What’s the long-term future of spectator sports?
With the conclusion of the Winter Olympics, some trends have come into focus. The Olympics, for instance, have established a niche as the Exception to the Rules of Sports Fandom: they’re the athletic event for people who like watching sports in highly limited doses, a couple of weeks every couple of years.
The audience for the Winter Olympics was 56 percent female. For women viewers, the Olympics in the 20th Century served as a prototype for the 21st Century reality television shows, with their human interest stories about a small group of good-looking rivals vying for a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Figure skating, for example, long let spectators indulge themselves in watching the backstage dramatics that have become a staple on reality shows such as Survivor. But unlike the contestants on Survivor, Olympians are highly disciplined professional athletes, so most aren’t as amusingly prone to hissy fits as reality show contestants, who, like Dr. Evil, will do anything for One Million Dollars.
Will audiences continue to demand all the expensive pomp and circumstance of the Olympics if the current trend in popular culture toward shameless gratification of audience urges continues?
Back in Baron de Coubertin’s day, people wanted a high-class pretext for enjoying spectator sports, so the Olympics were ostentatiously rooted in the “Glory That Was Greece”. Similarly, horseracing, which was long the most popular sport in America as measured by attendance, was drenched in classiness. You weren’t really supposed to admit what horseracing was all about (gambling). You were supposed to talk about “the sport of kings” and ponder pedigrees longer than those of most royal families.
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