What better time than a pandemically induced, state-of-siege-like, self-quarantine to turn to my blogging brother in crime to remind me… that we were stir crazy long before it was fashionable. Before we proceed, sir, know that I will always be the Gene Wilder to your Richard Pryor.
I know the majority of you haven’t left your houses in a month so you have no excuse not to read these opinions, as well as have one on your own. That’s what the comments section is for. Feel free to indulge.
My overarching question is, once this is all said and done, how long will it take you to comfortably, without worry, leave your house to be a face in the crowd?
I spoke with a good buddy of mine lately, the Kosher Bazooka, just to check in on him. He lives in New York and I’d say ranks only slightly above the halfway mark on the germophobe scale. Although, let’s be honest, this virus has and will change where a lot of us rank and how a lot of us do things.
As Bazooka and I were catching up about life and all things quarantine, we shared that we both had tickets to sporting events that had since been canceled because of the pandemic. I had tickets to see Zion Williamson play the Orlando Magic and he had tickets to an upcoming Islanders game.
We talked briefly about franchises releasing blanket statements about how they would either a) reimburse fans for tickets already purchased or b) give them an option for attending the same event rescheduled at a later date.
Considering I work nights, attending a rescheduled game whenever that might fall, would be logistically impossible. Bazooka, however, sounded leery about going at all.
His response got me thinking.
How many people just like him are going to think twice about stepping into a crowded arena? How many people will refuse to sit elbow to elbow with a stranger without being armed with a pocket full of Handi-wipes? How many of us will refuse to wait on a crowded line for lukewarm beer and will we look at the cups our beers are served in differently? As a service industry professional, I can only assume most stadiums and arenas were already serving responsibly but all it takes is one ornery customer and one irresponsible vendor to kickstart a shitstorm.
If we see a sustained drop in attendance, what will that mean for franchises, ticket prices and salary caps? Will enough people stop attending games that ticket prices may drop… or will they rise as a result of teams trying to make up for lost revenue? I understand that actual turnstile dollars account for a small part of a franchise’s overall income but will we start to see fewer sell-out crowds? Will we be so stir crazy that we can’t wait to get out and moving forward, what percentage of the population will determine these events are no longer worth the risk?
Dubs, I’m not gonna ask how soon you think things get back to normal, considering neither you nor I are an expert on normal, but I will ask you this. Will professional sporting events receive an immediate boom or bust once this is over? Do you think we’ll see the germophobic few avoiding events and if so, what long-term impact might that have on professional sports?
In other words, are the days of the mosh pit over for good or are they coming like we’ve never seen them before?
Normally, this is where I would go all “Chump, you ignorant slut!” but I happen to know for a fact you’re not ignorant. Not to mention for as much as it might fuck up the entire concept of “Point-Counterpoint,” you may not be wrong. I’ve thought for a while the economics of professional sports was heading for a market correction before this pandemic; the difference between our opinions being COVID-19 will make a convenient, albeit inaccurate scapegoat.
To understand this, it’s important to note the role China plays in both this pandemic and the global expansion intentions of the major American sports leagues. The last time we did one of these “Point-Counterpoint” things, we got into an area about the financial condition of the NBA. Just imagine how screwed they would be if they were balls-deep in their China plan that blew up last fall? Think about investing billions in a business relationship which suddenly became radioactive from a public-relations point-of-view. The point here is that globalism is the growth avenue for all the major American sports leagues, and the NBA surged into the forefront of that effort once the National Hockey League (NHL) stupidly refused to allow its players to participate in the Winter Olympics.
That also means the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) main vision for growth is no longer viable for the foreseeable future. A complete divestiture of the American economy from China is not practical, and certainly couldn’t happen overnight, but engaging in a multiple, billion-dollar expansion won’t fly well with the average fan, despite how the media may try to sell it. If you doubt that will happen, just go look at how much Chinese investment there is in Disney, the parent company to ABC and ESPN, both of whom have more than a passing interest in the NBA. That fact will become important in a minute.
Right about now, you’re probably wondering what the hell this has to do with post-pandemic stadium attendance? All you have to do is follow the money. Every sports league in this country is funded by the fan, be it ticket purchases, television viewership, merchandise, and the like. You know Chump is waiting for the day he can head down to the mall and pick up his new “Tom Brady Buccaneer” jersey…which will probably have been made in China.
Let’s face it. Chump is hitting the nail on the head here by asking the question about sports, because he was talking about this before President Trump named his committee tasked with getting the country back to work. Trump not only included several large figures from the world of sports, but had a solid reason for doing so. There used to be an old saying about “politics stop at the water’s edge;” meaning that internal American squabbles disappeared when it came time to deal foreign potentates. The new reality is that politics end in the lobby of the bank. Here’s why.
Donald Trump announces all pro sports commissioners along with Patriots owner Bob Kraft, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones & Mavs Mark Cuban will be on committee to reopen America.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) April 14, 2020
I’ve always been a firm believer that the best relationships stem from situations where everybody has the same amount to lose. If you think about it, we are living in a time where sports were considered “non-essential,” and it took no time at all for the financial hemorrhaging to start. At first, it was the “little guys” in the sports world; who along with the “little guys” in “non-essential” industries got to be the economic “canaries in the coal mine.” When this shut-down was only going to be a few weeks, millionaire ball players and billionaire owners all chipped in to help out the concessionaires, parking attendants, and the other various ancillary people tied to the world of sports. The same applied to the CARES (“Stimulus”) Act passed by Congress.
The problem is now we are a month into this shut-down, and the pain level has traveled farther than anyone expected. That’s why all the sure signs this can’t last much longer are starting to show. Namely, the pain is starting to be felt by the big guys, and essential or not, the sports world is where it is showing the most. General Motors re-tooled and started making ventilators. The “My Pillow” guy re-tooled to make masks. But the sports world had no such option.
That’s why a guy like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a decidedly vocal anti-Trump guy has pledged his support to the President and the “Re-open America” committee. There’s a ton of reasons for that, but let’s again let’s keep this simple. Chump’s question is will the sports world return to normal in the post-virus landscape. My assertion is the sports world was showing its vulnerabilities long before the pandemic.
Remember Colin Kaepernick? More specifically, do you remember how much of a “one-man torpedo” he was right into the wallets of the NFL bourgeoisie? I’ve already mentioned the NHL’s unwillingness to suffer another three-week interruption of their cash flow due to the Winter Olympics. Even Vince McMahon, whose house is plumbed with hot and cold running $100 bills just folded the XFL when he’s spent years building it, said he was going to ride out “years of losing money to build a rival league” and seriously considered not shutting down the league before it was essentially mandated?
The bottom line is since the mid 1980’s, professional sports became a panacea of revenue-generation. Some leagues did better than others based largely on popularity, but the fact remains cable television became the rising tide that lifted all boats. The problem is that the titan of cable television sports is beginning to look more like the Titanic.
Long before any of us were worried about what was coming out of Wuhan, ESPN was already losing money by the boatload. Don’t forget they were laying off on-air talent over two years ago, and their money problems haven’t improved. Disney, the parent company to ABC and ESPN, has underperformed in quarterly financial performances consistently for the last three years. Think about that; a company which owns the cash-cow “Star Wars” and “Super-hero” movie franchises is bleeding out because ESPN is its severed artery.
In the wake of the shut-down of the sports world, Disney is by some estimates losing as much as $30 million per day, a big chunk of that coming from the fact ESPN is without a shred of live sports programming, which means there’s no viewers for all the commercial time they need to pay the light bill. With no sports, there’s no ESPN, and that is going to put major pain on some major wallets.
That’s why sports will be at the forefront of the re-opening of America. But to get there, since we’ve done a wonderful job of scaring the shit out of people for debatably-valid reasons, there’s likely going to be some sort of compromise to get the television money turned on first.
Fauci says sports can return if teams are quarantined, stadiums are empty https://t.co/1uo9mMJGrL
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) April 15, 2020
On top of all that, let us not forget that in-venue attendance across the board in professional sports has most-assuredly stagnated, largely because costs are prohibitive. Neither Chump nor I are the proverbial “Family of Four” types, but those are who fill up the seats, and it doesn’t take long working your calculator to see how much damage one professional sporting event can do to the average family budget.
Boil it all down, the answer to Chump’s question is another question. In a world where we have established television as the ocean upon which the sporting world’s ship floats, and in a world where we’ve already introduced the idea of events in empty venues (European soccer has been doing that for a while as a means of punishing clubs). Even if the fans are allowed back, who is to say the last month didn’t clue them in to sports not being worth the price?
That’s why the NBA is hungry for a new market hungry for its product.
I forget who came up with this idea first. It might have been the founding writer for Black Mirror or some random stand-up comedian, or both, who said aliens will soon land on Earth and find us all praying to portable rectangular video screens.
That’s not all that far off, except for the fact that now, they’ll have to break into our houses to see it… and they sure as hell better be wearing face masks when they do. (In fact, if they could also deliver the cure for this thing, that’d be great.)
Recent history has already established the fact that most us like to watch sporting events in the comfort of our own air-conditioned homes. Cheaper drinks, hopefully better food, shorter lines at the rest room and… replay! (The ability to mute Joe Buck is an added bonus.)
However, as great as baking chicken wings and nachos with your loved one might be, it will never replace the experience of fans saying “I was THERE for that game, man!!!” which half the time is bullshit anyway.
Who knows what will happen here? Even assuming the best, we’re looking at an NFL season that may not start on time, if at all. Forget the wide receiver making twelve-million dollars a year, these stadiums employ a shit ton of part-time employees who will struggle to pay their bills if they can’t moonlight to sell beer and popcorn for tips.
What we might see as a result of this is trickle up poverty when owners find they can no longer pay their athletes, which I believe in some instances has already happened. See Todd Gurley.
I’m in total agreement with you on the market correcting itself. It did so when Sam Bradford bankrupted the Rams and it did so when the Texas Rangers overpaid countless millions for a suddenly tighter-jerseyed Alex Rodriguez.
When, not if, leagues shrink salary caps as a result of this pandemic, will athletes and unions toe the company line and accept their lesser part of the pie? And what of that new stadium under construction in Los Angeles? The Rams just gutted their roster as did the Chargers. Social distancing has never been a problem for L.A. football fans (ZING!) but what, in your most humble opinion, bodes for the future construction of billion-dollar, Jerry-World stadiums? I can’t imagine anyone breaking ground on a place that’s going to seat 80,000 fans when that number might be hard to meet. As they once said in the New York that used to exist…. Fuhgeddaboutit!
Conclusion by J-Dub:
One of the reasons Chump chose me for this installment of Point-Counterpoint is because we definitely don’t think alike. Here, I thought we were largely agreeing on this; I even just commented on how that fucks up this whole concept. But leave it to Chump to come charging to the rescue.
One of the things I do when I’m not writing about sports (like for the last month) is to write about classic movies. In fact, another film blog buddy of mine came up with the idea of hosting an event this where people share their thought on “Disaster” movies. If you are so inclined, you can still get involved. Even Chump offered a contribution. That notwithstanding, just like in a bad “Airport” movie, it’s time for me to bring this thing in for a landing.
Charlton Heston has nothing on J-Dub when it comes to landing crippled jumbo jets.
Much as I’m a fan of bad “Disaster” movies, Chump has guzzled the Kool-Aid about COVID-19. Lines like “the New York that used to exist” are the dead give-away. The stadiums are already built, and for the most part; the market is already saturated. Think about it. The late 80’s and the early 90’s was the era of expansion in all four major North American sports leagues. But the first sign of trouble came when baseball started talking about contraction in the early 2000s. As much as that may have been a point used simply used to muscle the player’s union, it did foreshadow the coming fights over money Chump alluded to when he mentioned lowering salary caps.
Ironically (but probably not accidentally) since the contraction threat, only baseball has avoided labor trouble. Keep that in mind as that’s brick number one in the construction here; the minute the pie starts shrinking, the fights between the owners and the player’s union over the last slice begin, and nothing kills viewership like a labor stoppage.
Brick number two is the aforementioned market saturation. That’s why all four major North American leagues are in varying degrees interested in some some of international expansion; there’s really nowhere left to go on our own shores.
Basketball has the largest potential because the sport is hugely popular in the massive Chinese market, and has big-time professional leagues across Europe. Hockey has the most solid foundation in both North America and Europe. Football is the king at home in North America, but is a pawn on the road. Baseball has the biggest established global potential for growing young fans; Antarctica is the only continent on which Little League does not have a presence.
But this is less about those individual bricks and where in the world they may be; this is more about the global sports castle which was being built with them. The problem is that castle is crumbling as it’s being built, largely because it’s held together with mortar made of television money. Even in the “best-case scenario,” those bricks are all the promise of a new day; the mortar which holds those bricks together is today’s horizon filled with dark clouds of declining revenue. Say what you will about COVID-19, the fact remains those storm clouds began gathering years ago.
For decades, that little black cable between your wall and your television was a money hose for the sports world, but when the bill crept north of $150 a month the “cord-cutters” started putting a kink in that hose. The main reason your cable bill got so “rapey” is sports. If you have cable/satellite TV, you’re paying over $7 a month for ESPN and $30 for the NBA, even if you don’t watch either. If you’re like me (and probably Chump), those numbers get even more “rapey” for the sports addict who has the “expanded-tier” packages.
That means that every “cord-cutter,” be they sports fans or not, shrinks the revenue of the sports world. More importantly, as a sports addict, I’ve already marked the date on my calendar that Con-JobCast disappears from my life. The last time they tried to raise my rate to “double prison-rape with no lube” levels, I called and went “full-nuclear.” I know, you’re never supposed to go “full-nuclear,” but in this case it got me a two-year deal at my old “acceptably-rapey” price. But when that deal expires, my days as a Con-JobCast customer will be as gone as a cool breeze…even if that means a dramatic change in my consumption of live sports.
Again, you can say whatever you want, but there’s a big problem in any business model in which the product is effectively being priced out of the market. There’s simply no way to blame that on any virus, despite how much hype you want to pile on it.
The bottom line is that Chump’s assessment of COVID-19’s impact on the sports world simply forgets all the warning signs which were out there long before this virus, which makes him that guy you see at the supermarket with his nose hanging out of his mask.
But he’s still not ignorant.