Will American Sports Fan Finally Rise Up?

American sports fans have been mistreated for decades and they do nothing about it.

greedy glazers
In other countries, fans understand the power of their collective voice and they use it. Soccer fans in Germany pushed back successfully against the Bundesliga moving around game times for television. The doomed European Super League met its fate because soccer fans across the continent rose up as one to express their extreme displeasure.

Things reached a dramatic new boiling point on the fabled grounds of Old Trafford when Manchester United fans broke into the stadium before a big game against Liverpool and took over the pitch. The game was postponed as fans made it abundantly clear they were fed up with the Glazer family’s ownership of the club for the past decade and a half.

As an American sports fan, I could only watch in wonder and amazement. I watched in wonder because those fans had the guts and the gall to not just push back against ownership, but put those feelings into action. I watched in amazement because American sports fans don’t do anything except accept fate.

I’ll spare you the “back in my day” recounting of what sports were like for me growing up, because I don’t think I’m that old, even in the back-half of my 30’s. I can’t speak to the 1960’s or 1970’s, only the 1990’s, yet even those days feel like they took place centuries ago.

For a long time, sports operated for the fans. The games were scheduled to maximize fan interaction with the sport, specifically to get fans to attend games and create new fans by making it as accessible as possible. Games were largely on broadcast television, or a small number of cable stations like ESPN or TNT or your local regional sports network. Your cable bill was certainly pricey, still nothing that broke the bank or had you considering alternatives.

For too long now, sports have operated against the fans. The games are now scheduled to maximize television ratings and revenue. In-person attendance is not important, nor is creating new fans. It’s all about revenue streams. There are far too many cable stations costing far too much per month, on top of myriad streaming services and add-ons asking for even more money. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the costs of being a sports fan.

Most annoying, the “hardcore” fan is the one punished the most by these changes. As just one example, my Dad, myself, and my friends had UConn football season tickets as a group from 2003-2012, until the school killed the program. Despite being the most loyal fans, the game times were almost always announced within the last week, making it impossible to schedule group tailgates in advance.

Why couldn’t they announce if a game was starting at noon or 8pm more than a week in advance? Television, of course.

Similarly, even the act of watching sports at home can be an issue. I’m a fan of Liverpool but NBC has put more and more of its EPL games on Peacock, asking me to pay an additional fee per month on top of my cable bill to watch all of their games. The result? I haven’t paid for Peacock and I’m less engaged with my favorite soccer team. It’s a bummer.

The question though, is what will fans do about it? Because for the entirety of my life, the answer has been nothing.

It’s pretty remarkable when you take a step back and view the big picture.

Billionaire owners are making money hand over fist by squeezing every last drop of revenue from fans. The owners don’t bring in any revenue. It’s the fans that bring in the revenue and make sports as popular as they are. The fans hold all the power and use absolutely none of it.

nfl amazon 2022
Most recently, the NFL announced that Amazon Prime had become the exclusive home of Thursday Night Football, meaning that again, the most hardcore fans will be asked to pay even more to watch football. This would be a prime – no pun intended – opportunity for fans to say, “No. We’re not paying more. We’re not watching this. Stop making it more expensive to watch your sport.”

Of course, none of that is happening. The NFL media types all ran with the NFL’s garbage marketing about the “future” of football, and fans will just accept that the NFL costs more than ever to watch every week.

There is a worrying trend out there, though, that no one seems to want to acknowledge, because much like climate change it won’t affect anyone in the next decade. That’s how old the audiences are for sports. Yes, the games still do a tremendous number in the coveted 18-49 demo, but the overall audiences skew very, very old.

When I was a kid, we all watched sports because it was so easy and accessible. You turned on NBC, or ABC, or CBS on the weekends, and you watched all the biggest sporting events, usually during the afternoon.

Today, everything is on late to maximize ratings and very few events are still on broadcast television. With more and more people cutting cable to save costs, games become less and less accessible. Combined with insane ticket prices and other ridiculous costs for attending games, like parking, and we’re creating fewer fans of sports every passing week.

No one in charge cares because they’re still making their billions and American sports fans still accept whatever is thrown at them.

I don’t think the older generation of American sports fans will ever rise up and fight back. That’s a shame. The bigger problem looming, though, is the lack of the next generation of American sports fan. The next generation won’t fight back either They’ll just find something else to watch.  

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