A few weeks ago I was watching a NY Rangers game (as I am wont
to do) and they had a system that allowed the trainers to monitor
one player’s heart during the game. This was particularly
interesting during his shift as the rate would elevate to the
170-180 bpm range. A hockey shift normally lasts about 45 seconds
and a one minute shift can leave a player struggling to return to
the bench for replacement. The announcer said that the Ranger staff would eventually
be able to monitor all of the players hearts simultaneously (a
matter of cost and technology I imagine).
Technology is making increasing inroads into our beloved,
multi-billion dollar professional sports industry. Biotech and
testing for performance enhancement are already huge issues, while
training techniques and equipment have incorporated many advances
including computer simulations for improved motion, and high tech
exercise machines and programs. Instant replay and other monitoring
devices have found their way into the way most professional sports
are officiated and, on the production side, graphical statistics
overlays are all the rage. All you have to do is watch a rerun from
30 years ago to see how far we’ve come.
If there’s one thing NASCAR has shown the world, it’s that people will watch even the most boring “sport” on the planet in the hopes they’ll see a little blood.
The fact is, people like to see destruction. No, I’m not saying they like to watch death or serious injury, but they do enjoy dramatic destruction. Like it or not, seeing cars smash into each other at high speeds makes is exciting. Even crashing airplanes gets a good deal of attention on YouTube.
A quick glance at human history reveals that people have always had a taste for blood, from the Greeks with their Olympic Games to the Romans and their their arena gladiators.
Think about it. There’s a reason traffic slows down by an accident even though the crash has been cleared off to the side of the road, there’s a reason people crowd around a burning building, there’s a reason The Dark Knight was so popular (want to watch me make a pencil disappear?), and there’s a reason torture-porn movies like Saw and Hostel have raked in so much cash.
So what about our future sports?
We may begin to see more sports straight out of post-apocalyptic movies. With nanobots able to repair injuries within minutes and safety technologies advancing day by day, shouldn’t we expect sports to continue pushing the envelope?
Cities around the country could set up their own arenas, much like the Romans built coliseums around their empire. The Thunderdome from Mad Max could soon become a contemporary institution (in fact, real-life Thunderdomes already occur today, but are notably less deadly than the fictional kind). With such new sporting events, sports relying on violence for viewers, like the UFC, which displaced boxing, might find themselves outdated.
Red Bull Air Racing is going to look like shopping cart races in a few years. Unveiled in Oshkosh, WI yesterday, the Rocket Racing League is a brand new sport guaranteed to change the face of aviation. Pilots navigate their rocket powered plane through a series of checkpoints appearing on their heads-up display while GPS monitors keep track of their position, speed and altitude. On top of this, the league plans to incorporate first-person gameplay (Xbox, Nintendo, etc) into the real-time races, letting people compete against actual participants at home in real-time. Obviously, this isn’t your mothers NASCAR.
The globalization of sports such as Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association has been a dream come true for the American sports economy, but now a plummeting U.S. dollar has created the conditions for a mass exodus of our top professional athletes. The result: Athletes like Kobe and Lebron are now openly entertaining the idea of playing overseas if income prospects there exceed what they’re currently earning on U.S. soil.
Basketball: The NBA has made the most significant jump globally. It all began in Barcelona with the original Olympic Dream Team of 1992. As American legends Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson tore it up on the court, future superstars Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki were watching from the stands, soaking up their unique styles of play. Gradually the foreign talent got better and soon earned roster spots on American NBA teams. Finally, this was capped by the emergence of Yao Ming, a 7’6” Chinese phenom selected first in the NBA draft. What ensued was the end of U.S. dominance in international play. At the same time, some big talent including the likes of the NBA’s Josh Childress signed with Greek League club Olympiacos and future college star Brandon Jennings have been lured away to play on the Italian League club Lottomatica Roma. Now, a falling U.S. dollar is threatening to erode the NBA itself.
It appears to be yet another unexpected consequence of accelerating change and a flattening world.
Baseball: The All-American Pastime has been a true global sport since before I was born. Latin America and Asia have been producing exceptional talent over the past 2 decades, a trend that shows no signs of slowing. Manny Ramirez, Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Miguel Tejada and David Ortiz are just a few of the international players who became stars in the US. But according to a recent ESPN documentary, the MLB does not replace the talent that they take. The Japanese league refers to it as not replanting for the trees they cut. However, this could quickly stop, then reverse, if the dollar falls far enough.
Football: The National Football League is perhaps most resistant to globalization. It’s an American bred sport that hasn’t really caught on around the globe. Instead, the stadium sport of choice is soccer. But if other nations can lure away NFL franchises with the prospects of bigger financial markets, then perhaps this too will change, albeit very gradually. Until recently, there have been rumors of the Buffalo Bills moving to Toronto.