Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The "State of the Sports Union," 2007 Edition

In 2003, in the first month of the Quickie, I started a tradition of writing something tied into the day of President's annual State of the Union address about the "state of the sports union." So where do we stand in 2007? Here is a quick take on the current "State of the Sports Union":

NFL: New Commish Roger Goodell has set a high bar for future seasons after this one: More fantasy football mania. More TV viewer interest. More parity. The Saints' run. Vince Young's emergence. LT's dominant season. Chicago's return to the Super Bowl. Peyton's breakthrough.

MLB: Ryan Howard emerged as the new "Face of Baseball," and if last year proved anything, it's that the tyranny of the "YankSox" is over.

NBA: Tonight's Suns-Wiz game is a perfect symbol for the league's new telegenic, fan-friendly style. Teams need to adapt to this new wide-open philosophy or lose relevancy. Only one team can win a title; the number of teams who can entertain is unlimited.

College Football: It's cynical, but BCS controversy like the one we just had is the best thing that can happen to the sport. That the underdog blew out the presumptive champ only made it more compelling.

College Hoops: Enjoy these next few months – thanks to the unique one-year lag effect of the NBA age rule (plus a handful of key players staying in school), it's a brief, brilliant Golden Age of the Big Man.

NHL: The Rory Fitzpatrick snafu is only fitting. The league is even more niche than a year ago. If any sport can slide into the void that exists after NFL-MLB-NBA-CFB-CBB-NASCAR, it will be Arena Football.

Sports Media: Last year's emergence of Deadspin as the biggest counterweight to ESPN (mainstream sports media lost that battle years ago) merely scratched the surface of blog-driven sports coverage that only keeps getting better, faster and stronger.

Sports Ethics: Cheating with PEDs? Criminal arrest? Pundits may bark, but fans don't really seem to care. (But display a lousy attitude? Fans will crucify you.)

Comments Question: What's YOUR take on the State of the Sports Union? How are things great, perhaps even never-been-better? How are things bad, perhaps even getting worse? Looking forward to reading your analysis on this.

-- D.S.


mark said...

Ever noticed how people who self-professedly dislike hockey are always the ones saying the NHL is irrelevant?

Jamie Mottram said...

I'm gonna preface this question by saying that I don't care about hockey ...

Isn't everything beyond baseball, football and basketball considered niche?

Anonymous said...

Baseball is niche. Check the ratings.

It's NFL, College Football and either Nascar or Golf (guh).

At least the NHL is relevant on a continental level. Arena league is a goofy minor league, ESPN deal or not.

I think we might very well see EPL/MLS/Latin Soccer Leagues viewership develop to a significant level in the next ten years. With the hispanic population surging, it has a better chance than Arena League. And I think MLS is a couple players, a couple owners and a sane competition scheme away from being taken seriously.

Unknown said...

There are a limited number of teams that can be entertaining...the number of teams in the NBA.

NHL will always have a hold over a part of the population. It can only grow, not ever get smaller. That's the great thing about hockey. As a non-fan, you just don't get it, Dan.

As for niche..are we just talking TV Ratings? If its percentage of fans filling seats...most of the sports are doing fine. If its TV ratings, then its NFL, CFB...and the rest.

Unknown said...

agreed on soccer. another sport that can only grow, not decline. and it will grow, imo.

Boomhauertjs said...

It's 2007 and Cleveland still hasn't won a championship since 1964 (and unless the Cavs wake up from their slumber, it's going to continue for the foreseeable future).

RevScottDeMangeMD said...


look, i agree that football and nascar beat the ratings of baseball. but that's the thing...ratings don't matter. think about it.

what is the average price for a football ticket? for the nfl it's like $70. for nascar, not sure...but i bet it's around $70 also. baseball is like $25 AND they play ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY TWO GAMES A YEAR. how are ratings supposed to keep up like that? the nfl's ratings would not be as good if they played 3 times a week. the less that it's on, the more we are going to watch. plus, why watch it on tv when I can just go down to the ball park and by a cheap ticket. you can't do that with football...why? only 8 home games a year. just a thought. a friendly debate if you want.

Natsfan74 said...

Hockey and NASCAR will always have a strong core of die-hard followers. Both sports are significantly better live than on tv, so tv ratings are less relevant than fans in seats -- except for the money tv generates. But hockey has to expand their fan base to more than the die-hards, much the way NASCAR did, to remain relevant.

I love hockey. But my cable company doesn't get versus, and tickets to see the Caps are pretty expensive for a casual fan. And, as a DC transplant, I don't even get to see my favorite team come out here since the league went with the unbalanced schedule.

The future in American Sports is Soccer. Beckham coming to MLS is going to be just a start. Once teams realize fans will come out to see stars, we will see more international superstars come to MLS (see NHL). A growing MLS fan base, and more friendlies against EPL teams, will develop a strong soccer fan base in the US that will carry over to World Cup.

Natsfan74 said...

Sorry for the 2nd post so fast, but I agree with Revscott....

Baseball games are cheaper and more accessible than any of the other sports. Redskins only sell season tickets. Caps and Wiz are too expensive for the casual fan who would otherwise go just for the experience. But for $3, I can get into RFK (really!).

Baseball tv ratings suffer because of the season. On a nice Saturday in June, I am either at a game (GO Nats!) or I am outside doing something. I am not glued to my tv for Fox Saturday Baseball.

Big D said...

@ bigsmitty:

Never would have guessed someone named "Smitty" could be from Boston...

It's true - Hockey is completely irrelevant. And I'm saying this as someone who would honestly believes that hockey is the best sport to watch live.

The whole "vote-fixing" just serves to provide everyone another reminder of how the "institutions" in sports (leagues, commisioners, media) are entrenched in their beliefs, and too afraid to allow new technology and new ideas to permeate the culture.

@ natsfan74 & solomonrex:

"...baseball is like $25 AND they play ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY TWO GAMES A YEAR."

"Baseball games are cheaper and more accessible than any of the other sports."

Uh... really? Clearly, you're not from the greater New England area. Red Sox tickets are the highest average in MLB - it's big news around here when they don't raise prices.

On average, a family of four has to pay about $200 just to walk in the park at Fenway (assuming you buy tickets legally. Scalping to Fenway is like a license to print money).

Plus transportation (which is theoretically cheaper, since everyone takes the train). Parking lots near Fenway get anywhere from $30 to $100 for a game, depending on distance. Otherwise, the T is $2.50 round-trip per person - the real "train" can be as much as $10 per.

Not to mention the "refreshments". The $8.50 Bud Light 12oz, $7 Nachos, $6.50 Burgers and $4.50 bottled waters...

Pats games might me more expensive in the average ticket price, but there are far more available, so the scalping market is greatly reduced.

As for the rest of the argument, yes, you're 100% right - baseball rating suffer from the long season. There's a reason that LCS / WS games are 3 or 4 times higher rated than the rest of the season. Borderline fans tune in if their team has a shot - otherwise, they couldn't care less.

Big D said...

Holy crap I typed a lot. Sorry.

RevScottDeMangeMD said...

big d...

i should have clarified. i go to red games. take the yankees and red sox out of it. you can still get cubs tickets with no problem.

my main point is that the majority of sports can can go to their baseball stadium at anytime and get a ticekt. i'm not saying a good ticket, but a ticket. you cant' do that with the NFL. those tickets are long sold out.

i don't want to say anything about nascar b/c i don't know about it. but i do know that columbus blue jackets tickets are also really expensive. and they suck!

kirby077 said...

To say the NHL is a niche sport like MLS and Arena Footall is a little misguided. The NHL generated around $2.2 billion (projected 2007: $2.5 billion)and some players receive around $7-8 annually. I don't see Arena Football or MLS players making that much (Beckham excluded).

As Mark Cuban so rightly pointed out, if you add up North American viewership, more people watch the NHL than the NBA.

The NBA generates just over $3 billion per year with a U.S. television contract.

As I mentioned in an earlier post today, Dan stated that the NBA is the largest of the 'Niche' sports. The difference in revenue generated between the NFL, MLB and NASCAR is larger than that of the NBA to the NHL.

Anonymous said...

Right, revScott, it's apples and oranges, but it's always apples and oranges. No league has fewer televised events than Nascar, consequently, ratings are generally higher. That's the nature of the NFL and Nascar, but give them credit for not over-expanding.

If ratings don't matter, then the NHL is in really good shape. But the reality is that TV feeds these sports. Role models and all that. Baseball benefits from it's unique status with Fox, it's popularity with hispanics from Latin/South America and the lack of parity - the fact that big market teams always make the playoffs doesn't hurt their ratings. It's true that more people can generally give details about baseball happenings than Nascar.

So, I change my mind. It's more like NFL/CFB, then a tier down to NBA/MLB/NASCAR/PGA, then a large step down to MLS/NHL/Arena.

As for soccer never becoming popular, I have to disagree. In previous times, there was no satellite feeds from overseas. Boxing and horse racing were still popular. Football was not. Times change, and with all the access to sports we have worldwide, plus immigration patterns, it's just a matter of time. That isn't to say a classic american sports league like MLS will ever be popular. But the potential is there.

Since newspapers are dying, there is no consensus as to what constitutes a big league - outside of TV deals. Maybe some day there will be more people discussing soccer in Spanish in America than discussing baseball in English.

Anonymous said...

Poker and bowling have better ratings than hockey.

Poker is a fad, right? RIGHT?

Here are two big questions in my mind: how do we handle steriods? It seems that we're just ignoring it.

What about gambling? It's like steroids in the 90s: we all know something is going on, we just don't know when or where and no one wants to find out. With the Internet, pretty much anyone at anytime could be tanking a game.

Everyone assumes that every politician is sooo crooked, but somehow athletes and coaches are all saints?

jhawkjjm said...

The NHL will come back eventually. They're headed in the right direction. The problem right now is that there are huge pockets of the country that don't have any rooting interest in hockey because they don't have a "home" team. I don't understand the criticism that hockey is too difficult to follow because you can't see the puck unless you have HD. Uhm.. huh?

Now living in KC all I can hope for is that the Penguins move out here so I can see hockey games again. Nothing against Pittsburg, but if I can watch Staahl, Malkin, and Crosby play together for the next several years...hooray for me!

SportsBlogs and Messageboards: Backlash against people considered to be "homers" (see Bill Simmons). Now there's people who go to teams message boards just to start fights and talk smack. Good or bad? I'm not sure.

Anonymous said...

Eventually, Steinbrenner will die, and then the sports world will be a little less interesting and more sane. ~sniff~

I'm 100% sure that Simmons has a column ready to go for that day.

I can hear the eulogy now, "He was the Mark Cuban of his day, immature, self-absorbed, fabulously involved, a larger than life figure with a mouth to match."

mattie said...

NFL: I agree, they've had a great year. Gooddell's agenda should include a comprehensive policy for dealing with the Direct TV situation before Specter does it for him. And to work out the kinks over at the NFL Network.

MLB: Dan, your ongoing facsination with creating a "new Face of Baseball" is kind of odd. And Selig cannot escape Bonds and the chase or the continued steroid issues, both media-created/driven and legal.

NBA: Fighting and new ball issues aside, this looks to be an entertaining and solid year from the NBA. Let's hope the playoffs are great (LeBron took a little jump last year, let's him take The Leap).

College Football: I hate the BCS, but there'll never be a real playoff system, so whatever. Wake me if Rutgers goes on another tear, and for the good bowl games.

College Hoops: Good times here, and you're right about the effect of the draft age restriction. At least the NCAA can put a claim on guys like Oden for a minute before they take off.

NHL: Not into it, can't comment.

Sports Media: The more competition for the WWL, the better off everyone, including ESPN, will be.

Sports Ethics: The Bengals are looking to shatter the criminality on a team record, but aside from the laughs, you're right, Dan, no one really seems to care (if they were an NBA team, though, people would be gnashing their teeth and rending their clothes)...steroids aren't going away...

BLUE said...

Baseball is boring. It's the truth. Deal with it. That's why it's a niche sport. That's the definition of niche sport, that there are a group of die-hard fans that the team make all of their money off of. Exclude the USA Red Sox, where it seems like everyone is a fan, and you go to the games so you can say that you went to Fenway rather then actually enjoy the game.

Basketball is less of a niche sport, but there are a lot of people who have been put off by the Jordan wannabes and the me first players in the NBA, that's why CBB and the NCAA tourney is so popular.

As far as hockey, it's great to go to games, but you can't develop a strong fanbase these days if you're not on tv. And no, the network formerly known as Outdoor Life Network, does not count as TV. HD or not, hockey will never be good on tv because the action is just too fast.

Football is king and will always be king...unless Peyton Manning wins a superbowl, and then I won't watch anymore, partially because my television will have imploded from the saturation of the worst "superstar" ever.

BLUE said...

sorry about the long post before, but i had one more thing to add. As far as the NFL sunday ticket, and MLB extra innings. We live in a free market society. If the cable companies understood how much extra revenue those items might bring them, they would have worked to negotiate a contract that included them. Directv have exclusive rights, is sad, but they were willing to shell out the cash and make the commitment. Don't blame the NFL, MLB, or Directv, it's the fault of your cable company who keeps raising prices, but don't want to pay to offer programming that you want.

mark said...

The problem with hockey on TV is not that you can't see the puck. You can. It's the little black thing that's flying across the ice over there. The problem is that they bother to follow the puck at all. They film hockey all wrong. The most exciting thing about the game is how, in mere seconds, plays can develop from any part of the ice; the action moves all over the place. (The reason hockey counts both goals and assists as points in player statistics is that setting up complex plays is such a huge part of the game.) Since the camera just follows the puck, however, you miss much of the beauty, a lot of the complexity, and just about all of the speed and intensity of the game. This is because most of the action is happening away from the puck.

Broadcasters of high-level soccer games abroad (which have the same feature, in that a big fraction of the action happens away from the ball) have learned this lesson, and perpetually feature very wide shots, only switching to close-in looks at the goal right after a goal (or a close call). Hockey needs to do more of the same sort of thing.

Oh, and how can anyone say that baseball is boring? That baffles me.

Big D said...

@ solomonrex:

"What about gambling? It's like steroids in the 90s: we all know something is going on, we just don't know when or where and no one wants to find out."

That's a very dangerous door to open. And I agree with you 100% - there is absolutely no way to tell who's got money on a game right now.

Internet gambling (no matter how much the government might try) is just about impossible to control. More importantly, there's no way to tell who's really placing a bet (or who's shill-betting on behalf of someone else).

I remember during the Boise St./Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl, when the BSU quarterback through that unconscionable pick to put Oklahoma ahead, the first thing that came into my head was "Damn - there's no way in hell he's not tanking this game." Or course, I was clearly wrong. What's new.

But like I said - that's a dangerous door to open up. That might even fall under "The less said, the better", because the minute one player/coach/GM/Owner falls, the whole hierarchy will collapse behind them.

Now, onto more important things. Does anybody get a copy of The Sporting News?

I know the publication has become completely irrelevant, but somehow, I got registered to receive the magazine about two years ago for free - yet to pay a cent.

Also, yet to ever read it. But the cover of this week's issue is absolutely priceless.

And creepy. And possibly libelous.

Unknown said...

Big Smitty, 20 years ago, there weren't as many Latinos.
We're taking over! and we like soccer..TV will want those viewers, soccer will gain exposure, it will grow.

BobbyStompy said...

One of my favorite posts I've ever read on this blog. Good job, Dan.

Anonymous said...

MLB is not niche. It's "problem" is that it has a six month season. Everyday something is happening so there is no buildup for the game at the end of the week.

Howard is not the Face of Baseball, Dan. No matter how often you say it. Pujols should be, but sadly I think Bonds and Clemens may be right now.

ma4tt: Thanks for not mentioning that the NFL has a bigger PED problem than MLB. Keep ignoring the man (with the needle) behind the curtain.

And as others have said, Pele & the Cosmos didn't make soccer explode here 30 years ago, so why will Beckham? I see lots of kids playing organized soccer all the time (and have for 20 years), but still it's yet to stick.