Why you should care
Because we’re not saying “Take me out to the ballgame” nearly enough.
Throughout July, ESPN 2 is broadcasting a series of races in which competitors fly around a track, fighting for glory. “Fly,” in this instance, is literal: The Drone Racing League (DRL) features remote-control aircraft speeding through obstacles like something out of Star Wars, and it’s coming to a screen near you. So have we officially reached “peak sports”?
Enter a world of drone racing and fantasy sports — not to mention MMA, American Ninja Warrior and esports, aka professional video gaming. Move over, CNN, and welcome to the world of the 24-hour “sports cycle,” where ESPN and other sports networks compete with Twitter, Facebook, blogs and various digital platforms to win your coveted mouse and remote-control clicks. A world where Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV and premium networks have people “cutting the cord” from cable providers — and binge-watching series instead of live sporting events. A world where you are as likely to watch a game on your phone, computer or tablet as you are on a TV. A world where you are much less likely to actually attend a game.
Sports have now been reduced to mere “content” for “consumers” — one more fish in a sea of entertainment choices.
Does this mean we’ve reached a point of no return, where there are simply too many sports offerings for fans to properly enjoy them?
Some experts say it’s a fine line. “I think sports, and the experience of watching sports, hasn’t necessarily reached a peak,” says sports agent Darren Heitner, a regular contributor to Forbes and the author of How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know. “I just think that there are more options out there, and because of that, perhaps live sports has lost a little bit of its mystique.”
But others don’t think a state of “too much sports” is possible. “I don’t think we’ll ever reach a point where sports content becomes too saturated,” says Rob Perez, Cycle Media’s sports editor and host of the live video series Buckets. Perez and Heitner are both well in tune with the business of sports — and the shift to digital media consumption, which, as Perez admits, “has affected some people in a negative way.”
In April, ESPN laid off a lot of its top reporting talent, including John Clayton, Andy Katz, Jayson Stark, Len Elmore, Ed Werder, Chad Ford and many others. Such big-name layoffs — these reporters are among the biggest in their fields — would have been unthinkable in sports journalism just a few years ago; the network that employed them, after all, is “the Worldwide Leader in Sports.” Disney didn’t part ways with Mickey, Aladdin and Pocahontas just because viewers preferred 3D characters. Peak sports or not, it’s clear that the industry is changing rapidly, and the leagues, networks and news outlets are struggling to adapt.
Back in the early 2000s, “if you missed the 6 o’clock SportsCenter and the 11 o’clock SportsCenter, you were pretty much stuck … until the next morning,” Perez says. Now you can get sports highlights, news, analysis and live games while you’re out walking — phone in one hand, dog leash in the other. But is that for the best?
Before ESPN, Twitter and Bleacher Report, Americans used to consume sports live at stadiums, on TV and often on the radio. Fans followed their teams and read game analyses in the next day’s local newspaper. Sports superstars weren’t merely athletes — they were legends, and the things they accomplished captured the nation’s collective imagination.
Sports have now been reduced to mere “content” for “consumers” — one more fish in a sea of entertainment choices. The same digital revolution affecting the sports world has already steamrolled the TV, music and film industries, among others. Sports have joined the list of candidates vying for humans’ attention like one more profile on Tinder, another option to “swipe right,” briefly interact with and maybe meet in person if something more interesting fails to come along.
Maybe what we’re witnessing isn’t “peak sports.” Maybe it’s peak everything.
“I think what we’re reaching is peak individualism, to say it in a positive way,” Heitner says, “empowering the consumer so he or she can choose what he or she sees and at what times he or she wants.”
While Heitner and Perez see this mostly as a positive, I feel like something has been lost. The way we follow sports and participate with them has totally changed. We’re less connected. Less social. And we seem to have lost the ability to simply sit and enjoy a game.
“We, as a society, are becoming much more antisocial,” Heitner admits. “In the past, there was probably a lot more discussion between people about sports, and camaraderie — more enjoyment and pleasure, and more desire to go to games, be around others, communicate and socialize.”
But, hey — now we have drone racing.