Teams lose their luster in TV glare
Of course, I'm old enough to remember the bad old days of sports on television. Yes, we were not only ESPN-less, but we got major league baseball games only on Saturdays and just one or two college football games a week.
So obviously, I've thoroughly enjoyed the modern era of sports on TV. I've had a satellite dish for more than a decade and have purchased, at various times, the baseball, NBA, NFL and NHL packages of games. Yes, just as obviously, I've spent a lot of time in front of the tube - but hey, it's my job.
As good as the whole situation has been for all of us, I believe television is eating up a lot of sports. And the leagues and franchises it is devouring are willing partners.
Somewhere along the line, individual teams in most sports have become convinced that it's wise to put a good portion of their home games on television. In this era, when it's becoming difficult to drag people out of their homes on any night but Saturday, I believe that's a monumental mistake.
The Trail Blazers this season, for instance, plan to telecast 29 of their 41 home games. A few years ago, that may have been no big deal because the games were sold out anyway. Now, though, the team is struggling to convince people to spend big bucks on seats - while giving its own product away on TV!
The team playing in the Rose Garden is competing with the one playing on television.
I think that's lunacy on a couple of different levels. The Blazers probably are still getting pretty decent revenue from their telecasts - but I don't see how that could continue. And eventually, not only will they lose the revenue from the stay-at-homes who would have bought tickets, inevitably the rights fees they're going to get from television will drop. How does that work?
Well, telecasts become more valuable to stations and advertisers when a lot of people watch. Obviously, winning a lot of games helps in that regard. So, though, does having a sold-out arena. Sellouts create the aura of exclusivity - which creates even more ticket demand and a hike in season-ticket sales.
Which also pushes people, with no other options since they can't get in to see the games live, toward their TV set.
Teams in major leagues get television revenue, equally divided, from the contracts they have with major networks. But local TV money and rights fees fluctuate, based on how that local team is doing. At some point, franchises are going to recognize that less is more - because less television exposure creates more demand for tickets.
Ah, you say, television also is a form of advertising and exposes your team to new fans. That's an argument a lot of minor-league teams use when they pay or barter to get their games on the air.
Our junior hockey team, the Winter Hawks, is going to try to play that game this year - televising home games on cable. That's almost suicidal, in my opinion, because at the same time they're trying to lure people into buying tickets to sit in ancient Memorial Coliseum.
I think, in today's television world, that philosophy of local TV exposure is fool's gold. In the old days, there were four or five local stations, no cable, and it was entirely possible that someone would accidentally bump into your games on the air and become a fan.
But no more. There already are too many options on cable and dish. I don't think there's much accidental viewing anymore.
You can argue with me about these conclusions, but I'd just point you toward the one league that's still thriving in the area of TV rights fees and home attendance. That would be the NFL.
And what's the NFL's single, longest-running television rule? That's right - if the game isn't sold out, it's not shown on local television. Period. That's where it all starts for sports' most successful business.
The NFL is using television, you see. The rest of the sports world is being used by television.