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Opinion: Sports industry implosion could effect higher education

Jul 03, 2023Jul 03, 2023


The sports industry will implode in the future. That’s what my advisor at Waynesburg University said in my Introduction to Sports Management class.

His reasoning is this: Professional athletes keep asking for more money every year, and at some point the money won’t come because it’s too much for teams to pay. He doesn’t know when it will happen, but he’s sure it will.

With stories breaking every year about record-breaking contracts handed to NFL and NBA players, like the recent record-breaking contracts of Los Angeles Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert for $262.5 million and Boston Celtics’ star Jaylen Brown for up to $303.7 million, and the unfortunate state of the United States’ economy, I’m inclined to agree.

I’d argue it all hinges on the fans. The fans are where the money originates. If fans aren’t willing to spend money to go to games, buy merchandise or pay for streaming subscriptions to watch games, then teams and leagues will lose profits to use on signing players.

But it’s not just the fans directly spending money that may cause sports to implode; it’s their overall interest in watching the games.

Most of the money in sports comes from media rights deals. Networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC pay millions (and sometimes billions) to broadcast lives games for people at home to watch. And people watch these games more than most other programs on television.

According to Nielsen ratings measurements, 23 of the 30 most watched broadcasts in the US were NFL Super Bowls, with Super Bowl LVII between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs ranked second all time behind the Apollo 11 moon landing.

It’s not exclusively Super Bowls either. NBC Sunday Night Football was the most watched broadcast television series from 2011 to 2020, also according to Nielsen. Keep in mind there are usually around 20 of these broadcasts in a 52-week year.

Networks can draw in so much money from broadcasting sports because advertisers know people are watching. Companies pay a lot of money to advertise their products during commercial breaks and even just before or just after commercial breaks through spoken plugins by announcers.

And where do companies get the money to advertise? The consumer fan watching the game buying the product advertised. It comes full circle back to the fan.

So if people stop watching sports, companies aren’t attracted to advertise during games, networks and other media can’t pay the big bucks to the leagues, which can’t spread the wealth to the teams, which can’t pay the players’ salary demands.

What would be the repercussions of such a thing happening? Besides the obvious hit to the sports industry, I think higher education will take a hit too.

In 2022, the Big Ten, a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I conference, secured a seven-year, $7 billion media rights deal to have football games broadcast on FOX, CBS, and NBC.

According to an ESPN article by Adam Rittenberg, the Big Ten will evenly distribute $80 to $100 million each of the seven years to its 16 member schools, which includes Penn State University, The Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan.

Colleges and universities, especially NCAA DI schools, are making a lot of money on these media rights deals, just like the professional leagues. Except they aren’t putting the money towards paying players; schools are putting it towards their expensive athletics programs.

Imagine if the money stopped coming for the same reasons I mentioned earlier. Schools wouldn’t be able to afford to maintain their athletics programs.

And with higher education already seeing enrollment down across the nation, some schools even folding for good like Alderson Broaddus in Philippi, West Virginia, not many schools could afford educating students and providing their other services if the cost of athletics spiked.

Will this happen? It’s all up to the fan’s willingness to keep paying for more and more sports.

Reach Colin C. Rhodes at 304-367-2548


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