Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Top 10 benefits of the recession on sports

In my day job, I work in advertising, which means that right now, I'm about as happy as a pig in boiling oil. In January, consumers in the U.S. cut their spending for the sixth straight month, and that streak shows no sign of ending anytime soon. That's the longest period in 35 years. Even with a few extra bucks in our pockets from lower gas and oil prices, very few people are spending money with any kind of serious intent right now, and personal savings have gone through the roof. It all makes a fellow who, well, encourages people to buy things a mite antsy, though I'm still pretty convinced I can separate fools from their money. (Hey, you're reading this, right?)

However, every cloud has a silver cliche, and the true one is that art improves in bad times. Similarly, there are nice moments to be had for our little backwater of sports. And here they are!

10) Network shadenfraude.
Do you yearn for a return to simpler days, when every game didn't have it's own theme song and enough talking heads to fill a particularly slow fraternity? Hard times just might save you, and by you, I really mean me.

Hey, networks -- how much are you paying those fifth through tenth irreplaceable talents on the pre-game show? Because I guarantee you that there isn't a single human being alive who decides whether or not to watch your show or not, based on that extra body. Besides, cutting the headcount down is the only way we are going to get Bill Cowher back on a sideline, and help speed Tiki Barber on his way to that homeless shelter that we all now is right around the corner.

9) Cheaper seats. As a one-time paying spectator for your Philadelphia 76ers, I have a word of advice for anyone thinking of paying full price for their seat: you, sir, are getting boned without lube, and not just by your .500 team. I get near constant last-minute deals to beg me to come fill the seats for up to 60 percent off face value. So in all likelihood, the people to the left and right of you paid less - a lot less. Ready to re-up your season tickets? Yeah, I didn't think so. Which means that the team is going to have to start pricing these things realistically. A man can dream.

8) Off season jobs for players. And I don't mean appearing in awkward ads for the local car dealership, assuming you still have one. Those lower ticket prices are going to eventually mean lower salaries, and alimony and paternity bills just don't go away. I'm hoping for stuff that allows them to get their cardio in. May I suggest grave digging? It's a good look, especially for a defensive player...

7) Clique Factor. In the mid '90s, I lived for a time without cable. So I spun the antennae in my Philadelphia hovel until I found something - anything - to take my mind off my surroundings. On a low powered UHF channel, I found old school ECW.

ECW was a super low budget wrestling federation comprised of lunatic stuntmen and women who would do anything for crowd reactions, including beat each other with whatever the crowd handed to them. The mic work was similarly freaky. Here's a clip.

It's hard to imagine for anyone who watches the neutered version that the WWE puts out now, but believe me when I tell you that this was frequently great. It was also, as far as I could tell, damn near a state secret. And that made it so much more fun to watch and root for. It was like, by watching it, you had ownership.

Now, think about your relationship with your favorite MLB, NBA or NFL team. Doesn't quite feel like that, does it? It's a business, you know it, and part of you has to hate and ignore that on a daily basis to get your enjoyment out of it. It also means that, on some level, you envy people who like college sports or English Premier League soccer, since they've got a little exclusivity thing going on there.

Besides, let's face it... there's frequently a Groucho moment about being a fan of a certain team. I was happier being an Eagles fan on the West Coast, where I didn't have to endure so many, well, Eagles fans. The ones that blame Donovan McNabb for everything start at tiresome and only get worse.

6) We'll all get tougher. Think about your grandparents, or anyone else that you may have ever met that lived through the Depression or World War II. Do you think they would ever go hard for Terrell Owens? Um, no. They'd hate Terrible for every single day of his life, even on the days when he was helping their favorite laundry win, because his value system is just so repellent to people who lived through an era of shared sacrifice.

There are a million little TO's out there, mostly playing wideout. Can you handle an NFL without them? Yeah, me too.

5) Owner shadenfraude. How much would you pay for various sports owners to hit the skids? I'm talking full bore, sell your fillings while appearing on Cash 4 Gold ads, make Leonard Tose look like a winner, 100% nitro-burning funny car flameout. Imagine Mark Cuban broke. Or Daniel Snyder. Or Donald Sterling. Or Jerry Jones. I think I just got wood.

4) Stadium improvement. This one is already starting, with Citibank finally making waves about getting out of their ridiculous deal with the Mets, but I'm looking for this to go further. Let's go back to naming stadiums after entities that don't, well, go out of business three years after getting the rights. Or, better yet, we all just stop agreeing to call them whatever the corporation that bought the rights wants us to. After all, did they pay you?

3) Luxury box removal. A year and a half ago, I took the Shooter Mom (who is, in all likelihood, a bigger football fan than you) to Lambeau for the Eagles-Packers game, because it was her birthday and because every NFL fan should go there at least once. What makes the place special, among the history, is the plain and simple fact that the best seats in the house are for people on bleachers who actually are blue collar enough to make noise when their team needs it. Luxury boxes are at the top of the place, where they belong, for people who don't care enough about the game to freeze their ass off.

If corporate spending falls off and luxury boxes go unsold, I'm dreaming that these abominations will actually be removed, because teams will have no better option than to, well, try to get a real home field advantage again. And I know, I'm dreaming, but how corporations can get away with buying these things in a crap economy is also dreaming. A bad dream.

2) Small market boom. If the money drains out of the games, eventually it will bleed faster out of the big markets, just because there's more air in their balloon. Maybe we get to a point where baseball teams don't have nearly $200 million of difference between payrolls. If it's $100 million, that's got to be better, doesn't it? And if that means that some teams go away or move, so be it. A century of watching the Yankees outspend people is enough.

1) A friendlier international profile. Imagine you are a baseball fan in Japan, or a basketball fan in Europe or China. How happy are you, really, to see your best players leave you high and dry for the NBA and MLB? Sure, the first few guys that went over had to be encouraging, because they showed that your best could compete at the highest level, but at this point, you are probably feeling the same about the MLB+ teams as the other poorer teams.

Maybe this is a small thing, but after many years of going our own way as a nation, I kind of like the idea of other countries feeling less bent at us. And if that means rich teams don't have a de facto second farm system, I'm OK with that. Assuming you aren't a fan of an MLB+ team, I suspect you are too.


The Prophet said...

I was going to "hype" and "bark" this up like I do most of the EC writers' articles, but you really know how to get to me: pro wrestling nostalgia. Old school ECW ruled and while it wasn't a state secret was something of which Philly was rightfully proud. I won't bore you with all of the pro wrestling greats that got their start and/or appeared in ECW at some point, or my one hour extemporaneous speech about how Raven "crucifying" The Sandman might be the best pro wrestling angle of the past decade or so.

Suffice to say that it ruled and the original incarnation not only kicked ass on Vince McMahon's disemboweled version but would have wrapped it in barbed wire, beat it with a baseball bat, hit it with a folding chair and had their scantly clad valet flash her breasts at it...and THEN kicked its ass.

The best thing about ECW was how they referred to the former warehouse/mummers parade rehearsal space/bingo hall in which they held their events as the 'ECW Arena'. Wonder how many ECW 'marks' drove into Philly looking for some glistening 5000 seat pro wrestling exclusive facility adjacent to The Spectrum?

Entertainment Blog said...

wow, i haven't thoughts of that benefit in a recession on sports.

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