Monday, July 9, 2012

More Sports Glummery

(Above, Katniss Everdeen from the "The Hunger Games" outfitted with a promotional Brooklyn Nets Basketball jersey and Adidas sneakers pressed upon her by corporate sponsors.)

For those of you who enjoyed and felt they didn’t get enough of Noticing New York’s recent Sports Glummery article (Sunday, June 24, 2012) there’s more this past weekend delivered courtesy of Atlantic Yards Report reporting on a recent book by Sports Illustrated writer George Dohrmann: Saturday, July 07, 2012, Play Their Hearts Out: youth basketball and the shoe purveyors (like Adidas, coming to Barclays Center) that are "going to do what's good for their companies" (plus: the Dwight Howard angle).

Sports Glummery was in essence a sequel to, and expansion upon an earlier Noticing New York article expressing disgruntlement with commercialized sports: Friday, September 24, 2010, Sports Culture Capper: Yankees, Professional Sports and Criminals Wearing Yankee Hats.

Sports Glummery presented observations about how the love of sport for the sake of genuine sport and the business of sports are “immiscible,” which is to say that like oil and water they really can't mix, and the article suggested, citing thinking offered by Jane Jacobs in her “Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics,” (1992) that when they do get mixed something goes wrong so that ethical boundaries wind up being crossed, reflected by atrocious conduct that results when the unbridled exuberance of fandom uncritically embraces the relentless exploitations of know-no-limits commercialization.

Sports Glummery told of how “college basketball” has been commercialized to such an extent that college students are abused, forced to work for free and deprived of an education and an educational environment. It also examined how the pressure of sports commercialism results in senseless risk and serious physical injuries for football players, including those who are only at the high school level.

Blaming Adidas: Pushing Commercialization of Sports Down From the College Basketball Level To Middle School

The recent 2010 book by George Dohrmann, "Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine," tells of how the commercialization of student basketball is now being pushed down the food chain down even as low as the seventh and eighth grades in middle school, where “boys as young as eight and nine are subjected to a dizzying torrent of scrutiny and exploitation” with nobody “going to much trouble to see to it the athletes get an education, a decent childhood, good parenting or meaningful relationships.”

He blames the shoe companies, according to Atlantic Yards Report, “especially Adidas. In its competition with Nike and Reebok, Adidas pushes harder than ever.”

George Dohrmann says the “sneaker companies infused the game with money” (together with company influence). Adidas wants the kids wearing their shoes and out there promoting their brand.

Adidas brand promotion deserves some extra special focus. Atlantic Yards Report notes that:
Adidas, of course, is opening its first store in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center*, as announced 3/2/0/12. And Adidas, some suggest, is pushing Orlando superstar Dwight Howard to come to Brooklyn and the major media market.
(* That's the name for the moment of the Bruce Ratner/Mikhail Prokhorov basketball arena spearheading an eminent domain abuse land grab to expand the real estate developer's government-assisted mega-monopoly.)

The Atlantic Yards Report article should be read in full for a full appreciation of its unpleasant implications respecting the inexcusable corporate abuse of children.)

Games Strictly From Hunger

(Above, a "bread and circuses"-themed cartoon by Mark Hurwitt, used in Sports Glummery. More about Mr. Hurwitt here. More about "bread and circuses" themes below.)

In the first article I wrote enumerating my personal dissatisfactions with the professional sports business I mentioned the 1975 dystopic science fiction film “Rollerball” for its apt fitness in describing the cynical “bread and circuses” use of professional sports to distract and manipulate the populace. I’ll stand by that, but if we as a society have now begun eating our young, destroying them for our amusement physically, mentally, and spiritually with the commercialization of the sports marketplace perhaps we should retire “Rollerball” as the film that best metaphorically warns of what degradations we face replace it with the newer, grimmer, recently released “The Hunger Games” film, another science fiction film about a unpalatable future where a ruling elite annually selects children from twelve districts, two children from each, to participate in an extended gladiatorial fight to the death that is watched on national television by the entire nation after its gleefully shameless PR hype by the government. (Hence the visual at this article's outset of the "The Hunger Games'" Katniss Everdeen in Adidas sneakers and a Nets basketball team jersey.)

Bad News For Those Who Would Escape: A Cable Bind

As discussed in my previous Sports Glummery article there are those who dream of inaugurating a moderated form of fandom whereby individuals of conscience can with proper restraint avoid complicity with the dastardly deeds done in the pursuit of profit by the highly commercialized sports industry. Others, like myself, would prefer to keep life simple: We would shun the industry to effect a clear-cut divorce and separation. Whatever one may wish for, escaping complicity may not be so easy.

It turns out, according to recent analysis that even those of us who never watch professional sports can blame the franchises running that industry for significantly driving up the cost of our cable television bills: 90 percent of Americans pay for cable, satellite or fiber optic television, and according to the Wall Street Journal in 2010, about 40 percent of consumers' basic cable bills probably went towards sports programming. (See: The Incredible Value of Live Sports: Transcript, Friday, May 25, 2012.*)

(* See also: Cable TV angry about NFL broadcast deals, by Jeff Tyler, Marketplace for Tuesday, December 6, 2011; Cable Television Bills Have Nearly Tripled In The Past 10 Years, The Huffington Post, Jillian Berman, 12/30/11; MEDIA & MARKETING, December 6, 2011, Cable-TV Honchos Cry Foul Over Soaring Cost of ESPN, By Sam Schechner and Martin Peers- "You're in a position where many people may not care about sports content, and their bill goes up anyway," said Derek Chang, who oversees all programming acquisition at DirecTV, DTV in an interview Monday. "They start to get to levels where customers say they just can't afford it."- Smart Spending: Is Pay Per Channel Cable TV Inevitable? by Brad Tuttle, August 26, 2011; How Much Do You Pay for Each of Those Cable Channels You Don’t Watch?, 03.20.12 Written by Dustin Rowles; Peter Kafka, Hate Paying for Cable? Here’s Why, March 8, 2010 at 5:00 am PT.)
That means that until those in charge unbundle premium sports broadcasting so that it is no longer a required part of basic cable packages (Capitol Hill has considered mandating such an a la carte option ) there is a huge subsidy being sent to the commercial sports industry. In Brooklyn, Time Warner Cable customers pay $70.95 a month for a Digital Starter Pak (130 channels, technically a combination of “Basic Service” + “Standard Service”) or $85.45 for DTV value (more than 350 channels) and both of these packages include all the expensive sports channels driving up basic cable bills. The only way to eliminate the expensive sports channels is to drop down the number of channels you are subscribing to by about 60% (from that "value" package) to pay $49.99 for a TV Essentials package which will still include delivery of the ESPN sports news channel!

As Time Warner may appreciate, dropping down to the TV Essentials package is likely an undesirable option because if you do select it you will lose a multitude of other stations in which the non-sports enthusiast would probably be interested and which individually or collectively ought to cost very little to subscribe to: Comedy Central bringing you the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert shows (costing the cable company only about 3% of what ESPN HD does) or the only slightly more expensive Turner Classic Movies (which costs the cable company only about 5% of what ESPN does, an amount only just above the industry average cost for a channel). Some of these channels you to which you would thus be denied access cost the cable company so very little that the broadcasters are almost paying the cable company instead of vice versa (and there is even a valid argument this should be the case when these channels carry advertising): BBC World News costs the cable company a mere fractional pittance of about .75%, less than even 1%, of what ESPN does, putting it in the same price league as the Hallmark channels (Movies and a general programming channel), Lifetime Movie Network, Bloomberg TV, The Science Channel of the Discovery Kids Channel.

The main programming plans of Verizon’s FIOS network, running $64.99 to $89.99 a month for the standard promoted packages, include ESPN and the sports channels although also available from Verizon with significantly less promotion is a very pared down Local Digital option ($12.99 per month) . . . Or you can eliminate ESPN (and Turner Classic Movies as well) but still get other sports channels by going with the not-so-attractive La Conexion ($54.99 per month). Similarly, Direct TV with its packages (running $29.99 to $44.99) affords no option without ESPN. Direct TV actually owns some sports networks.

One reason the cable networks are unlikely to cease promoting the sports channels anytime soon is that, according to On The Media’s analysis, the continuing entanglement works well for the cable companies: The cable audience is less likely to cut the cable cord (and go with the proliferating alternate internet delivery options) because the sports audience, much more so than others, demands to watch content live and the cable companies still have a monopoly on the delivery of this particular form of live content.

So the next time you go into a Time Warner Cable TV office to pick up a new cable box and you see the cable representatives all dressed in professional basketball team jerseys (see the photographs of the Time Warner Cable representative in the Nets team jersey below) you might want to think about how, perhaps exactly contrary to your wishes, you are being made a party to this enforced subsidy of sports teams that is driving up your cable bill and making you complicit in the exploitation of children.

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