The Sports Fans Dilema

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

There was an article written recently in the Wall Street Journal about a regional sports TV battle in Houston,Texas. Houston is a top 10 TV market, it has multiple pro franchises (baseball, basketball, football and soccer along with collegiate sports) and is the hub for the energy industry. Yet a line has been drawn in the sand by cable and satellite providers in regards to how much they’ll spend for TV rights and the overall question has to be asked, ‘Are fans being priced out of sports?’

Attending a sporting event has never been more expensive. From tickets to parking to food. It’s not getting cheaper for you to attend a game. Add in the ‘new normal’ economic situation of slow growth and higher than average unemployment and you can see why there are more empty seats at games than ever before.

Seattle Mariners Thursday Game

Take the Seattle Mariners. A middle of the pack baseball team in the AL West. Sections are closed off and seats are left empty during a recent Thursday night game against the Minnesota Twins. The Mariners signed a regional sports TV deal earlier this year with an estimated value of $2 billion over 17 years. The Thursday game had 18,135 people. Is the fan at home more important, more profitable than the one at the game?

Is the person on the couch at home more important than the one at the game? Are butts in the seats really all that important? The answer seems to be yes and yes.

Not many people can imagine Alabama’s stadium half full. Nor can people imagine the Mariners selling out 81 home games. Therein lies the balance between the person at the game and the person at home.

New York Red Bull vs Columbus Crew
New York Red Bull vs Columbus Crew

Both are fans and both “pay” for the right to watch their favorite team. The one at the stadium is contributing to the team by buying a ticket, food and a beer while the person at home is supporting by sitting through commercials in a day and age where it’s very easy to skip over them.

Is it cheaper to stay home? Yes, and it’s more convienet. The flip side to that is if the atmosphere is horrible at the game because no one is there, will that cause the person at home to change the channel?

Some of these questions do not have immediate answers. In some cases there is no right or wrong answer. One solution may very well be to downsize stadiums. This would keep the atmosphere and at the same time allow people to attend. But do you see Jerry Jones shrinking Cowboys Stadium?

More to come on this soon.

Do It For The Fans

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Recently NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson offered LeBron James $1 million to be in next years Slam Dunk Contest during All Star Weekend. Fellow analyst and former NBA star Jalen Rose added that he’d like to see Blake Griffin in this contest as well.

LeBron has never been in the Slam Dunk Contest. Will a million dollars get him to do it? Maybe but then again maybe not. While people around the internet debate the reasons why LeBron should or shouldn’t do the Slam Dunk Contest it begs the question, don’t fans want to see him in the Slam Dunk Contest?

Compare LeBron’s situation to another sport, MMA. There have been countless times when a fighter has lost a fight and yet was content with the show they put on for the fans. The Wanderlei Silva vs Brian Stann fight this past weekend is a classic example. Both fighters are true warriors and have absolutely no intention of letting the judges decide who would win the fight. They had some amazing exchanges in the 1st round before Wanderlei found the right combination to knockout Stann in the 2nd.

Silva v Stann Highlights

There are several fighters out there like Silva and Stann. So many that it’s hard to keep track. Fighters who put it all on the line and would rather put on an amazing fight for the fans then to play it safe and and take their chances with the judges decision.

So why is LeBron playing it safe? Yeah, he may lose the Slam Dunk Contest if he enters but he also might lose his next game so what’s the difference? It’s part of being a competitor. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose but the beauty of sports isn’t just winning, it’s putting on a memorable performance that lives on through the years. Much like Michael Jordan’s winning dunk at the 1987 Slam Dunk Contest where he took off -literally- from the free throw line. It wasn’t Jordan’s first Slam Dunk Contest. He lost his first one to Dominique Wilkins but the competitor he is made hime comeback to show that he was the best.

Should LeBron enter the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest? Yes and if for no other reason then to do it for the fans.

The NHL Is Back! Does Anybody Care?

The LA Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup on June 11, 2012. Champions of the NHL. They’ll begin their title defense on January 19th, 2013. That’s 221 days for those of you keeping track. 221 days since the NHL last played a game. 510 regular season games were cancelled due to the labor dispute that led to the NHL’s lockout. The 2nd in less than 10 years. The question everyone is asking now is, now that the NHL returns to the ice will there be anyone there to cheer them on?

One of the toughest jobs in North America right now has to be that of a Marketing/PR person for the league and its 30 teams. From Miami to Winnipeg and Vancouver to Raleigh, people are trying to figure out how to get the fans back. Apologies have been posted, some more heartfelt than others, and deals galore. While no one has gone the overt route of free tickets & beer there have been some pretty good ones from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Are 25% discounts at the team store, free nachos, and the equivalent of $8 tickets enough to get people to come back to the arena? All the while battling traffic, paying for parking, and dealing with crowds? Will the fans return to the sports bars and buy food and drinks? Will they even watch when they’re at home? Will they care?

The answer is that we’re not going to know until they drop the puck. People may say one thing and do another. Even the people who say that they are done with hockey may return next season. We just don’t know. The promotions help but PR and marketing can only do so much. Eventually the play on the ice has to be compelling enough for the people to come back.

NBC SPORTS….JUST KICK THE DAMN BALL OFF

When Comcast purchased NBC from GE you knew some changes were coming. Versus turned into the NBC Sports Network which now broadcasts MLS matches and CFL games. But as much as things change they always stay the same. NBC Sports continues to put themselves before the fan and the viewer.

NBC broadcast the first NFL game of the season between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants. They star this by dragging out a 90 minute pre game show and right when you think they’re going to kick the ball off they give us an open telling us who the Producer and Director of the show are. They then drag it out a little more with the commentators giving us….I don’t know, more insight I guess. They do the same thing with MLS on the NBC Sports Network. It’s says that kick off is at 4pm but in reality the ball is being kicked off at 4:30. Meanwhile fans and players are left standing around as NBC tries to educate us some more.

Here’s a news flash NBC, KICK THE DAMN BALL OFF. No one cares who the Producer or Director is, and I come from a world where I may know these people. I’m not here for a rock concert or a highlight show or pre game interviews. I’m here for a game.

The kicker to all of this is the flat out pandering of the broadcast. Guys it’s a second half not a second act (actual graphic). This is a football game not a Shakespearean play. I know Toyota is a big sponsor but I can go without the extended commercial with Eli Manning at halftime.

Now NBC Sports is not all bad. They do do some innovative things like streaming the Sunday Night Football game online with multiple camera angles or placing the color commentator on the sidelines of MLS matches. He’s right between the benches and can give more insight on tactics and the momentum of the game.

While they have been innovative they also take massive steps backward with just boneheaded maneuvers. I hate to tell NBC this but I’m not watching The Voice so stop showing me ads for it. I’m here to watch football or soccer and I know I’m not alone.

I understand why MLS will go along with what NBC wants to do because it’s helping the MLS gain more viewers and they are still trying to gain a significant foot hold in the American sports spectrum. Why the NFL does I don’t know. The NFL recently made a rule stating that if you get thrown out of game you’ll have to go through a class to be allowed in the stadium again. I suppose they’re trying to make the NFL game a more family oriented environment but if they are trying to do that then why do they allow NBC to kick the game off at 8:30pm EST on a school night?

I can’t criticize NBC when it comes to the Olympics because I didn’t watch them. Why? Re-read the above. If NBC screws up the NFL and MLS why would I trust them to broadcast the Olympics?

NBC can fix these things. It’s not hard but they have to first get off their high horse and stop thinking that ‘they know what people want to see’ cause they don’t. I want to watch sports and if you’re not going to show it to me then I’ll just watch a channel that will.