Sports Questions I Can’t Answer

World Series

I can hear your shock – how could a guy who has spent a couple of decades working in sports not be able to answer a few simple questions? Well, my friends, these are the questions for which I’m not sure there are answers. No, not about the Cubs winning the World Series or are the changes to The Road Hole sacrilegious. These are broader and harder.They all revolve around what Sports (capital “S”) has become.  In my opinion, too big, too disconnected, and having the wrong priorities.  I hasten to add that’s a pretty damn big brush with which to be painting, but it’s an industry I love and I kind of think of it as a sick friend.  Let me also add I do NOT blame the leagues, owners, TV, players, or fans.  It is the way it is.  But I think it’s broken in some way and, without pointing fingers, I want to ask some questions.

Let me start with just a couple today but rest assured that I have more.

  • Why can’t many leagues cut back their seasons?  I know the answer but yet I don’t.  Obviously, to generate the revenue to pay the players the games need to be played, the races need to be run.  But think of the cost – fans can’t afford the season tickets, no one can pay attention throughout a 6 month season, and we play the World Series in November.  The quality of play for summer sports played in winter and attention levels to winter sports played in summer suffers.  Sponsors can’t support promotions for that long.  Fewer games = fewer seats.  Less supply with same demand means better sellout.  If you’re an owner or a fan, wouldn’t you rather have the building sold out 30 or 35 nights than two-thirds full for 41?  Only the NFL has it right – a scarcity of games, each one a big deal. I don’t know how to solve this.
  • As a kid, I watched the World Series when I got home from school.  Now, I’d be sent to bed by the 5th inning.  I get it.  Prime time HUT’s are higher so ratings are higher.  But don’t say you want to attract kids to the game and start playing at night.  I know that TV wants higher ratings to charge more to pay off the rights fees they’re paying.  No answer.
  • Why aren’t the fans the main focus of every owner, GM, and club president? There’s a lot of lip-service paid to this but other than a couple of instances that come to mind (see Ted Leonsis), most decisions with respect to ticket prices, media deals, concessions, etc. seem to be made based on the bottom line (see player and race team costs, above). Ultimately, the fans pay for everything. It’s their (our?) viewing that let media pay your rights fees (OK, long discussion about cable to follow here). We buy the tickets and food and parking. We even pay for your stadia.  Again, I know the financial pressure most owners and clubs are under.  Anyone ask why?  Pressure to win.  To do that, you need to get great players who are expensive.  To do that you need to generate revenue.  10% of the fans paying is better than 100% of the fans getting something for free but being more passionate, involved and supportive.  That’s wrong but I don’t know what to do about it.
  • On that note, when will cities stop funding private enterprises while neglecting public things such as schools, libraries, mass transit, etc. I know why cities do this – creates jobs, good for the city, generates big bucks over time. So how come Glendale, Houston, Indianapolis and others are in deep trouble over this issue? I have a daughter who teaches in the NYC public schools and who ran out of paper in her classroom in September. For the year.  Maybe two new ball parks wasn’t the best use of funds?  I know – you need sky-boxes and suites to…wait for it..generate more revenue.  But as you can see from what’s above, I’m not really understanding why that revenue pressure is the way it is.

That’s enough for today.  What unanswerable sports things are on your mind?  You have any ideas on the above?

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