollars to attend a single game or event. This will not be glacial change, it will be rapid and permanent. Americans will consume more and more sports on television and attendance, which has begun an inexorable move down will drop precipitously, eventually resulting in lower salaries and even contraction.

The sports world is going to undergo it's biggest changes since the advent of television set this all in motion sixty years ago. And ironically, we'll all be watching--on tv, in HD.

1 comment:

jacksonville said...

If you were commissioner of each league, what actions would you push for and which of these would you get through ownership/voting? It seems to me to be a no-brainer for baseball, a league definitely in a downturn that will last a long time, to reduce the number of games it plays. 162 games is mind-numbing for most people in today's society. 81 games a year in Tampa while they can't fill it up when they are trying to clinch? That's a game in Tampa (and Miami, etc.) more than one out of every five days of the year. While I recognize this is going backwards, and it hurts statistic comparing, they have to create a scarcer product. Basketball is next as a league that needs to reduce, followed by football needing to stay where it is. Hockey needs to go back to its roots of being a northern game - snow bird migration isn't enough to keep those leagues going south of the Mason-Dixon line.