Sport’s Many Cups Runneth Over, and Over

‘Always leave the audience wanting more’ is a show business adage that its insatiable cousin, modern professional sport, seldom follows.

Every new sport or variation thereof, every new event, competition, tournament or series, exacerbates the potential meh factor.  Winners scarcely bask in 15 seconds of glory before victory is usurped by the six o’clock news and the next game or fly-by-night tournament named in the sponsor’s honour.

As much as one can appreciate the skill and dedication of professional athletes, the line between artistic performance and sport is blurred when there’s little more at stake than personal pride and a big fat cheque.  As Lee Trevino once said, ‘you don’t know what pressure is until you play for five bucks with only two bucks in your pocket’ – or at least for something with more cache than the ‘Fry’s Electronics International’.  Played like rubbish this week?  No matter, a chance for atonement is a day or two away.

Whilst golf and tennis essentially revolve around four major tournaments, all manner of tours and events have filled their calendars with Groundhog Days.   Currently 172 golf tournaments are spread across six world PGA tours of which the European has become a 52 week ‘season’. Little wonder the Aussie tour is a pale imitation of yesteryear.

Such is the plethora of tennis tournaments under the WTP umbrella, over the course of a year 181 WTP events carry ranking points, plus another 400 minor tournaments with no point/s.  Similar to golf, our once notable summer of tennis spends most of its time in the shade.

Local, national and international contests are cramming every nook and cranny of the sporting calendar, and with a similar scenario replicated all over the globe (viewable at a click of a button), we are drowning in it like never before.  Even lawn bowls, having landed a modest deal with the ABC, manufactured sub standard ‘international’ events to satisfy insomniacs and feed the TV meter.

If you are reading this, drowning in sport may seem a lovely way to go, and of course no one is being forced to watch.  You may know when you’ve had your fill but how is your viewing experience being tarnished by this phenomenon, fed by greed and nurtured by our wondrous global communications revolution?

To stay ahead of the game, administrators are simply programming more or bastardising their sports to entertain the uninitiated or the compulsive remote flicker.  There is only so much the market can absorb and a wide range of overworked sports are calling for oxygen. Sports not scheduling more product are cunningly achieving that perception.  For example the AFL and NRL now stagger fixtures so few games overlap.

We’ve seen how squeezing the golden goose, and more tellingly, dead rubber fixtures, can plant dangerous seeds.  No wonder allegations of tennis match fixing arose with too many games to possibly monitor.

Meanwhile the proliferation of cricket can be likened to a noxious weed.  Meaningless and forgettable one day series, ripe for the fixing, have produced pear shaped outcomes.  But for effigy burning willow worshippers from the sub-continent, one day losses in some nondescript made for television series in Dubai hurt as much as a loud sneeze.   Add to the mix omnipresent T20, where the only kind of punter who cares for the result ‘aint Ricky Ponting.

Australia’s World Cup inflated 2014/15 summer comprises 61 days of international cricket interspersed with up to 90 days of domestic cricket. Now the MCG struggles to even pull 14,000 to a clash between the two best ODI countries.

English cricket’s ‘summer’ is more arduous though.  It’s often said the Poms’ eternal malaise is due to jaded county cricketers not valuing their wicket enough and tired leather flingers having to act as bowling machines. Former England captain Nasser Hussain believes authorities have long treated athletes ‘like pieces of meat.’

Sadly, records of many great champions have been smashed to virtual irrelevancy.  After breaking his back, Dennis Lillee broke Lance Gibbs’ world wicket taking record and went onto claim 355 scalps – a remarkable achievement.  After 100 years of Test cricket, who would conceive 25 years later a leg spinner of dubious fitness and dietary regimens would double DK’s mark and a Sri Lankan shot-putter snare 800 wickets before hurling his last doosra?

Sports that prostitute their product for immediate cash gratification face other ramifications.   Boredom is one – for supporters of no-hoper teams interest quickly evaporates at the best of times.  Fancy being 30 wins behind in your Major League baseball conference with 50 games still to play?  Sounds ludicrous but baseball nuts have endured team fixtures comprising over 150 games for 110 years.  And if we’re still not quite sure who the standout teams are and you’re hankering for more, strap yourself in for the best of seven pennant playoffs followed by a best of seven World Series.

Rather than primarily a test of skill and teamwork, such competitions have fallen into the realm of endurance events, often won by the club with the best player management, training and medical resources.  Too often commercial considerations are completely taking over, turning wine into dishwater – administrators oblivious to the devaluation of their product.  Brilliant careers are being prematurely cruelled by stress related overuse injuries whilst immature bodied rookies buckle under the strain.

Sure, the economics of programming 24/7 sport watching zombies and athletic automatons may stack up now.  And who can blame bean counters for grasping at massive TV deals, despite scheduling demands that would weary the Eveready bunny.

Unsurprisingly, some athletes succumb to drugs just to compete, let alone win.  Others unable to cope with the demands are leading dangerous, dysfunctional lives.  At this rate we are bound to see more player strikes.  Eventually, consumers being fed an inferior, bland commodity will vote with their feet and remote.

It begs a plea to all sports; give us time to miss you – or risk us not missing you at all.

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.

Comments

  1. Lots of food for thought there Jeff. Sport has always been about competition, with hopefully an entertaining aspect. Now it is entertainment with hopefully a competitive aspect.
    Crio’s question about favourite golf players made me muse on how I used to spend half Saturday and all Sunday engrossed in golf tournaments on TV. Didn’t spend 10 minutes on the Australian Open last week.
    In addition to all the things you say, there is something in the professionalization of sport producing a homogenous group of similar extraordinary talents – all indistinguishable from one another. Whenever I watch even the modest local pros play in the flesh, I am blown away by their skill. On TV, meh as you say. They all look dime a dozen.
    Tennis has flourished because Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and latterly Murray formed an elite group that you knew was outstanding because of how much they were better than the #5-200 ranked players.
    I grew up on Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. Then Trevino and Watson challenged the Golden Bears hegemony once the older generation dropped away.
    Golf had a renaissance with Tiger until even he was forced to realise he had a dick (sorry feet) of clay. Now it is a raffle between any of 100 very talented Neville Nobodies.

  2. G’day Jeff,

    Here in Japan, professional baseball leagues have around 130 games each annually as six-team competitions. Fixtures are fair, but games are boring because they are slow and not powerful. Also no cross town rival and bad media coverage distracted me from watching. Baseball live coverages don’t cover full matches. Footy and rugby union are much better!

    I don’t like stadiums named after sponsors, like Docklands.

    We should be able to enable the nature of sports rather than too much corporates, shouldn’t we?

    Thanks for your great work, Jeff!

    Yoshi

  3. Oops, I mistapped, sorry.

    Not enable but enjoy.

    Yoshi

  4. Too true Jeff. I was chatting with mates re the old days how we’d look forward to the summer(s) of cricket, now it is cricket 365, with an excess of games, about whom most cricket supporters are unaware of.

    An obvious example of this is the status of test cricket. Who are we playing again ? Sides play each other over and over, best exemplified by the current fad of 2 test series. The near terminal decline of the Windies, the ‘troika’ of India, with Australia and the MCC with them directing the focus of world cricket is going to see more and more cricket.

    Quality is not a factor, quantity is the key. Realistically all sports can be lumped as part of the entertainment industry, with the result being some people making enormous ammounts of money from the hard yakka of others.

    Welcome to the 21st century.

    Glen!

  5. Dave Brown says

    I think there is also a great insecurity underlying much of sport administrators’ actions at the moment. Thinking of the AFL, the worry of not being talked about throughout the summer for fear of losing ground (share?) to the other football leads us to three weeks of free agency / trades. Surely a few days would suffice if it was purely a utilitarian exercise. Every moment of pointlessness works to devalue the currency in the long run.

  6. Thanks Peter – I think what you’re saying goes much to playing becoming more of a chore – another event or match ‘to get through’. The best may still be living in the moment in a professional sense but the joy is somewhat mitigated, and it shows.

    Unfortunately Yoshi the business of sport demands the talent is well payed. Attendences alone won’t pay for that, corporates do. And to get value for their investment they’re demanding more and encroaching more on the product.

    You are correct Dave, administrators don’t want to give the competition a leg up. The AFL (and clubs) are the best / worst at doing everything possible to be in our faces 365 days a year. I used to enjoy the break, now I feel a little wearied by the game before the next season has even started.

  7. Most people get sick of their favorite food if they have to eat it all the time. Same with sport. I have almost totally lost interest in cricket, and only watch if there are one or two extraordinary players (e.g. Warnie in his time) involved. Another factor is that there are now fewer ‘characters’ playing at the top level now it has become elite and pc, who used to provide added interest to a game.

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