Sports may have reached its TV saturation point

With the exception of a few remarkable spectacles like the current World Series, major sports tend to be omnipresent but monotonous

The buck stops at the top. In Major League Baseball, however, the buck stops at the start of next season. Faced with a tough call on whether to suspend Houston’s Yuli Gurriel for making a derogatory Asian gesture to L.A. Dodger pitcher Yu Darvish, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred decided to split the baby.

Manfred suspended Gurriel for five games without pay – to be served next season rather than during the current World Series between the Houston Astros and the Dodgers.

Manfred’s rationale? He didn’t want to hurt the rest of the Astros for what was a selfish personal move, not a team policy.

Nice try (made worse by Gurriel hitting a huge home run in Game 5 of the World Series).

While the decision may placate Astros fans, it failed the spit test with just about everyone else.

It’s this kind of tone-deaf stuff that has left many weary of major sports leagues. I’m probably not the one to ask after watching hours of CFL, NFL and college football this weekend. But is there simply too much sports product on TV these days?

If you’re a fan of a particular team, there can hardly be too much of your favourites on the tube. And if all of the baseball games were like the recent World Series games, you’d say bring it on.

But the ratings numbers on that stalwart of leagues, the National Football League, might be showing that too much of a good thing is starting to work against the league.

According to Nielsen, games averaged 15.1 million viewers through Week 7, down 5.1 per cent from 15.87 million viewers during the same period last season and off 18.7 per cent from 18.35 million viewers during the same period in 2015.

That’s caused some broadcast executives to suggest that the NFL reduce the number of games available on TV to make the games special – not commonplace – content again.

“Ten years ago, the NFL had 32 game windows through week six,” SportsBusiness Journal reported. “This year, it is up to 39, a 22 per cent increase. It’s even more crowded in college, where the 2007 windows to this point added up to 105. This year, it’s at 179, up a whopping 71 per cent.”

According to SBJ, one suggestion is reducing the number of Thursday night NFL games. The Thursday package, which the league has been trying to promote with limited success for more than a decade, makes money for the NFL but is loathed by many fans. Reducing Thursday from 18 games to, say, nine or ten, might put the sparkle back into those nights.

With the explosion of digital content and new cable packages, fans can watch every game in every league all season. And while not all the leagues are showing the same erosion as the NFL, there’s definitely a fatigue factor.

As I discuss in my upcoming book, Cap In Hand, the explosion of games on TV and/or online has underlined the sameness of the teams – a sameness brought about by the salary caps that attempt to impose parity on the leagues. With a growing number of teams restricted in how much they can spend on a finite supply of stars, coaches have adopted similar strategies to minimize risk and maximize defensive postures.

That might have escaped notice in an earlier age when, say, half the home team’s games were on TV and Hockey Night in Canada or only your local NFL team was on the tube outside the playoffs. But by blanketing the games across the air, viewers can’t help but recognize how monotonous games are.

This cookie-cutter product stands in stark contrast to those teams that mange to transcend the mediocrity. The Golden State Warriors, who somehow built a super team despite the cap, have energized the National Basketball League with their stunning skill, audacious strategy and dynamic stars. With, at most, 10 players appearing in games, the NBA can fool the leavening effect of the cap from time to time.

European soccer, too, has concentrated on a format that emphasizes the top players on top teams in limited, high-visibility formats such as the Champions League. Viewers can always see their home team, but they’re also beneficiaries of a special-event mentality that escapes the NFL, National Hockey League and Canadian Football League.

The emotional 2017 World Series has reminded everyone just how good the very best players are. We don’t need to see them every night. And we don’t need to see a lot of the teams at all.

That might start with a lot less inventory on the screen.

Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.


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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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