On the Future of Sports Leagues

This post was originally a series of tweets on 5/28/2016. I’m repackaging and expanding on them for posterity.

While the NBA was working out its new broadcast contract, I realized that I would love to be a fly on the wall during negotiations. How do leagues balance network vs. cable? How do they value streaming and replay options?

One of my foundational sports experiences was watching the NBA on NBC every weekend. I got to see the league at one of its popularity peaks, over-the-air, and it turned me into a fan for life. Consequently, the NBA abandoning network tv seems like it will bite them in the ass. Maybe not now, maybe not soon. But in the coming decades, there could be a fan gap as youth grow up in families that have cut the cable cord and there’s no basketball on free TV.

A possible solution to decreasing TV viewers and increasing asynchronous and mobile viewers may be a deal with a major streaming service. The first league to partner with Netflix or Amazon Prime may have a huge advantage in the future. A league outside the big three (MLS? NHL?) could form a winning strategy by offering live streams plus archived games through video providers that many people already subscribe to. Plus, a $10/month streaming subscription that includes your sport and a ton of other content is a much more attractive offer to consumers than a ~$75/month cable package (plus extra?). Streaming services would benefit by stealing one of the last remaining cable providers’ horcruxes. It looks like a win-win.

Here’s another thing to think about: the interplay between stadiums and blackouts. Blackouts are where teams and providers refuse to show local team games in order to encourage in-person attendance. Sometimes these are outright, and other times they are based on meeting attendance goals. Blackouts are complete bullshit, because you usually want to watch your local team.

Publicly funded sports stadiums are likewise bullshit. Until cities and counties have budget surpluses (which will probably never happen), it is a moral necessity to oppose public money being spent on building billionaires personal playgrounds. We’ve seen the deal turn to shit for the public so many times. Owners leverage cities against one another to extract the most money, owners threaten to leave if they don’t get even more public money for improvements, owners leave anyway while cities still owe money on a now-vacant stadium. It is garbage, and we really need a federal law preventing it.

Where was I? Oh, yes, a possible solution to both the blackout and stadium problems- build smaller stadiums. Smaller stadiums have a ton of positive side effects, including reduced building and maintenance cost, reduced environmental impact, and reduced congestion. Plus, they would greatly enhance the in-person viewing experience. The best live sporting events aren’t held in 100,000 seat mega complexes, they are in rocking college gyms and cramped soccer stadiums. Having fewer seats would increase the crowd investment, the value of tickets, and virtually guarantees packed houses, which in turn eliminates the need to have local TV blackouts.


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