The True Genius of America’s Sports Empires
Unlike FIFA, professional teams in the U.S. have no need to resort to criminality or corruption to enrich themselves.
March 26, 2016
The U.S. sports industry is thriving. It scoops up riches with even more impunity than do the financial baronies.
What unites both industries though is that they have developed finely honed predatory instincts that enable them to feast on a gullible American populace.
Only on occasion does the raw crassness of these species break through the hype that obscures their true nature.
Mobility is as American as apple pie. Professional sports teams – aka, big money machines — seem primed to hit the road whenever their (soon-to-be former) home town is hesitant about coughing up the money to pay for grander stadiums or arenas that will further fatten the bank accounts of the teams’ billionaire owners.
Conversely, if the promise of largesse is big enough, and the city and state governments in their current locale get truly desperate in their efforts to keep their town “big league,” the owners are happy to shelve their planned move.
It’s a rigged game whose outcome is as certain as the spin of a Casablanca roulette wheel. The owners win, the localities lose. And the fans are played as pawns in a game of financial wheeling-and-dealing.
Loyalty is found only among the forlorn souls whose emotional needs call for tribal identity and ritualized mock warfare. These folks are manipulated by the sports industry as part of a lucrative business plan.
It is money that makes the sports world go round these days – no different from the financial shenanigans that mark the market for sub-prime mortgages, commodity speculation, “inverse” tax schemes and out-sourcing.
The fans’ passions about who wins and who loses are genuine. Many appreciate the athleticism. However, owners, league officials and the parasites who feed off them don’t give a damn about any of that.
This is, after all, America’s second “Gilded Age” where all value is measured in dollars and dollars can satisfy all our desires.
The disregard for the athleticism that should drive the sport becomes crassly visible whenever U.S. professional sports leagues award their national championship (often call “world” champions, in a poor reflection of America’s imperial tastes and desperate need for dominance).
In a bizarre display of just how much capitalism rules in the United States, the trophy is handed over not to the team captain, but to the representative of the ownership, often the patriarch of a family.
The true genius of America’s sports empires is that their sovereigns have no need to resort to overt criminality – or even illicit forms of corruption – to seize and maintain their power.
FIFA as small fry
By comparison, FIFA and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAFF) are dated, small-bore mafia operations by comparison.
Those organizations’ petty extortion schemes conjure images of cars with running boards and gangsters wielding tommy guns. They bear no resemblance to the sleek institutionalized money creation machines that are the professional leagues and their minor league collegiate emulators (e.g., the NCAA).
Why trouble oneself with trivial bribes and kick-backs when the treasuries of public authorities are there for the looting? Why not simply rely on fans gullibly emptying their pockets when their favorite team’s logo is waved in front of their eyes?
The methods for grabbing those greenbacks are crass – and legion. Merchandising team gear is one. It rakes in hundreds of millions for colleges as well as pro teams.
The University of Texas leads the collegiate pack with revenues in the eight figures. Presidents and Provosts of universities fret when a losing record cuts into sales.
That, of course, is small beer when placed alongside the billions reaped from TV contracts and commercial advertising. So voracious is the appetite for the latter that now the games themselves have begun to look like little more than a magnet to get viewers to spend hour after hour looking at ads.
The average game broadcast is 3 hours and fifteen minutes. Sports action occupies 60 minutes of that, commercial time 135 minutes.
And that latter figure does not include the verbal interjections of announcers who inform us between snaps that TD reviews are brought to you by Gatorade and Bud Light or Verizon and Comcast. The ads themselves are so monotonous as to constitute cruel and inhuman punishment.
Were it not for the freedom to go to the bathroom or concentrate on stuffing another slice of pizza into our mouths, we would be a truly desperate people.
Money explains the enormous investment of talent and scheming that goes into these ad strategies for separating us from our bank notes.
But why are we such dupes? Here we enter deep psychological waters. The fragile American psyche meets American pop culture. Most of the time, most of us live as isolates just bumping into our fellow citizens at random – a few friends and scattered family aside.
“Bowling Alone” is the motto of our times.
So there is some compensation in the sharing of collective identity that goes with rooting for a team (actually a uniform since players nowadays hop around cities like John Kerry travels the world), for our town (by birth or adoption or absorption), for the bunch of guys who may get together to cheer them on.
Actual participation in an exciting spectacle (if only on the electronic screen) in the presence of other human beings can generate its own emotional experience – like hanging out in loud bars. It is an experience that compensates to a degree for the emptiness of the rest of our lives.
From shallow reality to fantasy
Even that experience of ersatz community may be fading as fantasy football becomes all the rage. This latest innovation in the rise of virtual reality has the sports fiend picking individual players whose personal performances are measured against those “held” by others.
After the weekend’s action, the numbers of yards gained, passes completed, tackles made (Injuries inflicted on opposing stars?) are tallied.
Some of the competition is against anonymous strangers on the internet, against office colleagues, against a few friends. The competition could last over an entire season.
Astonishingly, sports sections devote growing space to relevant stats and forecasts of games such as Fantasy Football. The stakes? Anything from a six-pack of a watered down beer to options on watered down derivatives.
This artifice bears only the faintest resemblance to a real sporting contest. It is not even a bet which depends on acute knowledge of teams (not names of individuals) and how they might fare in a live match with another team.
It is an emotional substitute for life ideally suited for the disengaged isolate. The betting syndicates that provide services for those who have no one to compete against have been reaping huge profits.
It’s the ultimate synergy. The complementary pathologies of contemporary American society find each other and enable each other.
Fan monetization is the sports world’s sub-prime mortgages, speculation, inversions & out-sourcing.
FIFA & IAFF’s petty corruption is dated, small-bore mafias next to taxpayer-backed US sports.
Who needs trivial sports bribes when public treasuries are there for the looting?
If a game broadcast is 3 hours 15 minutes, sports action occupies 60 minutes, commercial time 135.
Fantasy sports are an emotional substitute for life ideally suited for the disengaged isolate.
Betting syndicates for fantasy sports reap profits via services to the internet’s isolated gamblers.
Michael J. Brenner
Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh [Texas, United States] Michael Brenner is Professor Emeritus of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh and a Fellow of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS/Johns Hopkins. He was the Director of the International Relations & Global Studies Program at the University of Texas. Brenner is […]