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Recession slows pro sports action

A NASCAR official waves the caution flag during a race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: As of right now the new stadium that's being built for baseball's New York Mets is still going to be called Citi Field. In far better times -- well, two years ago -- Citigroup paid $400 million over 20 years for the naming rights. Both sides say the government bailout of the bank isn't going to change things.

That makes the Mets one of the few professional franchises getting good news in the middle of a recession. Other sports aren't so lucky. Diana Nyad's here to talk about that. Hey Diana.

Diana Nyad: Kai how are you?

Ryssdal: I'm all right. But there are some in the sporting world not doing so well. What sports are in trouble?

Nyad: Well, I guess you could say the whole world isn't doing too well, but in the sports world, the way I like to put it is, it's the sports that use expensive toys.

Ryssdal: That's a good one.

Nyad: So, that would be NASCAR, Formula One, America's Cup sailboat racing, golf. You know, those are the ones that are really hurting and looking at drastic cutbacks over the next couple of years.

Ryssdal: Let's talk about the ones that are big in this country because as much as everybody likes a good sailboat race and Formula One race, really it's NASCAR and golf in this country specifically.

Nyad: Yeah that's right. Well, NASCAR I mean, they are going to go all the way. They're going to cut back their season this coming year. They're going to cut back how many cars each garage can run. The big fancy garages with lots of money run three to four cars all year--they're going to cut back to one or two. The crews. You can walk down those garages the last couple of years and see 50 guys -- 50 -- in one garage. Unnecessary. They all realize that now, they can operate at a third that number. They're going to cut down the weekend. Instead of doing testing on Thursday, qualifying on Friday, they're going to cut down to one day. Forget the testing, forget the qualifying. Just get in and race. So, NASCAR is going to be a very different animal.

Ryssdal: And what about golf? I mean, we've talked about this before you and I. They're losing some bank sponsorships.

Nyad: Yeah, I mean the LPGA, the women's side, is really in more desperate straights than the men they have no network TV deal at the moment. A third of their tournaments are up for renewal in '09, and already, Hawaii, South Carolina, Phoenix, Tulsa -- they're begging for even low, low-ball sponsorship dollars on that. They've got nothing. The PGA, the men's side, their tournaments are pretty much intact for '09, but a number of their title sponsor contracts expire in 2010. So 2009 is going to be a year of beating the pavement. I mean, Wachovia was a huge PGA sponsor. They're still going to have their tournament in Charlotte, but it probably won't be called the Wachovia anymore. So, golf is under transition and every meeting is just tightening that belt more and more and more.

Ryssdal: By the same token though, if you look at the National Football League stadiums are full, baseball is doing OK, basketball pretty well, too, I suppose.

Nyad: Well, let's start with the NFL. I would say it's the only sport, I wouldn't call them entirely immune from this recession, but you know, they're touting you know wonderful attendance records. Their licensed goods are selling at a very high rate. Their season tickets are pretty good. The only thing that I could find they've cut back on, is that they offered playoff tickets for the coming playoff season at reduced rates. Now the NBA cut back 9 percent of their front office workforce, that was about 80 jobs. So, it's not as severe as General Motors, but you know they're definitely looking at cutting back. They shortened their preseason tournament schedule. Like most of us I think the analogy for baseball and the NBA is, they're doing fine, they're healthy, they're paying their bills. But like most of us, they're looking at every little extra dollar that they can cut.

Ryssdal: Diana Nyad and the business of sports, thanks Diana.

Nyad: Kai Ryssdal, thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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