SBD/9/Sports Society

SUICIDE SQUEEZE? MIDDLE-CLASS FANS LEFT OUT OF PRO SPORTS

          The state of pro sports is examined by Dan McGraw in a
     U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT cover story under the header "Big
     League Troubles: Pro sports has a problem.  Fans are
     disgusted.  What if they just stopped watching?"  Attendance
     is high, "but there are many signs that the middle class is
     increasingly disenchanted with the commercialization of
     [pro] sports. ... Now, fed-up fans may be exacting their
     revenge.  The sports leagues have long viewed them as a
     bottomless money pit, but there are signs that fans are
     close to being tapped out."  That "could spell major-league
     trouble not just" for sports but also for TV nets that pay
     huge rights fees (U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, 7/13).     
          SKEWED DEMOS? McGraw writes pro sports "is becoming so
     'gentrified' that only upper-income people can afford to go
     to the games, and these fans ... tend not to be as die-hard
     in their support as their middle- and lower-income
     counterparts."  Smith College economics professor Andrew
     Zimbalist: "The middle-income and lower-income fans are
     being priced out of the game.  It threatens the mass
     character of sport, and over time there is a gradual loss of
     interest, which hurts TV ratings and licensing deals."  On
     the marketing side, Coca-Cola recently reduced its
     sponsorship package with the NFL and shoe companies like
     Nike and Reebok have reduced their roster of player
     endorsers.  The Bonham Group President Dean Bonham:
     "Corporate America is seeing the sports franchise as less
     valuable."  Bonham said that pro sports are increasingly
     offering only the affluent audience to advertisers, instead
     of several different demographics: "When you only offer that
     one group, (the sports leagues') options for sponsorship are
     more restrictive" (U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, 7/13 issue).   
          BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING: With sports costs higher than
     ever, the "pass-through" of those costs to consumers "is
     getting the attention of Washington."  Senate Majority
     Leader Trent Lott said recently that he would favor looking
     into the sports antitrust issue: "This abuse of people,
     taxpayers, cities -- like we have seen with football and
     with baseball -- is wrong, just wrong.  And they've got to
     answer to somebody."  Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has
     sponsored the Give Fans a Chance Act, "which would require
     the sports leagues to give local communities six months to
     come up with a competing bid to keep a team if the team
     decided to relocate."  The bill now has 24 co-sponsors and
     is in the House Judiciary Committee.  McGraw concludes, "The
     fans remain underdogs in this contest, but they may have all
     the momentum" (U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, 7/13 issue).  
          BAD TO WORSE? In Toronto, Craig Daniels: "There is so
     much wrong with professional sports, and it is so determined
     to get worse. ... [T]he world of pro sport seems hell-bent
     on undercutting its worth, devaluing what it means, and we
     seem too ready to help it along" (TORONTO SUN, 7/9).

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Coca-Cola, NFL, Nike, Reebok, Sports in Society

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