The USA Today ran a story today about the decline in attendance at NCAA Division I basketball games, both this season and by using data from last year’s NCAA Tournament.

Should the NCAA and its members be worried?

Probably not.  Here is a quick summary of what is happening in the market:

1) The combination of HD television and increased availability of games from regional sport networks and ESPN3 is obviously impacting live attendance, as fans can watch the teams they want to see and if the game turns into a blowout just click the remote.

2) The same thing is happening to the NFL, the crowned prince of sports.With the RedZone and Sunday Ticket package many fans have opted to forgo the expensive ticket to stay home with their TV.

AND they get a better experience.

I don’t see anyone panicking about the NFL’s future.  Nor should the NCAA fret about its attendance issue.

But adjustments may be necessary.  Baseball has shown the way by shrinking the size of its venues over the last thirty years.

Expect a similar trend for NCAA basketball.  I would not be surprised to see Tournament games played in smaller arenas in coming years.

And I expect some programs that play part (or all) of their schedules in NBA arenas may be retreating to their intimate on campus venues virtually guaranteeing sellouts and a raucous game day environment.

Empty seats look bad on TV. And TV is paying more of the bills with its increased distribution of the product.

And the increased distribution of the televised sport product is causing changes in the way fans consume sports and how universities, teams and leagues manage their ticket inventory.


At last week’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Mark Cuban advised against college students pursuing jobs in sports, citing the intense competition for jobs and resulting low wages.

This conclusion was echoed and expanded on by Forbes contributor Patrick Rishe.

I regularly espouse for the opposite view.

By starting your career in sports, you are exposed to intense competition – both to land a job and advance once you’ve secured one.

I would view that as a positive – testing your limits to see what can be achieved.

Also, once you have entered the industry there are other benefits that accrue.  For example, because almost all sports organizations are small (fewer than 100 full time employees, other than on-field talent), there is a great opportunity to “wear many hats” and learn about multiple facets of the business. In many industries, entry level workers learn only about a very limited part of their firm and industry.

Another benefit of the small company environment is that you may interact and build relationships with senior employees in a way that simply is not possible in firms with thousands or tens of thousands of employees.

And for those people who decide to leave sports to pursue other career options, there are many firms in related fields (hospitality, hotel, convention, event planning, tourism, fashion, advertising, and social media to name a few) that are extremely interested in hiring people with the skill sets developed by working for a sport organization.

Even for former sports business employees looking for jobs in unrelated fields, the power of having worked for a sports brand continues to pay dividends as you look for your next position.  Your resume and interview will stand out relative to applicants from more mundane backgrounds.  Interviewers are often intrigued by the experience of working in sports.  Asking questions like: “What was it like?” or “Did you ever meet Player X?”

And for those entry level employees who do succeed and advance in the sports industry, the financial and experiential rewards a career in sports business provides are awesome.

Why else would billionaires like Mark Cuban buy their way into sports after being successful in other lines of work?

“Nobody has ever won a championship with Moneyball,” opined Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM Brian Burke at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

He added, “Have a parade, get a ring, and then write a book.”

He may just be playing the role of foil or contrarian. I don’t know.

But his dismissal of statistical analysis is ironically embraced by the “nerds” at the SSAC, where he is a annually a popular panelist.

Shouldn’t he be booed off the stage?

The tension between Burke and the attendees ought be more akin to the relationship between former ESPN announcer Joe Morgan and sabermetricians as chronicled here.  Right?

Burke is bright, witty and engaging.  He has also won a Stanley Cup.  And that combination matters.

But shouldn’t the analytics crowd attending SSAC be more critical of Burke’s message?  Rather than dazzled by his delivery?

Many are commenting on LeBron James’ passing up a chance to win yesterday’s All Star Game by passing the ball.

Adrian Wojnarowski’s column nicely summarizes this view.

Watching the game unfold, what was striking was LBJ’s six made triples.

In LeBron’s last five years in CLE, he chucked up 4.8 threes a game – hitting about 33 percent.

His first year with the Heat his attempts were reduced 3.5 per game.  In year two in South Beach, his three point attempts have dipped below two per game.  Correspondingly, his percentage converted has spiked to a career best 41.3 percent.

Has he improved because A) better shot selection B) he has matured into a better shooter or C) just a hot streak in a 33 game sample?

I’ll leave it to the analytics crowd to figure that out.

But it will be interesting to see if LeBron continues to eschew the temptation of launching threes or mistakenly interprets his hot day at the All Star Game as a green light to revert to being a volume three point shooter rather than an efficient one.


Last year at MIT’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, I gave a talk on the Evolution of Ticketing.

Today, I saw an article in the NY Times about being able to pick who you sit next to on a plane based on a Facebook-type profile.

Could similar Ticketing Technology be used to maximize the Fan Experience at sporting events?

Would a fan rather sit near similar people, as opposed to being randomly “assigned” near other fans?

I know the idea has intuitive appeal for the airplane setting.  When I fly to Boston on Wednesday for this year’s Sloan Conference, it would be beneficial to chat with another attendee.  Last year I sat next to a Golden State Warriors employee on the way home from Boston and enjoyed comparing notes about the sessions we’d attended. But that outcome was based on chance.

Couldn’t the ability to pre-select a person to sit near at a sporting event create a more satisfied fan?

The last post here related to the Oakland A’s and Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes.

Portrayed by many as a risky financial transaction, I surmised it was a good risk by GM Billy Beane.

Today, news comes that Beane has now signed 40 year old slugger Manny Ramirez.

This deal represents almost ZERO financial risk, as Ramirez was inked to a a mere $500K contract – miniscule by pro sport standards.

The risk this time is becoming a “laughingstock” as KNBR’s Ralph Barbieri suggested on air last week.

I doubt it.

If Ramirez never plays a regular season game, his stint in Green & Gold would be quickly forgotten.

If Ramirez hits 20 HRs after joining the team in May, the move is a huge success.

If Ramirez plays, contributes modestly and is hurt (or cut) before season’s end, no great loss.

Seems Beane again has properly weighed Risk and Reward.




Billy Beane understands risk.  This opinion is supported by his signing of Yoenis Cespedes.

Reward vs Risk.

Cost vs Benefit.

These concepts are hard to assess with something as imprecise as MLB player evaluation.  Much less international player evaluation.

But the OPPORTUNITY to bring a 26 year old slugger to a team desperate for power was worth a $6.6 risk for Year One.

If Cespedes does not pan out, can Beane find another buyer to take the last three years and $30 mill off his hands? I like his chances.

If Cespedes shows potential, Beane can keep him in year two and then re-evaluate.

If Cespedes is a star, the price tag for four years will be a bargain.

If Cespedes gets hurt…well, that is the primary risk in signing any player for four years.