July 19, 2010

Is lack of a salary cap undermining interest in MLB?

There was an eye-opening Harris Poll released last week that said interest in Major League Baseball has slipped to 35 percent among adults who say they follow the game, down from last year’s 41 percent.

While it’s tempting to say it’s only one poll, or it’s only a one-year anomaly – because we’re in an era of short-attention-span theater, a recession or have so much fighting for our entertainment dollar – but what if it isn’t?

Is it possible that the lack of a salary cap is finally catching up to baseball? Many fans have long decried the lack of a cap, the disparity it engenders between big-market and small-market teams. The behemoths of the game, led by the Yankees, Red Sox, Philles and Mets, can hoard the best players because they can afford them.

It leaves large swaths of the league competitively irrelevant (did you know the Pirates have had 17 straight losing seasons?) and while some of those teams are simply poorly run, baseball’s lack of institutionalized parity plays a big role. The NFL is the best example of how the salary cap improves the health of a league overall. Small-market teams like Green Bay can be perennial contenders, something MLB's Pirates or Royals can never aspire to.

July 8, 2010

A good goal for FIFA: Use technology, get it right

So now the final stage is set: Spain vs. The Netherlands in what should be a glorious World Cup final, a fitting culmination to the 31-day tournament.

If only . . .

If only the players and the hundreds of millions of fans around the globe who will tune in to watch Sunday’s finale could count on the officials to call a competent game, a 50-50 proposition in a tournament marked by missed goals and handballs, phantom fouls and routinely botched offsides calls.

Of course, the officials are human and fallible. The real fault lies with FIFA, the sport’s governing body, and its president, Sepp Blatter, whose prehistoric mentality toward instant replay has helped create a digital-age mess. Fans worldwide watch the games with the benefit of modern technology – live streaming, slo-mo replays, a terrific on-screen offsides guide – and yet FIFA has refused to make such tools available to the referees, thus creating a huge gap between its technology-savvy fans and the game. The tournament’s -- and the sport’s -- credibility is suffering the consequences.

Technology is a wonderful thing. Video replay has been around since 1963 (yes, 1963).  Instant replay has been widely used in the NFL for the past 25 years. And the NBA, MLB and the NHL have all integrated replay in one form or another. Even a fairly simple technological advance – a microchip in the ball that could indicate when it crosses the goal line, an advance that would have signaled Frank Lampard’s infamous goal should have counted in the England-Germany game – has been spurned in favor of old-fashioned human error.

FIFA and Blatter have no excuse not to leverage all that replay has to offer for the World Cup. This is not some mom-and-pop operation. The tournament is a billion-dollar venture, and by failing to use replay to ensure the fairness and accuracy of officiating, FIFA undermines the very sport it’s charged to promote and grow.

July 1, 2010

3-D technology is great, but 'damn these glasses son'

Whenever I read something about the upcoming onslaught of 3-D entertainment, a scene from the movie “The Jerk,” a 1979 comedy starring Steve Martin, keeps coming to mind:

(Stan Fox’s eyeglasses keep slipping off his nose)

Stan Fox: Damn these glasses son.
Navin R. Johnson: Yes, sir (then he turns to the glasses). I damn thee.

That loosely sets the stage for the arc of the life of Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin), who fixes the glasses with a simple invention, gets rich, then loses it all in the end because the glasses make their wearers cross-eyed (and if I spoiled the movie for you, well, you've had 31 years to watch it).

But every time I read a story about 3-D TVs and 3-D technology and 3-D movies and 3-D channels as the savior of the TV and movie industry, I can’t help but think of that movie, and what happened to all the people who wore those glasses.

Having to wear 3-D glasses already stands as one impediment to the growth of the 3-D industry. And the side effects of wearing them may stand as another.