- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2008

Sports are usually impervious to the goings-on around them, which is a healthy thing.

A sports venue is the one place that unites liberals and conservatives, the wealthy and working-class, the religious and secular. It is the one place that offers sanctuary from the sky-is-falling proclamations that dominate the 24/7 media marketplace, whether the gloom of the week concerns terrorists, the price of a barrel of oil, a hurricane, a wildfire or a downturn in the economy.

The latter is being monitored by the commissioners of our sports leagues. After all, attending a game or purchasing the jersey of a favorite player is not an essential function of life.

The NBA made news last month when it announced it was laying off 9 percent of its domestic work force. That was an unexpected development for a league that has made significant advances in the global marketplace the last decade.

The globalization of the NBA has left no continent untapped, save for Antarctica.

Yet David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, bows to the potentially corrosive power of the gyrations on Wall Street and the bail-out fervor.

He expects ticket sales to be slightly down once the NBA season gets under way later this month. He also thinks the NBA’s other sources of revenue could take a small hit, depending on how quickly the economy recovers.

The belt-tightening measures of the NBA could prove unnecessary, if the anecdotal evidence screaming from the television screen on a nightly basis is an indication.

We are at the time of the year when our most popular sports collide on the calendar. Baseball is in the throes of the postseason, the NFL and college football are well into their respective seasons and the NHL started its season two weeks ago.

These venues all have one common element - raucous crowds whose principal worry is the home team.

That possibly is because for all the talk of Wall Street anguish - the shot of a trader in dark despair has become a cliche - interest rates remain low, unemployment hovers in the 6-percent range and those folks who walked away from burdensome home loans did not take to the streets. They merely packed up their belongings and moved to more affordable residences.

Our games roll merrily along, almost oblivious to it all, self-immunized in part because of their fat television contracts.

New football temples are being constructed in Dallas and New York. The new home of the Giants and Jets - slated to be ready in 2010 - will come with that fan-winning surcharge known as personal seat licensing.

That is the creative fee imposed on fans looking to buy season tickets.

Roger Goodell presides over the cash cow known as the NFL. All its vital signs are strong: attendance, television ratings, marketing tie-ins and sponsorships.

Goodell, though, dismisses the recession-proof capability of the NFL.

“We’re all feeling the pinch right now, some more than others, and it’s something we want to remain sensitive to,” he said in San Antonio last week.

Baseball’s attendance fell slightly this year, by 1.1 percent, but its 78.6 million turnout was still the second-highest mark ever. And its revenues rose from $6.075 billion to $6.5 billion. Both the Yankees and Mets will play in new stadiums next season, each stuffed with luxury boxes.

Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL, says season-ticket sales are up 4 percent from last season and single-game sales are up 14 percent. That encouraging news comes from a sport that has de-emphasized its Canadian roots and expanded into the milder climate of the U.S., into cities with no hockey heritage.

Sports executives are saying the appropriate things, if only not to seem dismissive of the economic correction.

But don’t expect a seismic shift in the robust business of sports. Its escapism provides a nice antidote to the ups and downs of Wall Street. If our games take a hit, the hit will be imperceptible.

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