Keeping Score, the weekly segment where I enter into friendly debate with former Nugget Sports Editor (and current Saskatoon Blades video intern) Connor Hood over various topics in the world of sports. This week, we discuss whether it’s more beneficial to professional sports leagues if there’s parity among teams or if there’s a dynasty that draws everyone’s attention. Hockey’s last dynasty was the Detroit Red Wings of the late ’90s-early 2000s, football sees new teams win every year and basketball is enjoying a new level of parity as the NBA playoffs roll around. Some say parity attracts more sports fans, others say having “dream teams” makes for bigger headlines, and thus, a bigger audience. What do we think? Read on …
Dynasties are a lot of fun but what happens to the average fan’s interest when those great teams aren’t playing? There are 30 teams in both the NHL, the NBA and Major League Baseball and 32 in the NFL. If there are only a few teams worth watching, then these leagues don’t have brand value each and every night. Besides, it’s not much fun watching a few teams blow everyone else out each night. Dynasties come and go but having quality teams each night provides entertainment for all fans.
The stability of each league depends on increased parity. Without consistency, the leagues cannot demand TV deals and other corporate sponsors. ESPN might love broadcasting the Lakers but won’t show the same interest in watching the pre #WeTheNorth Toronto Raptors. When you have quality teams that can win on any given night, then more games end up on television because more people care about what is on screen. Fans gain the most with parity. If you’re paying a couple hundred bucks for a ticket to a game, then you always risk picking a dud but parity reduces that risk significantly. Now there are more exciting games, more rivalries and more opportunity for a fan to sprout up in places like Indiana or Texas. There’s still a chance that you’ll witness a stinker but a greater chance of witnessing a classic. Specifically speaking about playoffs and championships, there’s even more to gain from parity than from dynasties. Those dominant teams are fun to watch but when they destroy opponents on the first round, it often kills the early playoff buzz (very much the case with the Miami Heat in recent years). Now, there’s a chance that the NBA Western Conference playoffs will continue the trend from last year where the first round mirrors the NHL. If you make the playoffs in the NHL, then you now have a shot at winning and that makes every series dramatic. The reason this sells is the uncertainty. When the audience has no idea what is going to happen, then the product is working. People love March Madness, Olympic hockey and the NFL precisely because of this fact. More quality teams, more drama, more happy viewers.
Most sports fans say they always root for the underdog, that cheering for the overwhelming favourite is boring. They would all be lying to you. Dynasties are what fuel all sports fans. Dynasties create legends, all-time best players and teams, and stories that live on for generations. What do hockey fans think of when someone mentions the 1980s? Oilers. ’90s? Red Wings. Now? LA Kings. Without a doubt, dynasties are sport leagues bread and butter.
One of the most recent dynasties, or the closest thing to one, was the Lebron James led Miami Heat that managed four straight finals appearances and two titles. When a team is on a roll like the Heat was, you were cheering for them. When they rattled off 27 straight wins, you wanted them to get to 28. You’d check TSN or Sportsnet just to see how the Heat did that night. You couldn’t help yourself. Even if you hated the Heat, you were drawn to the spectacle of a dynasty in the making.
And as a member of the media, I love nothing more than a good dynasty. They fuel TV ratings, sponsorships and merchandise. Let’s be honest, how many of you want to watch an Atlanta Hawks versus Memphis Grizzlies NBA final? A New York Islanders versus Nashville Predators Cup final? That’s right, nobody. Dynasties turn good players into great players and great players into alltime greats. Would Michael Jordan still be considered the best of all time had he not won a single championship? Or Kobe Bryant? How about Tom Brady? Sure, they would be considered great players, but not some of the best to play their sports. The true greatness of players is determined on winning, and specifically, winning championships. The more titles, the better. How does one accomplish this?
Being on a dynasty team. Even if you hate dynasties, you love to hate them. They give you reason to watch the game. And if you really are a true fan of parity, have fun watching the Milwaukee Bucks take on the New Orleans Pelicans, I know I won’t be..