The other day, on my drive home from work, I heard the sports-talk guys (Schopp and the Bulldog, for you Buffalonians) discussing sports and TV, along the specific example of the apparently-awful ratings this year's NBA Finals received. The general gist of the discussion -- as much as I heard of it, anyway, on my fifteen-minute drive -- was that with the burgeoning of the Internet as well as other time demands, watching entire sporting events on television has become, well, passe. Bulldog noted that he loves golf and considers the US Open to be one of the most important events on his calendar of major sporting events to follow -- and yet he also admitted that he will actually watch almost none of it.
I didn't listen really any farther than that, but it occurred to me that in a way, we've managed to turn the clock back again. Baseball's been "our national pastime" for decades, but widespread baseball on TV only came along, when? In the 1950s or maybe even the 1960s, I'm guessing. Same with football, and the other sports. Baseball was on radio for a few decades before that, but for the great majority of the country, the first half of baseball's existence was one in which one followed the game pretty much exclusively third-hand, by reading reports in the paper and analyzing the box scores. But then TV came along, and along with it, the TV ratings money that has been the engine driving the staggering rise of the player salaries.
And now we're heading back the other way. Baseball's ratings have been declining for years, and now the NBA is suffering the same fate. Hockey has already disappeared from TV almost completely, except for a handful of games that NBC televises almost grudgingly and a cable channel that not a lot of people get in the first place. The NFL is still going strong, of course, which I'm guessing is part of the game's nature: they're on once a week when they're on, and that's it, so there's usually not nearly as strong a sense of, "Well, I can skip this game, because there's another in a day or two", coupled with the fact that we've made the Super Bowl a virtual national holiday (which I still think should be on Saturdays and not Sundays, but that's just me).
It seems to me that with the onset of the Internet, we now follow sports a lot of the time in a very similar way to that which our grandparents followed sports. The question I have, then, is what will this do to player salaries? As the main source of the cash that ultimately justifies multi-million dollar contracts, the TV money, shrinks, will that be what ultimately therefore causes the player salaries to start trending in the opposite direction? Or will the salaries keep going up, up, and still up, even as the TV money shrinks, causing teams in small markets to either abandon their markets entirely or simply field inferior teams because that's what they can afford?