October 18, 2018 marked another milestone, dubbed a sports equinox. So named when all four major league sports – MLB, NFL, NHL and the NBA – are playing on the same night. Throw in college football, and there’s even more competition for viewers’ attention.
This not the first time for a sports equinox; it has occurred 18 times previously. As Kendall Baker of Sports Internet reports (courtesy of Axios), “There was a 16-year period (1985-2001) without a single sports equinox. But now that Thursday Night Football is a fixture, the World Series starts later, and the NBA season starts earlier, they’re much more frequent.”
For old-timers like me who remember when Monday Night Football was the hottest sports franchise, every night can seem like Monday night. In the fall there may be a football game – pro or collegiate – on every night but Wednesday. Add to that baseball is still going in September, the NHL roars to life in late September, and now the NBA begins in mid-October.
Saturation sports programming seems to de rigeur. But how much longer can this continue? ESPN began downsizing a couple of years ago, ahead of the downward turn in cable subscriptions. So far, they have not been able to make up for lost subscribers via streaming. ESPN viewership was down 8% in 2017.
The bigger question that sports saturation raises is: When is enough enough?
Ratings for sports are down. In 2017 viewership for the NFL dropped 8% and total sports by 6%. [There may be an uptick this year in the NFL, but the season is not yet half-over.] Not surprisingly, given our fractious political climate, the news is a hot commodity. As Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research noted for Deadline.com, “News is important for media owners because of the absolute scale of the genre, its potential for profitability, the political influence that follows from these divisions and because of the significant growth they have recorded in recent periods.” According to Wieser, “with traditional TV viewing declining on an ongoing basis, the genre represents a key area of growth for the industry.”
Perhaps the inherent competition of sports is being supplanted by the increasing combativeness of the political scene. Speaking personally, I watch more news than sports, but I don’t know that it has made me more informed. I think instead it has merely exacerbated my passions. Passion for what you do is important. Passion for something over which you have minimal influence can be frustrating, and ultimately unrewarding.
There is something in the human psyche that likes competition, but could there be a problem when the only competition you experience is external, not personal? Too much investment in watching sports is not good for the psyche. It induces stress which reduces increases cortisol and decreases serotonin. That is why you can become angry, irritable and even depressed when your team loses. The same feeling may be produced by watching news programs that polarize more than they inform.
Americans love their sports, but perhaps the oversaturation will lead to a tipping point of fewer sports on fewer networks. Until that happens, the impact on our well-being may be diminished.