Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Oh Dear Lord, A Serious Rant

Pardon me for a quasi-serious moment. (We promise there will be titty and stupidity later, and maybe sooner, depending on your point of view. If you’re only here for goofy stuff, skip this one – I’m about to bust a rant.)

When I worked as an intern in the sports department for a pretty decent-sized newspaper in mumble mumble, the rest of the staff called us the Toy Department. What we did sold papers, especially on the day before and after a big game, but it wasn't Real News. It got you no street cred from Serious Reporters, and anyone who did it for more than 10 to 20 years started to get fat and smelly. You went into the field if you loved it, didn’t mind fat and smelly, and could live on a bad salary.

And then the money in sports -- crazy always – went completely batshit insane. So much so that even the fat and smelly guys could cash in.

In 1991, Rickey Henderson was the best player in baseball, and he made $3.25 million. In 2001, Alex Rodriguez made $22 million – up nearly 700%. That didn’t all come from Tom Hicks, folks.
ESPN and fantasy leagues went from nerd joke to nerd reality to the nerds running everything. Sports owners turned from miserly old men who ran them like businesses to the same miserly old men, but peppered with vanity billionaires who wanted to play real-life fantasy leagues.

And the Toy Department became a place where people could get famous and wealthy, churning out books, showing up on radio, and even making it on TV, depending on the quality of your screaming.

Toy Department, my ass. The world turned into a Toy Store.

And so sports became the long boom, the ever-growing beast that the world just kept feeding. Give the credit to good marketing, a long era of peace, maybe even the dissolution of unions and political parties. Or blame it on television for forgetting how to make mass-market shows, or on cable and the Web for giving us so many choices that sports became the only common touch point, and hideously overvalued by advertisers.

But in any event, here we are, spending our time watching, reading, and writing about sports. Probably more than we ever have before.

And I've got bad news for any of us who can think. We're getting screwed.

Oh, not in the ways you already know about, with the ever-increasing number of ads, the spiraling cost of tickets, the stadium welfare deals.

No, the screwing here is from the usual suspect when something isn't as good as you once remembered it and you don't know why -- the media.

If you were reading a book and got to the last 50 pages, and the author just started dropping in notes from another book, or gossip about a fellow author, or their personal evaluation of an unrelated topic... what would you do?

You might finish the book. You might toss it across the room. But you’d probably never buy or read anything from that author again.

If you were at a concert and the band stopped the show to talk amongst themselves for minutes on end, intermittently noodling on their instruments, until a time the show was supposed to be over, at which point they just up and left…

Well, depending on the age of the crowd, maybe you’d get a riot. In any event, you'd be tempted to never listen to their songs again, and you'd probably tell everyone you know not to go to their live show.

If you went to a restaurant and got back a main course that wasn't what you ordered, but something entirely different that was also inedible and unprepared, with no possibility of refund or recompense...

Well, you’d either leave, or send it back. You'd make a stink. You'd tell everyone you know if you weren’t satisfied, and maybe even if you were. You’d never go back.

The author wouldn't get another book deal, and their editor would be canned.

The band would stop getting gigs.

The restaurant would close.

And when they do the exact same thing in sports media… they get promoted.

On the off chance that you don't believe me... well, YouTube doesn't have the clip of Christian Slater on Monday Night Football, so I can’t link to it. Sorry.

Ethically, I'm not going to provide you the link to read Gregg Easterbook's emissions about science fiction, or genetics, or politics, or any of the other things that he puts in his pompous and formulaic hack of a football column.

Here is a link to a page where the writers tracked how many things Dick Vitale talked about that weren't related to the game he was covering. (Hat tip: Deadspin and Card Chronicle.) http://www.cardchronicle.com/story/2007/1/23/51024/3678.

In case you don’t want to click and see the whole list, the final number was 156. In a two-hour telecast.

I rag on Bill Simmons in the sad hope that he gets better, because when he actually writes about sports, he’s actually good. The percentage of that in his output now is getting close to 25%. (Maybe less, if you take out the My Team pity parties.)

Bill Walton is so bored with the game that he's watching that he routinely says just out and out lies about it, so that the event conforms to his formula of mystic battle, to be determined by divine will. We could go on.

If you’re a fan of any of that, this blog is going to piss you off sometimes. I hope you stay anyway, but if you don’t, no worries.

And if you really hate that crap... I'm so happy to meet you. I was going crazy out here alone.

Why do they do this? Because they believe – probably correctly – that we'll be here no matter what.

So throw some more shit against the wall, folks. Have "American Idol" style auditions for the color analyst job, live and on air. Introduce cooking segments in post-game press conferences. Bring in Rush Limbaugh to line up against Tony Siragusa in his Fat Guy Football Pantomimes. Make the players sing karaoke at halftime, judged by their wives, and have people vote on the winners by cell phone. Go Freaking Nuts. It will help change things for the better, faster.

When a business cares more about growth than it does in keeping its customers satisfied, it eventually fails. It might not happen now, and it might not happen soon. But when the site traffic fades, and the TV ratings stay static or worse, especially for regular season games … and no city wants the franchise that threatens to pack its bags….

Well, a lot of people will realize that the Toy Store has a lot of crap in it. And they’ll go find somewhere else to spend their time. They have options.

We, of course, will still be here, watching the games, and maybe even enjoying it more. Maybe we’ll be watching pirated video and audio feeds, reading stuff that’s actually funny or insightful, and trading moments of reporting back and forth to each other as a community,

Maybe we’ll even have useful Web-only fantasy sports shows. Or highlight shows without lame banter and analysis from non-jock lunkheads.

I, personally, dream of getting a feed that won’t make me watch the same damned commercials over and over again, or let me have ads that let me watch the game when my daughter is in the room with me. I’m a dreamer.

Whatever it is, it’s coming. The tech is all here, and there’s a world of us that isn’t ready to settle. There’s more good sports blogs every day, and I hope you put FTT in that group.

Because I’m betting that there are more of us every day, and less of them.

Thanks for reading, and game on.

5 comments:

Mike said...

Hear, hear.

meatwad said...

I'll second that -- and whoever came up with the idea of hiring a comedian to do color commentary should be forced to listen until they chew their own legs off in an attempt to escape.

But then again, I think that about most media shows these days...

NFL Adam said...

I blame the networks of stealing Vince McMahon's vision of sports and entertainment. But what we want is sports as entertainment.

A USD v. St. Mary's basketball game is interesting enough to me, without having to put the Sports Dork on the commentary. This is why I watch games in noisy bars where you can't hear the sound.

DMtShooter said...

At least in the WWE, the commentators are, um, watching the match. (As well as shilling for the next pay per view, of course.)

The Truth said...

Lots of options already. Start the game late and tivo through the commercials. Turn down the volume and listen to the local broadcasters to the game. Or better yet, VOIP your buddies while watching the game (my buddies and I use Skype) and have running commentary.