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Copyright 2017 Richmond Newspapers, Inc.
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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)


What I learned in sports this week is the American fan is getting more and more comfortable staying at home.

"It's 90 degrees and coverage on TV's pretty excellent, so it's tough to sit in the bleachers when it's 90, but who knows? I think that there's more to it than just people not watching NASCAR. I think sports in general are way, way down. Attendance is down in a lot of other sports as well," said NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin at the conclusion of last week's race at Richmond International Raceway.

Well, Denny, that's somewhat accurate. But nobody is taking it on the chin worse than NASCAR, which is facing "the hat trick of trouble" with declining attendance, sinking ratings, all while facing the impending departure of its biggest star.

Yet Hamlin added one thing you can't argue with: "It's just viewing sports is different now than what it's ever been."

How true.

"People with smartphones - they're watching races and they're watching games in the back of their car going up the highway," Hamlin said. "You don't have to attend these races anymore."

Not what NASCAR wants to hear. Actually, it's not what any sports league wants to hear. But it's becoming more accurate every day.

Last year, MLB attendance was down 1.1 percent while TV ratings were up for 29 clubs. The NFL saw a 2 percent increase last year in attendance, after seeing it dip by more than 2 million between 2013 and 2015, and according to CBS Sports, the average FBS college football crowd was down by less than 1 percent from 2015 after dipping the same the prior year. Only the NBA has seen consistent growth with three years of record attendance averaging 17,884 a game.

Sure, these are only 1 percent dips per year, but where's this all headed?

In recent years, the millennial generation has fought back against cable companies by cutting the cord. Is this the fans' retaliation to jacked-up ticket cost, overpriced concessions and obnoxious parking fees?

Leave the Flying Squirrels out of this conversation. For their show on and off the field, the price of admission is unbeatable.

One emailer to my radio show this week stated that between two Redskins tickets for one game, plus food, gas to Landover, Md., and parking, he could eat his own food, buy a new HD TV and purchase the Red Zone package for the season for less cost.

Another, in reference to Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones being heckled with racial slurs at Fenway Park, said, "I don't have to worry about some guy randomly showing up in my living room swearing in front of my kids."

At 38, walking into a MLB ballpark still gives me chills.

However, is that special to an 18-year-old? Is it just easier to check out the highlights on Twitter?

For mom and dad, is it wiser spending your entertainment dollars somewhere else?

Often I've wondered if in 50 years the model for sporting venues is more like the 20,000-seat NBA arena than the 45,000 baseball stadiums that most times are 60 percent full.

Truth is: There will always be parents who want to take their kids to their first game, and sports will forever be played in front of a crowd.

But recently have you asked yourself how easy it is to not go to the game?

Think about it.

Major League Baseball, the NFL, NASCAR and college sports have.

Wes McElroy hosts a sports talk show weekdays from 6-9 a.m. on WRNL (910).

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May 7, 2017


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