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SUICIDE SQUEEZE? MIDDLE-CLASS FANS LEFT OUT OF PRO SPORTS
Published July 9, 1998
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).