Last weekend I saw a baseball game at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. Great, modern ballpark with lots of cool features, including Kosher and vegetarian concessions, free cell phone charging stations, and even a nursing mother's lounge. But I also noticed something odd - the park itself was actually pretty full that day, but a lot of the seats were empty for a good bit of the game.
How can this be, you ask? Well, most of it can be blamed on the great amenities - "rest areas" in the concourse with tables and cooling fans, the cell phone charging stations, the mother's lounge, not to mention the very long lines at concessions. So a lot of fans spent a good portion of the game in the concourse instead of actually watching the game. And that got me thinking - are the games themselves starting to lose our attention?
It has been shown that attendance is down recently in sports like college football. And the Rams are building a ridiculously expensive stadium complex (roughly $3 billion, that's billion with a 'B') which will feature all sorts of nonsensical accouterments that have nothing to do with football. Do fans just not have the attention spans anymore to watch a 2 or 3 or 4 hour game?
Lots of societal factors could be blamed for this, if so. The whole culture of instant gratification, for example, with the ability to skip commercials, stream videos on demand, and be in constant contact with your followers on Twitter or Instagram. Selfies are probably to blame as well - all that seems to matter nowadays is showing off to the world that you were AT the game; you don't actually have to bother WATCHING any of it.
Perhaps the leagues are too blame - maybe the games are too long. In football we have instant replay now, and lots of other unnecessary stoppages in play. Baseball is doing lip service to shorter games, and talking about new rules to make it so, while at the same time doing things behind their backs to make games longer, and then pretending not to understand why their new rules aren't working. Not to mention too many damn commercials.
More likely it is all about the money. The leagues and owners don't care if you actually watch the game - they just want you to buy an expensive ticket, and plenty of Cracker Jack, booze, and team t-shirts. In fact, they might almost prefer you to NOT be in your seat, because if so you aren't spending money at concessions.
So what is to be done? Probably nothing. I can't complain - I certainly enjoyed lounging in a wicker couch next to a cooling fan for a few minutes at Nationals Park on a hot summer's day, instead of folded into an 8-inch wide plastic seat with some other guy's elbow in my neck. Baseball is pretty boring anyway, so I didn't miss much. But at some point I feel like we are missing something - sure, your kid might come home with great memories of cotton candy and ice cream, but home field advantage just doesn't work when your fans are all in the concourse.
P.S. Please see my review of Nationals Park at StadiumJourney.com.