by Peter Brav
The executive’s name was Tim Riley and he had been at Fox Sports from the beginning, rising through the ranks, crushing subordinates and superiors alike, until he was making a lot more dough than the idiots hitting baseballs 500 feet and knocking down 25-footers with regularity. And that was the problem, they were idiots, fixed costs, crushing expenses that ate into league profits grilled from ten-dollar hot dogs and indirectly the advertising profits of his own beloved network.
All he needed to do this year was convince the ownership at the leagues that they were all permanently expendable and his legacy would be cemented. This was the 21st Century after all; it hadn’t taken other world industries long to realize that if cheap Chinese labor was no longer available, then unemployment should be allowed to rise to the 50% level the doomsayers had long ago predicted. With technology evolution so impressive, year after year, America and the world were on the way. And that’s what had given him his big idea. It wasn’t as simple as just shutting all the leagues down and buying up the big video game companies but it was close.
Hadn’t Americans led the way for all of the civilized world to follow in learning the joy of watching sports that no one ever heard of twenty-four hours a day? Did it matter if you watched Jacques Cousteau diving in 1973 or 2013? Was there any depreciation in the wonder of watching bow hunters sneak up on deer or duck with Curt Gowdy whisper narrating? Didn’t everyone love ESPN Classic? Was there anything better than interviews with Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson? Weren’t the voices of Howard Cosell, Mel Allen, Vin Scully, Keith Jackson, and Don Meredith intended to ring out forever? Sure they were, and the fact that millions of Americans could watch Lew Alcindor and UCLA play Elvin Hayes and Houston in the Astrodome in 1968 like it was The Wizard of Oz or It’s a Wonderful Life proved his point. Best Games in League History on the Big Ten Network? Check. Celtics against Rockets in the ‘86 Finals? Check. Olajuwon against Jordan, Eckersley serving to Kirk Gibson, Bill Mazeroski swatting the mighty Yankees, West against Frazier, North Carolina State beating Georgetown, Montana to Dwight Clark at the back of the end zone? Check, check, check, check, check, check, check.
And who could really enjoy dragging one’s tired body to the ballpark, arguing with the wife, refereeing between the kids, fighting the traffic on the parkway and the crowds on the escalators, all for three or four plays that usually transpired when you were at the head peeing out twenty dollars in warm beer? What for? So you could sit behind an obstruction pole or a 300-pound former right tackle and then run into your smarter college classmate coming out of a luxury suite, his zipper halfway down and lobster tail stuck in his teeth?
Tim was positively giddy with excitement, with the possibilities. Just as most teachers could be eliminated with online courses from one really smart guy, they could get rid of them all, once and for all. A-Rod, gone. Lebron, decide this. New wimpy NFL, fretting over uncounted brain injuries and incapacity and premature demise, take up flag football. Soccer, give up already, only parents of little kids watch and then only till puberty. Fox and ESPN and the others owned the rights permanently in every medium known to mankind. Who would lament the loss of a regular season game in June between the Brewers and the Angels when they could sit home and watch Pirates lifer William Stanley Mazeroski’s 10 to 9 walk-off against Ralph Terry and the Yankees at Forbes Field? Maybe it was as simple as replaying the entire 1964 season in 2014, the 1965 season in 2015, and so on and so forth. That would give them fifty years and by that time they’d think of something new or simply rewind. Those were details and he had a staff and test marketing for all that.
All his plan needed was the cooperation of the owners whom he knew would be enticed by the certainty of more money. A permanent lockout. A shutdown. The stadiums were big, and usually taxpayer-financed, and the citizenry would demand some accountability there. But that’s why God created flea markets, wasn’t it? Giant flea markets with as many flowery placemats and used designer jeans as any community could absorb.
Tim leaned back in his chair and smiled. Rupert Murdoch liked big thinkers and no one would ever accuse Tim of being anything but again. He was buzzing with excitement and ideas and could hardly contain himself. Could he license ESPN’s Top Ten Plays, they had to have a hundred thousand of them by now, and just how long would that last? How much would the top players want in appearance fees knowing they would be talking about their own long ago history and not today’s game? It wasn’t going to be an easy sell but he knew he would succeed because it was just too obvious. Couch potatoes just wanted their couches and their screens and those were the only things he knew he wouldn’t be getting rid of.