TEXT OF COMMENTARY
Kai Ryssdal: There’s been no shortage of truly big economic stories this year. Health care reform. Climate change and the Great Recession. We got ’em all. But there was also a whole bunch of news that didn’t make the headlines. We’ve been asking some of our regulars to muse on some of those. Here’s commentator and sports writer Jon Wertheim’s nomination.
JON WERTHEIM: The NFL is by far the biggest American sports league period. It generates billions in television revenue, and if you need more evidence just look to the unchecked growth of the Super Bowl. The proof is abundant: Pro football is the king of American sports. And because of that the most important sports business story is going to be about football.
I know what you’re thinking, it’s gotta be about the tumultuous season of the Washington Redskins and the fact that the fans were near revolt in D.C. Nope.
So it’s gotta be about the return of Brett Favre to the NFL and to the Minnesota Vikings no less. Not that either.
I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with a terminator, a billionaire developer and a city filled with angels.
In late October, with surprisingly little fanfare, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill to allow a proposed L.A. football stadium to side step environmental laws. With that stroke of the pen, the door opened wide for the NFL to return to Los Angeles after more than 15 years away.
This carries all sorts of implications. More leverage for the NFL in the next round of television negotiations. A new wrinkle for the upcoming collective bargaining talks with the players union. But above all, a team in L.A. presents a new opportunity to get football in front of Latinos in a big way. They’re America’s fastest-growing demographic and, collectively, the ethnic group with the most purchasing power — what with their $750 billion in personal income.
Baseball, soccer, even basketball have courted a wide swath of fans.
And for all the NFL’s success in recent years, it’s had a hard time expanding what the sports marketing types call “the demographic footprint.” Go to a NFL game and, conspicuously, the crowd is more befitting of a NASCAR race than, say, an MLS soccer game.
Hispanics in particular have been an elusive audience. As one Latin columnist recently put it, the NFL’s effort to reach the Hispanic market has resembled, someone, “blindfolded, spun around in circles, and told to hit a pinata with one-hand tied behind its back.”
Sports passions and loyalties take time to gestate. But a new stadium and, consequently a new NFL team in Los Angeles, will go a long way toward helping football rival futbol as the world’s game.
RYSSDAL: Jon Wertheim is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. His most recent book is called “Strokes of Genius.”
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