"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that." -- Bill Shankly
I am not going to pretend that I am a huge basketball fan. My first love (as a spectator) is soccer (the real football), followed by baseball. A long time ago, I was a fan of American football, but a few things conspired to end that: one, the short-lived World Football League; two, I moved to England and couldn't watch the games on TV any more; and, three, when I did move back to the United States it was obvious that games were played to fit in with television and advertising, and it was just too stop-and-start for me (and I didn't like the fact that the refs had mics and announced the penalties).
A lot of the discussion about the NBA dispute and cancelled start of season over the past few days has centered on the level of salaries paid to NBA players, and comparing this dispute to the NFL one. Mike Pesca was interviewed on NPR on 11 October, and he had this to say:
"I think that NBA players should be very careful about saying, well, the NFL did almost a similar labor dispute to what we did and they survived and they were fine. I think public sympathy was much more on the side of the NFL players because NFL players put their bodies on the line. They have very short careers, three years on average. And their average salary is just over a million dollars. Whereas NBA players' average salary is between five and six million and it's not as physically grueling. So if they think it's going to be exactly the same situation as the NFL, the NBA players may be in for a surprise."
But I would argue that the real difference between these sports has to do with supply and demand. What I mean by this is that in a regular basketball season, teams play something like 82 games. (This does not include the playoffs and finals.) Every team gets several chances to beat every other team, and although of course it is better to win than lose, no team wins every one of their games -- even teams that lose some games can end up in the playoffs.
In a regular American football season, there are only something like 16 games. And every single one counts. There are no do-overs, no real second chances. Basically, unless you get off to a pretty good start, it's close to impossible to rise to the top by the end of the season. But a basketball team can start badly, slowly, whatever, and have a great turn-around at some point in the season to get into the playoffs.
So of course football fans are going to want to tune in every week, because every single game counts. Basketball fans can miss the occasional (or even not-so-occasional) televised game; it's just not so life-and-death.
I'm sure that basketball players would never want to consider playing fewer games, but maybe that's really what's needed to shake up the whole sports industry. (Baseball could do with a shake-up as well.) It's great to have to wait for a week to watch either type of football, NFL or Premier League (or even the American soccer teams). Even though I love to watch baseball, some nights it's just too much. I need a break; I bet some other fans do, too.
There have been major changes in sports over the years; as it now appears that the NBA season could be cancelled completely this year, maybe the owners and players should really consider what they could do to attract a whole new generation of fans.