Television and sports have always had a relationship both symbiotic and antithetical… at least from the sports perspective. Among other things, television is responsible for growing the popularity of sports at a phenomenal rate by:
- Expanding sports’ reach into markets unserved by teams.
- Keeping teams connected with their ever more mobile fans across the country.
- Bringing sports leagues windfalls of revenues.
On the other hand, sports have made a variety of concessions to television in order to feed that beast and keep TV’s monies flowing in:
- The creation of the TV time out that has no real place in the actual game.
- The scheduling of playoff games at non-conflicting times for maximum national exposure but at the expense of the involved local teams’ fans.
- Made for television sporting events that draw little in the way of fans to the actual games.
- In some sports (particularly baseball), the imbalance in local television revenues has caused or exacerbated the financial–and hence competitive–disparity of participants in that sport.
Both these lists could go on and on. The cold hard truth is, that relationship is only going to grow tighter. At first glance, this may not seem like news; after all, television has continually extended its financial influence on athletics since the dawn of the boob tube. But, in this modern age, sports is one of the few–and by far the most pervasive–forms of television programming that broadcasters find bucking a trend: Sports is, for the most part, DVR-proof. The advent of the Digital Video Recorder is evolving paradigms of television advertising. Sure, broadcast TV still relies on commercials to generate revenues during its primetime shows, but the advertisers are reticent to spend the same type of ad dollars they used to spenc on a viewing population accustomed to watching shows on their own time, fast-forwarding through spots. Sports–along with other live events such as awards shows or American Idol-style competitions–remain must-see in-the-moment viewing. Yes, people do record such programming for later watching; I’ve done so myself. But in that situation, the viewer must be careful not to find out who won from other media sources, quite a challenge in our tuned-in, online society. That will continually make such programming as the Super Bowl, the Oscars or the Idol final even more enticing advertising buys than they already are. Not only do they draw big numbers, but those big numbers are not skipping the commercials since they are watching the event “live” (it should be noted that some such events are actually tape-delayed in parts of the country, but the viewership still watches the delayed broadcast in real-time). Sports stands to benefit even more than other live televised events by the sheer fact that there is so much more being broadcast. In terms of when sports are watched, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the championship or a regular season contest, most members of the sports-viewing audience still make an effort to watch the game “live”. So while most sporting events will never score the record ad revenue of the big boys, be assured that more dollars will flock to sports programming as one of the last bastions in which traditional television advertising is actually viewed as intended. That translates to the sports and television becoming even closer bedfellows, for better or for worse. Take your pick.