SBJ/June 23-29, 2014/Opinion

What we miss when we’re constantly looking down, not up

AAt a recent sports industry forum, there was a fair amount of discussion regarding the “looking down, not up” media mode of how millennials and many other two-eyed creatures are consuming their favorite spectator sports. 

It’s yesterday’s news that our lives are crowded with super-communicating devices. The sports world continues to keep shrinking through hyperconnectivity. There are some mega-trends that are creating new cash and confusing the sporting landscape.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Technology sometimes hinders human integration. It’s clear that millions of us now communicate through pictures and videos and less in words, especially if they are big with lots of letters. The heck with baseball cards, box scores, 8-by-10-inch glossies and printed programs; let me send you an Instagram. Here’s a shot of my favorite shortstop walking his schnauzer. 

The positive interactivity of fans at games is going to be changed if we pay no attention to the fans sitting right next to us. Attending a live sporting event represents one of our last town squares. If our heads are constantly buried below eye contact we run the risk of becoming socially segmented. Sports are about verbalizing what we are seeing in real time. We pass along stories of magnificent moments and legendary athletes from generation to generation. People to people, not through hand-held video generators. 

Content is king

Why would you want to buy a pricey ticket to sit behind home plate when MLB.com offers access to every one of its 2,430 regular-season games for $130.

We now have NFL RedZone, NHL Center Ice, NBA Game Time and MLS Live. Looking down is becoming much more compelling. Look up and you may miss something. 

Everyone with a phone is now their own sports channel. Sports has been built through teamwork. It will be incumbent on leagues, live-event promoters, venue architects, tech companies, telecommunication giants, sponsors and fans to look up at each other to find a happy medium.

Whose den is it anyway?

The experience of viewing a game in a stadium has been changed by the Cowboys’ gargantuan LED center-hung, “galaxy’s largest” TV at AT&T Stadium. No matter how hard you try to look down at actual players and action on the field, your eyes will be pulled to the board. This is an analog of the “looking down, not up” equation but nonetheless it takes you away from live action.

Fans want the best possible experience and they will determine which way they want to watch/communicate with their favorite teams/sports. Sports fans are the ultimate committed customers; they will do what they want no matter what the marketing mavens have up their sleeves.

It’s a small world

A conference speaker was pointing out the new trend of continental drift where owners are seeking out opportunities in nontraditional backyards. Franchise ownership borders are being redrawn as we speak. We have a Russian oligarch hooping it up in Brooklyn and politicking back home. Football teams beloved by millions in the U.K. are owned by football owners from the U.S. While we are looking down, the big spinning ball that we all live on is shrinking through sports.

There were fears that Sochi wouldn’t work and Brazil’s social ills will suck the air out of a Samba party. But global sports events work because people interact with each other.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a … #$&%!

Maybe the valuable lesson in the looking down, not up syndrome is baseball specific. Real baseball fans know that culinary seagulls never fail to fly into the ballpark around the seventh inning for the bird buffet. These seven-course meals are left by fans who are trying to beat the traffic.

In this instance, make sure you continue to look down, not up!

Andy Dolich (andy.dolich@gmail.com) is managing director of U.S. sports practice for Odgers Berndtson and has held team executive posts in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NASL.

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