by Stal Herz - 02/09/2006
Perhaps one of the reasons that sports is such a huge part of our social conscious is the fact that each game is recorded, documented and filed away. If you wished to, you could see, on video, six months of each year lived by Barry Bonds. You could watch the video of the skinny kid coming up with the Bucs who was finally going to be the one who set the standard for a 40/40 season. You could watch as time changed and history evolved.
Sideburns. Lamb Chops. Goatees. Cornrows.
We have gone from unscripted entertainment to five-second delays and censorship in hopes of not offending the advertisers. Anything will be done to keep people from turning off their screens. It is often why a minority helps to decide systems of procedure.
The media is not only dictating what events we watch, but how we watch them, and more importantly, how we remember them.
The recent news that the NFL network will begin televising games next year, along with NBC's acquisition of Monday Night Football (John Madden and Al Michaels included), coupled with the Direct TV package and the weekly games of CBS and FOX, spells out a fierce battle amongst the media for the branding of the NFL.
On May 17, 1939 at Baker Field, NBC televised a baseball game between Princeton and Colombia which was broadcast to the 400 or so television sets capable of receiving the signal in the area. A few months later, they put lights on in Ebbet's Field and showed New York the Brooklyn Dodgers facing off against the Cincinnati Reds. Johnny Vender Meer pitched a no hitter, which literally set the virtual stage for a new era in sports viewing.
Since then, the media has made the sporting world into a golden goose that never flies anywhere for the winter. This year, advertisers paid about $2.4 million per 30 second spot at the Super Bowl. Why? With the hundreds of millions watching worldwide, the reach of sports entertainment has marketing directors across the globe drooling at the exposure that could be given to their product. Now, this is only for 30 seconds - think about the exposure and revenue generated by having your team out there for hours at time.
Sport is product.
So why do people continue to sit through the countless commercials and shameless product placements (See any cell phone poll)? Perhaps it is because there is some consistency in sports that does not exist in our everyday lives. The everlasting memories that can be replayed over and over again are a treasure that cannot be taxed or taken away.
Gibson's fist pumping around the bases.
Fisk waiving the ball fair.
Roger Craig high stepping into the end zone.
When you see those plays now, you don't see the actual speed or the entire play, just the slow motion of the replay, which elicits the slow emotion of your memory. It is a brand that sticks with you. There are logos everywhere you look to ensure memory.
With Monday Night football as well as additional games moving to cable television, and the NBA All Star Game no longer on free TV, one has to wonder what the future holds for the lower middle class citizen who wants to come home after work and escape for a few hours. Is there no escape if you don't have luxury items such as Cable TV?
Football and Basketball, which are the two sports that have shot ahead of Baseball and Hockey in the rankings of media sports service and desires, have done so because their games fit into the gratification factor that people need when sitting still and watching something. Nowhere else in sports does slow motion suggest such supernatural feats then in these two sports. But has that dehumanized it? Has it created just another brand instead of the individual?
No, because sports have always been entertainment, so with the intense eye of the media concentrating on the individual's lives outside of the game, the real world has been brought into the fantasy.
It is why announcers are thought so highly of. So, when NBC got the Sunday Night games and the rights to start televising Football again, they nabbed up Madden now on his third network to team up with Michaels. The voice and memories of the next few years of football moments will be owned and shaped by the network.
The battle between Sunday and Monday Nights will be epic.
Just as when Reggie Jackson was let go by the Oakland A's of the 70s, the owners realize that the loss of a player does not count anything in the loss of revenue. Why? Well, over the next 6 years, the NBA will divide up amongst itself a total of 4.6 billion dollars in television broadcast rights.
So, while the discussion grows on which free agents will sign where, the reality is that it doesn't matter, because the teams just have someone else to plug into their position. Once in place, the marketing and memory machines just start up again.
The athlete never truly retires, as their greatest moments are always on the air.
The celebrity in sport, just as in any other entertainment, is created by the media. It is why athletes fade from the public conscious so quickly. The constant barrage of new images and more coverage of games, doesn't give the viewer much of a chance to identify with the individual. Instead, they just look for the time of the game and reconnect with a product that has remained with them since childhood.
Those same games you watched on weekend afternoons are still on, so perhaps when we are watching the games, we are also watching our own history as well, reflecting on the amazing memories of our past that are only a broadcast away.