As published by The Footy Almanac, 5 December 2014
‘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 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. Even sports not scheduling more product have cunningly achieved that perception. 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. It’s not difficult to see how allegations of tennis match fixing arose with too many games to properly 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 kind of punter who cares most 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. No wonder the MCG even struggles to pull 14,000 to a fixture featuring the two best ODI countries.
English cricket’s ‘summer’ is more arduous though. It’s been said that one reason for the Poms’ eternal malaise is that jaded county cricketers simply do not value their wicket enough and bowlers cannot bend their backs due to the physical and mental drudgery of their endless schedule. 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 flinging 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 since 1904. 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 tireless, expendable athletes 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. Sports are bound to see more player strikes. Eventually, consumers being fed an inferior, bland and morally corrupt 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.