Change is the essential process of all existence.Leonard Nimoy (as Spock in Star Trek)
Statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797) is considered the “father of classic conservatism”. He opined that “a society without the means of some change is without the means of its preservation”.
While it appears incongruous to mention a political philosopher in a post about sports, the fact is that sports and politics are inextricably linked. The Burke quote and the Spock quote seem appropriate to set up this post since it is the essential process of change that is affecting sports and sports media today.
There are three reasons that sports in 2020 and beyond will prove vastly different in the years to come. I will not go so far to say that sports and sports media are dying a slow and methodical death, but it is certainly changing because society is changing, and the changes are happening right before our eyes.
Firstly, the coronavirus pandemic is not killing sports and sports media, but it is exacerbating the ills both were already facing before the pandemic.
The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, or ESPN, was already struggling with its unsustainable business model of charging the highest rates for subscriptions for its programming in order to provide content that is now easily found on the websites of the leagues themselves or on other internet media within seconds on your smartphone.
The YouTube channel Company Man (great content, by the way) posted a video that outlines why ESPN likely will not survive as it exists today going forward:
To summarize the video, ESPN is forced to raise its subscription rates in order to generate the revenue to cover the cost of providing live sports programming that cannot be found anywhere else. All in the midst of people increasingly “cutting the cord” on cable and satellite television in favor of the internet, which provides quick, quality content, oftentimes provided by the sports leagues themselves. The need for a 24/7/365 sports television network simply does not exist anymore.
Secondly, while ESPN and other traditional sports media are struggling to stay relevant, the sports leagues were largely idle during the pandemic, though they adjusted nicely with an innovative emphasis on expanding its television content to mitigate the loss of its live, in person, stadium and arena audience (and the lucrative revenue it provides). The disturbing thing the leagues are starting to realize is that people are starting to realize that sports aren’t really all that important to their lives.
This is not to suggest that the professional and collegiate sports leagues are going to fold up next year, it is well documented that ESPN is not the only sports entity experiencing a pronounced decline due to changing times and changing demographics. The National Association of Stock Car Racing, or NASCAR, is declining precipitously due to these aforementioned changes:
Lastly, people are beginning to catch on that sports is more “entertainment” than pure sports competition.
Take the Los Angeles Lakers winning a championship in a pandemic-shortened season after the tragic death of retired star player Kobe Bryant and his daughter earlier this year for instance…
While this is the kind of feel good story that you couldn’t put in a book or a movie and sell it as believable, it’s precisely because of this feel good factor that the NBA allowed (read: “engineered”) this outcome to happen, and it is not a coincidence, so much as it is an outcome that is great for ratings.
The history of each of the professional sports leagues are replete with such lucky coincidences that are good for the leagues’ collective bottom lines (ratings=money).
Sports and sports media may not be dying so much as they are evolving. However, to deny that they will remain the same moving forward is foolhardy.
-The Rational Ram