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Sounds of Thunder: Without Competition, Sports are Not Worth Watching

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Like TV reruns, there is very little thrill knowing how the story is going to end.

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When I was growing, up cable TV was not available. The viewing options consisted of just 4 network channels and one of those was PBS. Thus the opportunity to watch a sporting event was rare and precious. A weekend staple, and can’t miss TV for any sports buff during those years, was ABC’s Wide World of Sports and its iconic intro:

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports... the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat... the human drama of athletic competition... This is "ABC's Wide World of Sports!" - Jim McKay

Wide World of Sports exposed an entire generation to Sugar Ray Leonard, Pele, Mario Andretti, and the “Greatest of All Time”, Muhammad Ali. I watched Secretariat run the greatest Triple Crown in history and witnessed the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980.

Over the years, the image of the “thrill of victory” in the intro changed, but from 1970 until Wide Worlds final season in 1998, the image of Vinko Boqataj’s crash during a ski flying competition held at Oberstdorf, West Germany (now Germany) on 7 March 1970 was etched in the memories of Wild World fans as the image of the “agony of defeat” forever.

“The difference between victory and defeat in sports is well said in the thoughts of Jim McKay because the difference between the two can be very slight. All sportsmen should know that.” - Vinko Bogataj

The difference should be slight. The drama of athletic competition is best when the margin between winning and losing is slight. Take away that drama, that agony of defeat and there can be no real thrill of victory. Eliminate the risk of losing and all you are left with is a cheap impostor of competition like the WWE, the staged pseudo-drama of sports and something most of us outgrow by the age of 13.

Could the NBA and its newest version of the Super Team be heading down the same road of irrelevancy as professional wrestling? The TV ratings in these Finals have been impressive, but do they outweigh the lowest regular season TV rating average since 1995?

Wikipedia

A $7M reduction in the projected salary cap from $108M to $101M suggests the answer is no. Finals viewership is a big source of revenue, but it pales in comparison to the 17% cut to the real cash cow, the 6 month long revenue generated by regular season viewership, and if this new Super Team remains intact for the next 4 or 5 years the league can expect the viewership for the Finals to fall as well. Just as ticket sales for the new movie in town diminishes; once you’ve seen it, why waste any more time watching?

The league had an opportunity to address this issue after Miami tried to form the same sort of Super Team in 2011. But like most reactive responses, they will now have to ride out the storm until the new CBA has time to level the playing field again. Until then, because the new CBA verbiage makes the likelihood of another team rising enough to put up a fight, the only drama left will be seeing just how low those regular season ratings might go.