SportsProf

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Are Spectator Sports Doomed?

I read an interesting blurb in Sports Illustrated about the average age of TV viewers for all sports.  Not surprisingly, the "youngest" average viewer watches soccer -- and s/he is 39.  The oldest?  Baseball, at a whopping 62 years of age. 


Of course, data without context is dangerous.  Because of the large number of people in the front end of the Baby Boom, there stand to be more people pushing up the average because there are more front-end Boomers than say Millenials.  Second, many more of those who are front-end Boomers and older are bound to be retired and have more time on their hands to watch the old idiot box than those who are younger, who presumably are working, recovering from a hard day at work, or doing the pediatric thing and tending to kids' basics needs, taking them to lessons or games or helping them with homework.  Somehow I don't think the blurb offered that type of insight.  Instead, it just boldly and baldly recites the average age of viewers. 


Does it mean that younger people are not interesting in American football?  How could that be, as it seems to be the most popular sport in the country (despite the guilt that some feel for watching it because players can end up with long-term health issues, many of them too awful to witness or bear)?  They have to be watching it; the NFL enjoys good ratings even if the games can take forever, hitting isn't what it used to be and of the hours it takes to play a game there really isn't even 60 minutes of action, but a fraction thereof because of all the time that runs while the players are coming back from a play or getting ready for the next one.  To me, the number is skewed because there just are more people above the age of 55 right now, and that is the reason why the averages are so high.


Then again, are we seeing a population/demographic problem in the country or a separate problem for spectator sports.  If the experts in healthcare are to be believed -- and they are credible -- the budget for Medicare in say 2030 will be what the entire U.S. budget is now.  Translated, we have a lot of people born before 1964 and not enough born after to support the entitlement.  If that's the case, then the sports world's problem is not unique to it.


Or is it?  After all, if there are fewer people coming up behind the Boomers, then there is a smaller denominator of people who might be willing to buy tickets or watch on TV.  And that means that the average age of a fan is high, and that the population that might be available to support teams will be smaller for a while, even as the country's population grows.  But if it grows, is it because of birth rates or immigration or both?  As you can see, there are many variables that can affect these averages and this number.


The one thing that I did glean from the data is the popularity of soccer and the good future it seems to have in the United States.  It seems well-situated to benefit from the lowest average.  Then again, the sports with the highest averages have a good opportunity to draw in more young fans.  They just need to figure out what they are not watching as much as they used to.


So, spectator sports are not doomed.  It is just that the preferences of those spectators might be changing.  Remember, about 45 years ago boxing and horse racing were among the top 5 in popular sports.  The former got hurt by the boycott of the 1980 Olympics, the retirements of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (and then the attrition of welter- and middleweights such as Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and the likes, as well as some questionable decisions and characters (including the robbery of Roy Jones, Jr. in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul).  The latter got decimated by the legalization of lotteries and casinos; at one time, a horse race was the only place one could go to place a legal bet.  Not anymore.  Atop that, rumors ran rampant that there was funny business going on with the trotters and the pacers.


Times and preferences change.  No, baseball is not dead, but baseball and football have things to worry about, namely the slowness of the former and the injuries in the latter.  Somehow, they should evolve, but the powers that be should remember how baseball once was the national pastime and how popular boxing and horse racing were and adjust accordingly.

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