Where does your favorite sport fall on the sports-entertainment spectrum?
In my view, the sports-entertainment spectrum on one side is sports that is based on merit of play or performance. On the other side, merit takes a back seat to entertainment.
For example, track is pretty close to sports based on merit. Ultimately, the fastest runners tend to win. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t have a big enough following to make it a lucrative sport to cover.
The WWE is a good example of sports entertainment. While the participants are good athletes, there’s no doubt that it is fake and purely for entertainment purposes.
I get involved in a lot of discussions that compare American pro sports leagues to European soccer. One mistake I see folks make is to see them as the same thing.
That is, they see leagues, teams, managers, coaches, uniforms, standings and a sport being played and assume they are roughly the same types of things.
But, I see American sports more on the sports entertainment side of the spectrum, while European soccer is more on the sports side.
Why? In European soccer, hundreds, if not thousands, of independent clubs compete for their spot on the ‘pyramid’ of leagues and their place is determined by their performance on the field.
In the U.S., competition is limited to the teams within the franchise, which means it’s open for manipulation to do what the owners believe will be good for ratings (whether they are right or not). To get a franchise, you have to buy your way in. Your team can suck balls, but if you have the money and connections, you’re good to go.
Some of what they do for the ratings is right out in the open and sports nuts even like to get into the weeds of it. Two examples are salary caps and the draft. These exist purely because there is a belief that more people will watch games that are more evenly matched, i.e. ratings.
It seems fair to folks. Otherwise, how could a small market team ever hope to compete against larger market teams that can afford to pay for better players?
The NFL draft has become a huge event. They are making money on one of the key ways they rig their sport for ratings. I find it pretty fascinating.
I have no qualms with it. It seems to work for those leagues. Enough folks watch to keep companies buying ads in their time slots and keep the sport entertainment going.
I just don’t kid myself that that it is actually sport. It’s sports entertainment, maybe slightly less fake than the WWE, but still fake enough to not get too worked up about.
Great article Seth!