Is There Just Too Much Sports On TV?
The buck stops at the top. In MLB, however, the buck stops at the start of next season. Faced with a tough call on whether to suspend Houston’s Yuri Gurriel for making a derogatory Asian gesture to LA Dodger pitcher Yu Darvish, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred decided to split the baby.
He suspended Gurriel for five games without pay— to be served next season. His rationale? Manfred didn’t want to hurt the rest of the Astros for what was a selfish personal move, not a team policy. Nice try. (Made worse by Gurriel hitting a huge home run in Game 5. ) While the decision may placate the Astros fans it failed the spit test with just about everyone else.
It’s this kind of tone-deaf stuff that has left many weary of sports leagues in this day and age. I’m probably not the one to ask after watching hours of CFL, NFL and NCAA football this weekend. But is there simply too much sports product on TV these days?
If you’re a fan of a particular team, there can hardly be too much of your favourites on the tube. And if all of the baseball games were like the recent World Series games you’d say bring it on.
But the ratings numbers on that stalwart of leagues, the NFL, might be showing that too much of a good thing is starting to work against the league.
According to Nielsen, games averaged 15.1 million viewers through Week 7, down 5.1 percent from 15.87 million viewers during the same period last season and off 18.7 percent from 18.35 million viewers during the same period in 2015.
That has caused some broadcast executives to suggest that the NFL reduce the number of games available on TV to make the games special, not commonplace, content again.
“Ten years ago, the NFL had 32 game windows through week six,” Sports Business Journal reported. “This year, it is up to 39, a 22 percent increase. It’s even more crowded in college, where the 2007 windows to this point added up to 105. This year, it’s at 179, up a whopping 71 percent.”
According to SBJ, one suggestion is reducing the number of Thursday Night games. The package, which the NFL has been trying to promote with limited success for over a decade, makes money for the league but is loathed by many football fans. Reducing it from 18 games to, say, nine or ten, might put the sparkle back into the games.
With the explosion of digital content and new cable packages fans can watch every game in every league all season. And while not all the leagues are showing the same erosion as the NFL, there is definitely a fatigue factor.
As I discuss in my upcoming book, Cap In Hand, the explosion of games on TV/ online has underlined the sameness of the teams— a sameness brought about by the salary caps that artificially attempt to impose parity on the leagues. With a growing number of teams restricted in how much they can spend on a finite supply of stars, coaches have adopted similar strategies to minimize risk and maximize defensive postures.
That might have escaped notice in an earlier age when, say, half the home team’s games were on TV and Hockey Night in Canada or only your local NFL team was on the tube outside the playoffs. But, by blanketing the games across the air, viewers can’t help but recognize how monotonous games are.
This cookie-cutter product stands in stark contrast to those teams that mange to transcend the mediocrity. The Golden State Warriors, who somehow built a super team despite the cap, have energized the NBA with their stunning skill, audacious strategy and dynamic stars. With, at most, ten players appearing in games, the NBA can fool the leavening effect of the cap from time to time.
European soccer, too, has concentrated on a format that emphasizes the top players on top teams in limited, high-visibility formats such as the World Cup or Cup Winners Cup. Viewers can always see their home team, but they are also beneficiaries of a special-event mentality which is escaping the NFL, NHL and CFL.
The emotional 2017 World Series has reminded everyone just how good the very best players are. We don’t need to see them every night. And we don’t need to see a lot of the teams at all. That might start with a lot less inventory on the screen.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)