Tess Vigeland: The NBA finals hit the boards tonight in Miami. But the match-up looks a little different this year.
No Lakers, no Celtics. It is the Miami Heat versus the Dallas Mavericks. LeBron James is, of course, with Miami now. And so his presence on the court could make this series must-see TV.
But commentator Jon Wertheim says there’s something else helping ratings.
Jon Wertheim: By most measures, this is a Golden Age in sports. Salaries and revenues and overall interest have never been higher. Consider that NFL teams and players are risking a work stoppage, as they haggle over how to divide $9 billion in annual revenue. Yet while you seldom hear it discussed, fewer fans are going to games. Baseball’s attendance is down this season. NFL attendance has fallen each season since 2007. Even if you believe the NBA’s claims that crowds were up slightly this year — there are so many empty seats that 22 of the 30 teams claim to be losing money, a combined $300 million this season.
True, the recession was bad for business. But there’s also this: It’s getting harder to justify leaving the 60-inch hi-def comfort of your living room. Go to a live event and yeah, you get to be there. But you also pay handsomely for the privilege, easily $100 per ticket. At home, it’s essentially free. At the stadium, you pay for parking, wait in lines first for concessions and then for the restrooms. During breaks at the stadium, you get t-shirts shot out of air cannons. At home you can spend breaks watching other games and even chatting with family. At the stadium, you watch the game from one vantage point: yours. At home, you watch plays and replays from an array of angles. And as long as TVs are getting ever bigger and ever sharper, this doesn’t figure to change.
This trend isn’t altogether bad: the NFL labor battle has taught us anything, it’s that there’s significant value in television revenue. But it prompts the question: In the future, who’s going to go to the games we all love to watch? Corporate audiences, say the teams. And that’s true. Better to entertain clients from the ballpark than in your living room. But that’s only a fraction of the seats.
Even as sports grow, expect for the next generation of venues to be smaller and cozier. Expect to see more of the comforts of home, whether that’s Wi-Fi access or softer seats. Best of all, expect to see to a reduction in ticket prices. Otherwise, we’ll have to change the lyrics: “Take me in to the ballgame.”
Vigeland: Jon Wertheim is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He’s also the co-author of the new book called Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won. You can influence us anytime — click on this contact link.
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