I have noted in previous rants that the obsessive and exclusionary focus of the golf world on Tiger Woods has created an “interest deficit” in the sport. If this week sometime, Woods were to call a press conference to give an update on his recovery from his most recent surgery and to muse about how he and his new swing coach were “tweaking his game”, that event would get more coverage in the golf media than anything else. Last weekend, the PGA Tour event was the Wells Fargo Championship – one of the myriad whistle-stops on the Tour. The winner was Brian Harman who beat Dustin Johnson by one stroke by sinking a 30-foot putt on the final hole. Johnson had won 3 tournaments in a row.
This event got normal coverage for a whistle-stop event and I suspect that most sports fans have no idea who Brian Harman is nor could they pick him out of a lineup with Justice League of America. [Hint: He’d be the guy wearing normal clothes and not a superhero costume.] However, since there is no way to tie the story of his win to Tiger Woods, he gets the reportorial “pat on the head”.
In fact, the more ballyhooed golf note from last weekend demonstrates the media focus for golf. If it is not Tiger Woods, then it has to be something either maudlin or outrageous. Last weekend we had something bordering on outrageous happen. John Daly won a Senior Tour event – – oh, yeah, they now call it the Champions Tour. The last time John Daly won any kind of tournament was 2004; if Max Patkin was the Clown Prince of Baseball, then John Daly is the Clown Prince of Golf. His win is a big golf story this morning; Brian Harman’s win is at the “ho-hum level”. Too bad …
The standard narrative regarding waning fan interest in the NBA regular season was that all of that would be cured by starting the playoffs. In fact, TV ratings did rise when the playoffs started as they always do. However, I wonder if this is sustainable. Consider:
- The NBA regular season saw TV ratings down about 10% for this year; and simultaneously, avid fans as well as casual fans came to realize that the players do not care much about those games either. Players rested; teams tanked; fans paid attention to other things.
- Now, we are well into the second round of the playoffs. Indeed, one of the second-round series is already over and another stands at 3-0 meaning the team on the short end of the record needs a quick trip to Lourdes if they are to have any hope of advancing. Question for all: Have there been any great games in the playoffs yet?
- The NBA has come to the point where at the outset of the season, fans can pretty much know what the Finals are going to look like. Back in October 2016, it would have taken a good imagination or a lot of wishful thinking to imagine how the Cleveland Cavaliers would be out of the playoffs before the Finals. At the same time in the West, fans realized that there would be more competition to get to the Finals but the betting odds had Golden State going there as odds-on favorites.
- So, when nothing major happened during the regular season to get folks to doubt that preconceived outcome, interest waned. Why get even mildly excited – nay even mildly interested – in a March game between the Sacramento Kings and the Orlando Magic? Okay, those are both bad teams so how about a March game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Milwaukee Bucks? I think I’ll spend my time sorting out my paper clip collection…
Fans love “super-teams” that can dominate their sports. However, the NBA asks a lot of its fans to love – or hate – its two or three “super-teams” enough to pay attention to the exploits of the other 90% of the teams for almost 9 months. I am a basketball fan but even I have only marginal interest in the NBA until the end of January in most seasons. This year, I watched some games in February and March but really did not get invested in anything in the regular season until the final week when the final playoff slots were up for grabs. And now I find myself bored by the less-than-exciting playoff games so far. I want to fast-forward to the Finals but the league will not let me do that…
The English Premier League is sort of like the NBA in the sense that before the season starts fans pretty much know the contenders for the top of the table. [Yes, I remember Leicester City last year.] However, the EPL has relegation and that means there is interest in games involving teams with no prayer of getting to the European Champions League. This year the relegation race could go down to the final weekend of games. Here is a summary:
- Crystal Palace: 38 points with 2 games left to play
- Swansea City: 36 points with 2 games left to play
- Hull City: 34 points with 2 games left to play
- Middlesbrough: 28 points with 3 games left to play
- Sunderland: 24 points with 3 games left to play.
Sunderland is guaranteed to be relegated. A win in their final 3 games would only get them to 33 points (each win is worth 3 points and a draw is worth 1 point) so Sunderland must finish in the bottom 3 of the EPL. Two of the other four teams will also drop down to the Champions League next year but there is no certainty there. Today, Chelsea – the EPL winner this season – faces Middlesbrough in a game that should be of no interest at all save for the relegation race. Swansea City’s next game is against Sunderland; that game matters even though both teams are in danger of relegation. Crystal Palace’s next game is against Hull City; once again, the game has meaning. Relegation may be harsh and it does have significant economic consequences for the teams dropping down but it does maintain fan interest.
Finally, since I began today with golf, let me share with you a definition of golf that I ran across somewhere. I would like to cite the source, but I did not keep a record of where I found this:
“Golf: An endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle, followed by a good bottle of beer.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………