Thursday, September 26, 2013

209. Being a fan is like a part-time job

With the addition of FOX Sports 1, there are, by my unofficial count, over 40 dedicated sports channels—not counting the sporting events covered by other network and cable channels.

Each sport seems to have their own channel-- there is the NFL, NBA, and MLB networks, as well as the golf channel and tennis channel.  Even college conferences have their own channels—such as The Big 10 Network.

In addition to television, there are sports talk stations, and sports talk shows on television. These radio shows not only provide sports opinion, information and coverage—it lets listeners participate and often join the meaningless debates.

Some events are now covered in their entirety. Whereas in the past, you might only see the final few contests, now you may be able to see every game.

For example, a few weeks ago or so, ESPN 2 was showing the Little League World Series. While many years ago, only the finals were televised—when the International Champion played against the American Champion. This year not only did they televise all 32 World Series games, but also 75 regional games. Though very good baseball, even with the infliction of major league showboating, the coverage seems excessive.

And it is not just Little League baseball. Many sports, and non-sports, like fishing and poker, get extensive coverage.

For the television rights to cover sporting event, networks often pay millions, even billions. Salaries have accelerated beyond comprehension. In 1982, Mike Schmidt made the most money in Major League Baseball at 1.5 million; in 2012, Alex Rodriguez made 30 million. The 2012 average salary in Major League Baseball was 3.2 million, about 1 million more than just 10 years ago.

College sports are out of control, as the NCAA spends most of its time tracker down cheaters—who, with all that is at stake, have an incentive to cheat. Stadiums are cathedrals, tailgate parties last days, and opposing fans are often mistreated.  Playoff systems are absurd, catering to whatever makes the most money.

Tickets to the biggest sports events easily top the $1,000 mark—even much more with ticket resellers. The collective worth of NFL franchises is estimated at more than $37 billion.

All in all, sports continue to grow as an economic force in our culture. The question is: When is the sport bubble going to burst?

Year after the year, fans foot the bill for their favorite sports. They attend games, pay $10 for a beer, buy jerseys and support those companies that sponsor events. All in pursuit of a championship—the chance to say “my” team is the best.

Being a fan is like a part-time job.

Granted, there are other reasons to watch games—enjoyment of the sport, passing of time, family functions and parties with friends. They are all worthwhile social activities.

But has it gone too far? Does Alex Rodriguez deserve to be paid over $185,000 per game? Is that the social value we have placed on sports—in comparison to other occupations?  Is that the value we have placed on winning or having a good time?

Sports has become so entrenched in our culture that fans of the Cleveland Indians have been criticized by local sports talk shows for their low attendance. At times, it almost sounds like we have some sort of moral obligation to support our local teams when they are playing well—regardless of cost.

The bubble will only burst when fans stop watching, or stop supporting, their teams. If fans stop attending games, ticket prices will fall. If fans watch fewer games, rating will fall and the advertisers will pay less to run their commercials—and networks will pay less for the rights to cover the game.  Eventually, salaries and owner profits will fall—inspiring a housing-bubble type economic correction.

However, for foreseeable future of the most popular sports, the bubble will continue to grow. Sport leagues are reaching out to other countries—making them global events. The Super Bowl was broadcast in over 230 countries last year—and, with a population of over 1 billion, China is an emerging market. The estimated annual revenue of the NFL in 2025 is $27 billion.

I have always enjoyed watching sports—but I’ve narrowed my interest to those teams and events that I really care about. I have no desire to watch little leaguers from California battle it out with youngsters from Arizona. Or college lacrosse or international soccer. The Browns, Buckeyes and some tennis is enough for me.

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