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Nov 26 2017

The Dead Pool

I talked this morning about sports and while I find them intermittently amusing they are mostly convenient excuses to nap and non-threatening topics of conversation (“How ’bout them Mets?”).

The fact is that sports as mass touchstones of common culture are in an inevitable and irreversible state of decline, one has only to look at the misfortunes of Disney’s worst performing unit, ESPN, to see that the vast money spigot of eyeballs which fuels our modern gladiatorial contests and Hippodrome races (which were wildly more popular back in the day though not much less bloody).

In the death throes of late Neo Liberal Capitalism we are running out of shelf space.

What do I mean? Well I’m old enough to remember that one of the primary talking points supposedly proving a “Free” Market was superior to a State Directed Economy was the variety of consumer choice. Imagine going into a grocery and finding a single brand of tomato sauce (perhaps imaginatively named “Tomato Sauce”). Quelle horreur! Even if was the best sauce in the world and amazingly cheap.

In today’s late Neo Liberal Monopoly Capitalist society most consumer goods are actually a single brand of “Tomato Sauce” engineered by collusion and distinguished only by colorful packaging. All meaningful competition is mere courtship display and corporate behavior territorial sexuality.

It is in that context that you should examine the ratings retreat of sports. There are only 24 hours in a day and if I spend all of them watching TV (which I do) should I spend 3 of them watching the Giants suck (which they do) or 5 of them in anticipation of the next pile of twisted chunks of flaming metal during Turn Left Bumper Cars (it never disappoints).

NASCAR provides the ultimate proof that the NFL’s rating decline isn’t because of politics
by Lindsay Gibbs, Think Progress
Nov 17, 2017

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last year, you’ve probably heard that our nation is currently undergoing a monumental crisis. No, not the White House one — I’m talking about the fact that after years of being a seemingly invincible ratings juggernaut, NFL ratings are on the decline. I know, I know, it’s hard to process, but it’s true.

While people can cherry-pick ratings from certain games to prove whatever point they want to prove, overall, it’s likely that the NFL will finish this year with fewer viewers than it had last year. Last year, NFL viewership was down from the previous year. It’s an undeniable trend.

Now, you could say that the NFL’s ratings decline merely mirrors a decline in viewership across television audiences at-large. However, that’s not the narrative-of-choice. Many have blamed the NFL’s “liberal politics” — in other words, their refusal to completely ban all players from taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice — as the reason for the ratings decline.

But that reason doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, especially when compared with the fortunes of other sports — namely, the most culturally conservative sport, NASCAR.

Heading into its 2017 championship race at Homestead this weekend, NASCAR is amidst an alarming ratings decline years in the making. Fox Sports airs the first half of the NASCAR season, and this year, their ratings were down 17 percent from last year. Last week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas was the lowest rated and least-watched in the 12-year history of the race, according to Jayski.com.

Comparatively, Through Week 7 of this season, NFL ratings were down an average of five percent.

NASCAR’s decline — which extends to its attendance numbers — is happening despite the fact that NASCAR CEO Brian France and other drivers formally endorsed Donald Trump for President during the Republican primary in 2016, and despite the fact that no NASCAR driver or crew member has taken a knee during the national anthem — in fact, earlier this year, NASCAR legend and team owner Richard Petty threatened to fire anyone who protests during the national anthem.

Trump, who has praised NASCAR for the fact that its drivers stand during the anthem, has tweeted incessantly about the NFL’s rating decline. He has, however, offered no explanation for the downward trend of NASCAR’s viewership.

More than a kneeling: Nascar’s TV ratings decline is as worrying as the NFL’s. Why?
by Andrew Lawrence, The Guardian
Friday 17 November 2017

Never mind that the NFL’s ratings problems run deeper than players kneeling during the anthem, which barely eats more than a minute of a broadcast that lasts at minimum three hours. In some ways the league set itself up for failure by committing so completely over the past decade to the rivalry between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the latter of whom retired two seasons ago after helping the Denver Broncos to victory in Super Bowl 50. Two star QBs who could step into that breach, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Houston’s Deshaun Watson, are out with season-ending injuries. Thursday Night Football has proven to be a disastrous experiment, one that produces far more player injuries than actual entertainment. Meanwhile stories continue to emerge about the adverse effects football has on players’ long-term health. All of it makes the NFL that much more difficult to sit with.

Still, things could be worse for the NFL. It could be Nascar. A decade ago the sport emerged as an unlikely challenger to pro football’s small-screen primacy, attracting nearly 20 million viewers to the 2006 Daytona 500. But Nascar has lost more than 45% of its audience since then, according to Nielsen. What’s more, equally dismal live spectator figures have compelled some tracks to remove seats from their grandstands. Denny Hamlin, a star Nascar driver, has made his peace with this. “People with smartphones, they’re rewatching races in the back of their car going up the highway,” he said back in April. “You don’t have to attend these races anymore. You get such a good experience through your cellphone, so the way we measure attendance and we measure TV ratings and all that’s always skewed because we live in a different world now.”

In the main Nascar patrons skew older and lean conservative. They’re not unlike their NFL counterparts in that way. Really, both fanbases seem to be after the same spectacle, something that pays heed to the Good Lord Above while a bunch of overgrown boys in costume run around narrowly cheating death. They’re waiting for the pileup.

(T)hey could simply accept that traditional television has been in decline for a decade and adjust accordingly, by leaving its audiences wanting more instead of overwhelming their base urges. For the NFL that means ending the Thursday football experiment and making the RedZone Channel, its best and most youth-friendly delivery mechanism, more widely accessible. For Nascar that means cutting tens of hours of race broadcasts down to the best three hours. It means starving people, and then feed them. It means throw the fat online, and see how much they’ll pay for it.

So back to shelf space. I’ve watched every episode of The Gilmore Girls (except the new ones, which I am saving for a rainy day) at least 3 times and my favorites more than that. I have The Curse of Oak Island and Gold Rush (new episodes!) and Star vs. The Forces of Evil (actually a very adult cartoon about relationships- yes, I am a Marco guy just like I am a Luke guy) and a season’s worth of Wynnona Earp (why can’t she and John Henry just get along, does she really have a thing for Dolls?) and soon enough The Librarians (Ezekiel is more heroic than you think).

My point is not that you should like what I like or watch what I watch, it’s that I have my own “Tomato Sauce” and the competition for my eyeballs is real.

Now most commentators are dismayed and appalled that “We are losing our commonality and ability to communicate”. They advocate “compromise” and “pragmatism”. What they mean is “We’re losing our phony baloney jobs as Gatekeepers”. If my aspiration was to be universally loved and popular, I would be. It seems a shallow and narcissistic kind of goal.

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