No more football, the long-term life support for Major League Baseball, a dead-end in women’s professional sports: These are cases that have been made in the past few weeks as the individual leagues try to get a grip on where their future lies in relation to player safety, dwindling attendance or the extinction of an organizing body.
It’s not nearly as bad as the skilled rhetoricians would have you believe, however. I’m not going to claim to be Answer Man, but it takes mere moments of contemplating “the next step” to see that the final destination won’t be a graveyard.
American football: Grantland.com did a nice job exposing a perilous path the NFL could be forced down should it lose lawsuits against former and current players, but to think corporations wouldn’t jump in to start a new NFL of sorts almost immediately is silly. Certainly it could be doomed to pay-per-view and whatever states would host events — due to liability — but football will exist long after any possible demise of the National Football League. If you’re someone like me who believe the league has already reached its popularity apex — think mid-20th century baseball — it isn’t hard to envision a world where the NBA or something else experiences a true gilded age. Hockey will end up facing a similar fate on a lesser scale if it doesn’t get its disciplinary act in order. It’s a lot easier to imagine lesser-contact hockey working for people than a mix of glorified flag football and rugby.
Baseball, on the other hand, continues to have problems putting butts in the seats in many markets with inflated attendance figures still looking pretty slim. However, baseball’s tradition and place in sports is all but secure. It appears the salary market is beginning to relax a little bit. Slowly but surely situational relievers will find the money isn’t what it was as the high-end guys find their end is no longer increasing. Guys like Albert Pujols are always going to make boatloads of money if they hit the market, but the league should hit a hard salary cap long before it lets MLB become a 20-team league (as glorious as that would be for purists and lovers of the best being the best).
As for the death of the WPS (women’s professional soccer) and the life of the WNBA being tied to David Stern’s perceived vanity, life isn’t all-that-bleak for women’s sports. In fact, women’s soccer is at least 200% safer and more solvent than the WNBA once they get salaries in order. The fact of the matter is that once a sport finds its comfort zone, niche even, its salaries will nestle in with its demands. You should be comfortable and not feel sexist when you admit that the highest levels of women’s sports will likely slide into a land with the National Lacrosse League and minor league hockey and baseball. There will be players like Marta, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan who can draw a 10,000+ crowd, but to expect that any time in the future for a single club over the course of an entire season seems a bit utopian. What we saw in the WPS can continue with a new league and another Women’s World Cup, but frankly the more teams that enter, the lesser the gate receipts will be. There are, after all, only so many players on the US National Team.