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The future of American sport

This is an excerpt from Sports in American History 3rd Edition With HKPropel Access by Gerald R. Gems,Linda J. Borish & Gertrud Pfister.

The transitions in sport and new sport forms will continue to fuel dreams well into the future. Whereas boxing offered hope for many impoverished youth during the first decades of the twentieth century, new forms of violent sport, such as mixed martial arts (MMA) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) had surpassed interest in boxing in the United States by the turn of the twenty-first century. The MMA format combines boxing with wrestling and jiu-jitsu. The sport originated in Brazil and made its first appearance in the United States in 1993. The violent nature of the bouts met with Congressional opposition, and they were banned in New York. MMA found a home on pay-per-view cable stations and gained popularity as it formalized rules; adopted weight classes, rounds, and gloves; and outlawed head butts. Early stars, such as Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, gained a large fan following; by 2011, UFC signed a seven-year contract with the Fox network for $100 million per year, an indication of its crossover into mainstream sport programming (Masucci 1397–1400). Once a clandestine activity, bareknuckle fighting has also made a resurgence, and its promoters intend to bring it into the mainstream (Barr).

The growing regard for men’s and women’s soccer teams, as seen by the support and enthusiasm for their play in the World Cup, indicate that the sport will continue to grow. Major League Soccer grew from 10 teams to 26 by 2020, with another, Austin FC, set to join the league in 2021 (Torres). The popularity of the sport has even drawn European stars such as David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to play for American teams. The outstanding success of the American women’s national soccer team, consistently ranked number one in the world, led to the establishment of a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in 2012 featuring star players from the national team.

The globalization of sport and popular culture will inevitably foster international sports leagues, and the increasing capabilities of technology, science, and medicine will ensure record-breaking performances. Teachers and coaches already have the technological tools to film and analyze skills previously deemed to be imperceptible.

Sports analytics has become a major factor in developing individual players, team performance, and competitive strategy due to the predictive capabilities of statistical analysis in a three-step process that includes data management, predictive models, and use of information systems. Such analyses often determine player acquisitions and personnel usage for professional teams. The defensive shift and pitch count in baseball, shot selection and load management (playing time) for basketball players, and defensive personnel changes and offensive play calling in football are now determined by analytics. Analytics increasingly dictate athletes’ lifestyles as trainers manage their diet, sleep patterns, training regimens, and treatment of injuries. Business managers also employ analytics to maximize revenue via ticket sales by increasing prices when playing traditional rivals or top teams. Marketing strategies are driven by social media and fan interaction. Artificial intelligence enables fans to have virtual experiences similar to their athletic heroes (Kline).

Artificial intelligence has already enhanced top-level sport and will continue to change training, strategic decisions, and officiating. The automated strike zone in baseball and line calls in tennis will become a reality. Machines have become assistant coaches to diagnose strengths and weaknesses of one’s own team as well as opponents. Team managers recruit players based on potential determined by computed analysis. Virtual reality will continue to improve quarterbacks’ decision-making capabilities. NASCAR autos will be more efficiently designed for safety and function. Shoe sensors can already determine proper stride length. Wearable technology has already changed health habits and fitness patterns (i.e., Fitbit) and will continue to assess training patterns. Media coverage is enhanced by optimizing camera angles, and even the effectiveness of advertising may be determined by particular timing within a contest (Sennaar; Joshi).

Social media has transformed fan culture as players tweet with their followers in a seemingly more personal relationship and team officials try to regulate such communication. Professional and college teams monitor blogs to ascertain fans’ sentiments and adopt marketing strategies accordingly.

Computer-based game systems, such as the Wii, have already changed the nature in which children and adults participate in sport without leaving their homes. On this console, players compete against avatars by simulating physical activity or assume the persona of a star athlete in a test of skill. Other players can live out their dreams on the computer by joining fantasy leagues in which they become the imaginary owner of a team. Early baseball board games of the 1980s provided the impetus for more sophisticated versions made possible by computers. Both male and female “owners” join a baseball, football, or basketball league or leagues. Team members are drafted before meeting opponents in virtual games. Players’ performances are rated according to their statistical records, and they can be traded as in the real world. Cash prizes are often awarded based on the league standings at the close of the season (Hutchins and Rowe; Schultz et al., in Nelson, American Sport 538–539).

In 2000, the Samsung Company sponsored the World Cyber Games in Korea, patterned after the Olympic Games, in which professional players competed for cash prizes. Such annual tournaments draw hundreds of players to international destinations, with prize money surpassing $16 million in 2015. Such games and the cyber athletes who play them change not only the nature of sport but also its definition (Hutchins and Rowe; World Cyber Games).

Professional esports competitors hold particular prominence in Asia, which cornered 36 percent of the market in 2017, followed closely by the United States at 35 percent. The esports industry accounted for $655 million in 2017, with its revenue coming from sponsorships, advertising, ticket sales, merchandising, and media rights. Among the top games were Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2 (with more than $100 million in prize money), Counter Strike, Call of Duty, Overwatch, Madden NFL, and Hearthstone. The Overwatch League is televised on ESPN and the ABC networks. The average salary for professional players in 2018 fluctuated between $1,500 and $5,000 per month, but League of Legends players earned up to $15,000 monthly with additional income from prize money. Tyler Blevins, the top American player known as “Ninja,” earns $300,000 per month by streaming and has 72,000 viewers during competitions (Richelieu 20; Van Sloun; Syracuse University). The global esports market is expected to reach $1.79 billion by 2022. With a viewership of 84 million, the esports audience is expected to surpass all other sports except the NFL by 2022. With 73 percent of its core patronage in the 17- to 34-year-old age group, it crosses all cultures and has global appeal (Statista; Syracuse University). In the United States, amateur esports college teams have grown considerably, with 110 members of a national association and $9 million available in scholarship money (Syracuse University).

More Excerpts From Sports in American History 3rd Edition With HKPropel Access

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