Where the Regulation of Violence in Sports Will Inevitably Extend: The Stands & Outside the Stadium/Arena
The professional and college sports industries have without question reached milestones with respect to revenue generation over the past decade. Both the National Football League and the National Basketball Association experienced pre-season lockouts and subsequent consuming negotiation sessions with their respective players’ unions concerning profit sharing. In 2010, the NCAA signed a monumental $10.8 billion contract with CBS Corporation and Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting for the media rights to its beloved Men’s Division I College Basketball Tournament, known by most as March Madness.
It goes without saying that fans are the impetus behind such revenue growth. Whether a country and its citizens are facing a recession—even bankruptcy—or marvelous economic times, avid followers and fans of professional and college sports teams will pay hard-earned money for the pleasure drawn from watching talented athletes perform for up to three hours on the field, court or ice. Fans will do so by attending such events, watching them at bars/restaurants, or through the purchase of oversized, flat-screen televisions for home. David Levy, the President of Turner Sports, acknowledged in signing the March Madness media contract with the NCAA that “the tournament’s popularity and success [had outgrown] the ability for one network to provide all the coverage fans are looking for.” Similarly, CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus recognized, “the opportunity for viewers to watch whatever game they want to on up to four different networks has to result in more eyeballs, more gross rating points and more exposure for the tournament, thereby creating much more value for the advertisers.”
I think it’s awesome that fans of professional and college sports teams continue to use this source of entertainment as an escape from the struggles facing the lives of individuals on a daily basis in many countries around the globe, including financial turmoil, disease, death and general unhappiness. However, over the same decade that the sports industry has experienced rapid revenue growth and increased popularity, the fan experience at and following sporting events has become more violent, tragic and unpleasant. A problem clearly exists that neither the professional leagues, the NCAA Directors nor the athletes have sufficiently addressed, or are even equipped to address.
Indeed, the European professional soccer leagues have essentially condoned fan violence since their creation. The Philadelphia Eagles’ late Veterans Stadium maintained holding cells to accommodate unruly fans. These facts represent proof that the sports industry has accepted violence as part of the overall fan experience for quite some time. For instance, in 2004, Lakers forward Ron Artest—or as legal documents now refer to him, Metta World Peace—climbed into the stands as an Indiana Pacer at The Palace of Auburn hills to exchange punches with a few rambunctious fans. In 2010, I attended a New York Jets game in New York as an Atlanta Falcons fan and was threatened by four Jets fans following the Falcons’ last minute defeat of the Jets. Fortunately, violence never ensued, though not as a result of action taken by stadium security. In 2011, a San Francisco Giants fan experienced the wrath of Dodger Stadium when several Dodger fans beat him almost to the point of death. And just a few weeks ago, University of Kentucky basketball fans nearly burned down and destroyed Lexington, KY, following the Wildcats’ Final Four win over state rival Louisville to gain a spot in the National Title game.
However, what has either been condoned or overlooked by these leagues and the NCAA will inevitably draw a divide between fans, compelling those who are visiting the home stadium or establishment (e.g., sports bar) of an opposing team to discontinue their participation. This decreased fan participation and interest will inevitably compel revenue to decline for the professional sports leagues, the NCAA, media outlets and corporate partners and sponsors. Should violence and unpleasant behavior by fans persist at or following sporting events, how could it not have a domino impact on the sports industry?
So, where should we as fans and professionals in the industry place blame and seek assistance in preventing this evolving problem? First and foremost, responsibility should be placed on the individuals who are involved in such inappropriate behavior. Fans have progressively turned their allegiance to sports teams into something personal. However, sustaining a loss through a favorite team is not analogous to losing a love one. Fans must realize that their personal lives will continue unscathed, so long as they categorize sporting events as entertainment and nothing more. This point allows me to transition to my second and final position. The professional sports leagues, the NCAA, the athletes, the media outlets and the corporate partners and sponsors must take on the responsibility of reminding fans of this fact. Indeed, most professional sporting venues stop serving alcohol at a certain point during team play. College venues refuse to serve alcohol altogether. Great, by taking alcohol out of the picture, these entities and individuals have indirectly implied to the fans that they should behave responsibly. However, I’m asking—maybe even pleading to—these same entities and individuals to make a direct and blatant statement to the fans: “Stop the violence and inappropriate behavior!” The NFL has already done so much to prevent violence on the field in an effort to protect its brand and revenue stream. Take the next step and prevent it from occurring in the stands and outside the stadium.
Hey guys, it’s your money, not mine, that’s being placed on the line.