Pick a major American sporting event. The Super Bowl. The Masters. The Final Four. Demand for tickets at these sports meccas vastly outnumbers supply, a fact reflected in the prices fans are willing to pay to attend. Now think of less prestigious sports offerings. Minor league hockey. High school football. Little League baseball. Even tickets for those games have a price tag and sometimes a healthy TV viewing audience. The American sport landscape has become so vast that ESPN now dedicates a five channels in English and one in Spanish to feed hungry sports fans. This is the current reality of the American sports consumer. Younger generations shrug their shoulders, as if being consumed by sports is a normal, universal part of human existence. No sir. Have a sit down with a few octogenarians and they’ll tell you how things used to be. Better yet, take a visit to Thailand.
Representatives from the Sports Authority of Thailand recently participated in the fifth-annual Sports Study Tour, which involves a cross-country sampling of American sports venues and culminates with a visit to the United States Sports Academy campus. Participants had the opportunity to tour athletic facilities at the Olympic, professional, minor league, and college levels. When describing these venues, one participant kept using the word “perfect.” Another marveled at the emotion expressed by fans during a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Others remarked how amazing it was to see so many families attending sporting events. While some American baseball fans will shell out many hundreds of dollars for a World Series ticket this week – and purchase the $9 beer to go with it – the Thais are brainstorming how to get their people to pay anything in exchange for attending a sports event. Yes, boxing and soccer are popular with Thais, but the chance that sports will become a booming business there is unlikely. To American sports enthusiasts, the lack of fandom in Thailand is as foreign a concept as fall without football.
Do we really recognize what we have in the United States? It’s easy to become so wrapped up in our own culture and, thus, take it for granted. For example, the amateur college sports system is completely unique to the United States. For most of the world, varsity athletics is not even a viable concept, much less the symbol of community and regional pride it represents for many Americans. Or how about the fact that the world’s best foreign-born athletes – Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki – often leave their native lands for a chance to star on the American athletic stage? And who can blame them for chasing such fame and fortune? After all, American sports not only attract the best athletes, but also some of the world’s foremost businesses and entrepreneurs as owners, sponsors, and endorsers. Thanks to money, luck, and love of the game – but mostly money – the United States has long-dominated the sports industry. That’s why countries like Thailand hope to emulate the American sport culture, if only on a small scale.
However, could athletics ever become an American export? With the National Basketball Association’s players bracing for a cancelled season, many of them are committed to or considering contracts with international teams. The state of the economy has forced nearly every American to concede the fragility of prosperity. Like any industry, the sports business thrives in the healthiest markets. In this day and age, there’s no question that the United States is still the place to be for sports. Eventually, the NBA lockout will be lifted and those athletes playing abroad will return to the American dollar, at least what’s left of it.
The point is that while Americans may lose their jobs or their homes or their life savings, they have an inalienable right to the best and brightest sports culture on planet Earth. Right? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears played an NFL game on Sunday, October 23…in London. This is the fifth straight year the National Football League will export one of its games across the pond. Don’t worry, my fellow Americans. I’m sure they just want to see Buckingham Palace one more time.
In addition to being a licensed attorney, Patrick Brennan is a Teaching Assistant and doctoral student at the United States Sports Academy. Students continually study contemporary sports issues at the Academy. For more information on Academy programs, please visit www.ussa.edu.