View from the Cheap Seats is kind of an extension of the newsroom. Whenever our three regular reporters, Calvin Daniels, Thom Barker and Randy Brenzen are in the building together, it is frequently a site of heated debate. This week: Is television ruining live sports.
Longer but better
The first time I remember noticing the impact of television on live sports was at a football game between the Ottawa Rough Riders and Saskatchewan Roughriders at Lansdowne Park in the early 1990s. In the first quarter, all of a sudden all the players were simply standing around on the field. No time out had been called. There was no injured player being attended to. After puzzling over it for a moment, I realized it was a TV time out.
There is no question games have become longer because of TV. A few years ago when I was working on a story about the Grey Cup, I came across a list of all the games with their durations. It showed that games have gotten longer over time, most dramatically corresponding to the proliferation of TV coverage.
When you are in the stands, it can kind of disrupt the flow, but at home, it’s a great opportunity to grab a beer, or give one back, so to speak.
It is tempting to say television is ruining live sports because of that one thing in particular. I am going to take a different tack, though. Play reviews are another thing that can (but don’t need to) add time to and disrupt a game. They are, however, the best thing that has ever happened to professional sports.
Every sports fan has seen a potential victory for his team snatched away by a bad call. Instant replay is starting to change that. The only problem is the way it is implemented. There is no reason with today’s technology that it should be incumbent upon a coach, or player, or official, to have to challenge a call. It should be automatic (except for some types of calls, certain penalties, for example, which by their nature require a certain amount of subjectivity).
For the most part, however, the play review makes sports better and TV is responsible for making that innovation possible. That is not to say the leagues don’t need to come up with a better way of doing it, but all in all, TV is not ruining live sports, it is improving them.
— Thom Barker
Show them the money
It may be a case of sports having created the monster of its own demise when it comes to sports on television impacting fans attending live games.
Sports have chased TV contracts with the tenacity of British hounds chasing the fox. It has in many ways been the infusion of cash leagues and teams have needed to pad bottom lines and make multimillionaires out of athletes.
It was largely cable deal money which has allowed the Los Angeles Dodgers to spend like the Yankees of late including a massive deal with pitcher Clayton Kershaw signed to a seven-year, $215 million deal.
The recent National Hockey League deal with SportsNet in Canada worth near $5.2 billion is a huge cash injection into the league, which still remains a distant fourth among the so-called big four of sports leagues, far behind American football, major league baseball and basketball.
While TV revenues are fueling prosperity for many teams and all players, it has a downside if you want fans to attend live games.
The question for fans is to ask why?
Take the 12-year agreement, Rogers deal where they obtained the national rights on all platforms to every NHL game through the 2025-26 campaign—including all playoff games and the Stanley Cup Final.
That means a Canadian fan can sit down in front of their big and bigger televisions, all in high definition, with surround sound and watch any game. The seat is a nice easy chair which may recline, and the refreshments in the refrigerator are a lot cheaper than any rink or stadium.
A fan doesn’t have to fight traffic to and from the game, nor mortgage the house for tickets, like those attending a Toronto Maple Leafs or Winnipeg Jets game almost need to do.
The home view is usually comfortable in terms of temperature. It comes with expert analysis and instant replay.
And in a world where time counts, it cuts many in-person experiences in half in terms of time spent getting to, attending and getting back home.
While sports can likely keep live attendance by cutting costs and offering perks, it is also not hard to envision a near empty rink with fans just clicking in from home. By that time each game viewed will likely cost fans money, but then again that’s all sports teams want, so will it matter to anyone where a fan sits, home or stadium, as long as he pays.
— Calvin Daniels
Is television ruining live sporting events?
In short, the answer is no, it is not.
Live sports are as entertaining as ever and will continue to be until they are deemed too dangerous and banned.
However, television IS ruining the attendance at live sporting events. This is because it is much easier for people to lay down at home with a bottle of pop and a bag of chips and flip through channel after channel until they find the game they want to watch, rather than get up to attend a game.
I mean, why would people bother to get up off the couch and attend a game when they can watch that same game, with commentary, from the comfort of their own home?
Television has simply made it too easy for people to watch sporting events, resulting in lower attendance numbers over the years despite the fact that the on field (or on ice) product has been as good as ever.
So when you need to answer the question “Is television ruining live sports?” the answer, simply, is no. Nein. Nyet. Whichever language you prefer.
— Randy Brenzen