Pretty much the only reason I ever owned a television or had a cable subscription was so I could watch sports. Growing up, we only have a few channels and they were often so fuzzy you could not watch them. Television was just not a central part of my life as a kid, so I never developed the habit. I grew up on sports, so as I got older I did what everyone else did and got cable and a television. In truth, I bought my first TV after a girl I was dating said she would not come over to my place if I did not have a television.
Over the years, the only thing I bothered watching with any regularity was sports. Even as the cable companies kept jacking up the rates, I liked sports enough to keep paying the rate. In fairness, the number of games kept rising and the quality of the television got better, as the prices went up. When I was a kid we got one NFL game on Sunday. If I want to watch every NFL game on a Sunday, I can do it now. The same is true of college and other sports. It really is an amazing change just in my lifetime.
I no longer have a cable subscription. I’ll watch movies off Amazon or off the Kodi, but that’s the stuff I can get free. I stopped watching the NFL a few years ago, even when I still had cable. I’m not sure what happened. The games just got boring to me. I’ll still watch a college football game, but I’m not arranging my schedule around it. Basketball stopped interesting me in the 90’s, mostly because I’m white. The only sport I will watch is baseball and I primarily follow it over the internet and through the box score.
It’s popular to say that the NFL is struggling due to the player protests. There’s certainly something to that, but it feels more like the final straw than the prime reason. I have friends who were regular fans, going to games and watching on TV, but now they don’t follow the NFL at all. At the same time, they cut the cord and started disengaging from sports media too. That’s not just the protests. There’s something else going on in the culture that is causing people to rethink their interest in professional sports.
A few years ago, it was received wisdom that the NFL, and to a lesser extend college football, was the tent pole holding up the cable business. Americans were football crazy and they would pay the price to have their weekend games. Now, ESPN dropping the NFL is no longer a crazy idea. They are getting killed by cord cutting, but they are also paying huge money for professional sports. They are preparing for another round of layoffs. There is a limit to cost cutting. Anyone involved in downsizing knows it is just a way to buy time.
The question no one seems to ask is why has the NFL lost its appeal? Again, the decline has been going on for a few years. Ratings were dropping before the players decided to demonstrate their hatred for white people. If we could get an honest accounting of ticket sales, my bet is those have been in decline as well. People in the secondary market say prices have been dropping for years, which is a good indication that retail sales were sliding too. For some reason, normies in America are losing interest in football.
One possible explanation is that supply created a bubble of demand. We tend to think of economic bubbles as demand driven, but take a look at the bookstore business. There was a time when the bookstore was the small shop selling bestsellers at the mall or a shop in the bohemian section of town. Then all of a sudden, every town had a massive warehouse selling books. Of course, Amazon came along too. Book sales went up until people remembered they did not like reading that much. Poof. Bookstores went away.
Maybe something similar is happening with sports. In the 70’s, it was rare for a sporting event to sell out. Big games were a hard ticket, but even some title games failed to sell out. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, the NBA playoffs were on tape delay. The famous US hockey win over the Soviets was not broadcast live. In the 80’s, new arenas and the roll out of cable made everyone a sports fan. Then the girls got into it and being a sports nut became the way people related to one another in the public.
It could be that after a generation of sports mania, people are remembering that watching live sports is not all that much fun. Just as the culture changed with the new flood of sports television and high end sports arenas, the culture is changing again as the novelty of those things wear off and people rediscover other entertainments. We tend to think of fads lasting a week or maybe a summer, but maybe some things run their course over a generation. Maybe as the Boomers fade, their cultural items are fading too.
If you think about it, Boomers have driven other sports fads that have come and gone. In my youth, tennis was a big deal. Boomers were young enough to play tennis, so they watched tennis too. Then the boomers got old and moved onto golf. Tennis collapsed and golf took off. Now, Boomers are getting too old for golf, so it has fallen into decline. Maybe that’s what is happening with professional sports like the NFL. The demographic cohort that blew the sports bubble is expiring and the bubble is collapsing.
It’s not an elegant answer, but there is no obvious reason why football has a stink on it all of a sudden. The games have been over-hyped circuses for a long time. They actually made some changes to quicken the pace and shorten the games. The cost of attendance is ridiculous, but you never hear that as an explanation for the sudden decline. Even so, that would not explain the free fall in TV ratings. Whatever the cause, it is part of a much longer trend and not the result of one thing, like the player protests.