I have long stated my thoughts on the popularity of the NFL. How it is not the game itself that the public is flocking to but rather fantasy sports and gambling that is driving the popularity. Now within the last week the courts have announced that gambling on professional sports will be allowed. I am not saying that legal gambling in itself is wrong and will destroy professional sports. However, legal gambling most assuredly will change the landscape of professional sports and bring an end to sports as we know it.
How will legalized gambling ruin sports as we know it? Especially when it is already a billion dollar industry….illegally. Again it is not whether or not gambling is legal or illegal but rather the attention the leagues are putting on the world of gambling. League commissioners and owners are tripping over their Louboutin loafers to get contracts and laws passed that will allow the leagues to benefit and cash in on legal gambling. One needs look no further than the NFL to see what affects this can have on their sport.
The NFL has grown into a monster over the last decade. Why? Because of fantasy football and because football itself makes gambling easy to understand. More and more people were drawn to the NFL because of the ancillary aspects of the game instead of the actual game. Want proof? Take a look at the top news stories of the actual game of football since that time. Concussions, player health post-retirement, spousal abuse, drugs, cheating scandals, franchises moving, etc. All negative right? Well then how do you explain the continued popularity of the sport? Because of fantasy leagues and gambling. The growth of the NFL fan base is not due to the typical, classiclly defined sports fan. It is not the man or woman that bleeds their team colors and shells out money for season tickets. The new, modern sports fan is more focused on entertainment, from fantasy leagues to making money via gambling or even simply building social events around sports.
And that is where sports as we know it is bound to change with the news of legalized gambling. Leagues will be focused on catering to a new revenue stream instead of on their actual gameplay on the field or court. The true sports fan, the classic ones, will likely never stop following the sports they love. But they will be forgotten as telecasts go from telling background stories about the players to providing information that could change a betting line.
We have already seen how the sports world has lost some of its identity in recent years as the business mindset has taken over. The last few years has brought an influx of analytical people who have changed the game, all leagues, more drastically in a few short years than in the previous century. And now we have gambling, which will soon overtake the actual play on the field, court, or ice as the true entertainment the fans are interested in.
When I fell in love with sports it was because of the aura of the game. Seeing athletes out there giving their all, seeing who is better, who can run the fastest or hit the ball farther. Watching these almost mythical characters do the remarkable and seeing underdogs have a Cinderella season. That was what was entertaining to me. And it still is. But that is not the sports fan that I am seeing nowadays.
Go to a game now and how often do you see people on their phones? Does anyone even keep a scorecard anymore? Stadiums and broadcasts are showing more and more fantasy stats to keep the attention of the modern fan. And soon enough you will be seeing gambling lines. Even the construction of new stadiums has changed. More activities and special sections, unique food or drinks, concert areas. All of this is to fulfill the modern sports fan desire for more. The game is no longer the focus, it’s about being entertained. And the modern sports fan definition of entertainment has changed from what a sports fan wanted decades ago. The game is not enough. The modern sports fan needs more.
I watch sports to witness LeBron James put a team of misfits on his back night in and night out. I watch sports to see three of the best scorers in the NBA (Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson) play together. I tune in to see moments like David Freese hitting a game-winning home run in his home town. I have been awed when teams like the St. Louis Rams become the best team in the league out of nowhere and win a championship like they did in the 1999-2000 season. I am awestruck when watching Sidney Crosby weave his way through traffic for a goal. I am a true sports fan. And much like the games I grew up watching, I am becoming rarer to find.