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August 30, 2015

TV 101: What Soccer, Comic-Con and George Steinbrenner Have In Common

by Jay Black, posted Jul 28th 2010 3:00PM
The San Diego Comic Con logo. Makes me want to put on a cape and fight crime. Or, just put on a cape.Last week on vacation, I read the book 'Soccernomics' by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. It's a kind of 'Freakonomics' for soccer, but they mention the NFL enough that none of the bullies at the beach beat me up too badly for reading it.

One of the many points that the authors make is that sports teams that actually try to turn a profit inevitably begin to death-spiral. The best teams are those that operate like a non-profit charitable trust, where every penny is put back into improving the team. This is why teams are owned by crazy rich people (George Steinbrenner) tend to do better than teams that owned by just regular rich people.

At the same time I was reading 'Soccernomics', I was living vicariously through my nerd brothers who were blogging about attending Comic-Con (because that's what you do at the beach). So, of course, it didn't take long for me to reach the obvious conclusion: TV needs a Steinbrenner.

Let me explain:

'Soccernomics' makes a compelling argument for running a team like a non-profit. It's not that they authors don't believe in profit (Reagan forbid), it's just that teams that skim off the top can't compete with the teams that don't, both in actual performance on the field and fan perception.

That's why guys like Steinbrenner (and new school crazy billionaires like Mark Cuban, Roman Abramovich, and Mikhail Prokhorov) have such success as owners. They don't run their teams like businesses, they run them like incredibly expensive hobbies. They overspend in order to build the best stadiums and buy the best players because winning is more important to them than profits. You have to do something when you're not bedding starlets or crushing corporate foes, and for crazy billionaire sports fans, it's collecting championships.

The funny thing is, the Steinbrenner-style owner seems to only exist in the realm of sports. This is odd, isn't it? Shouldn't we have seen a TV equivalent by now?

As it stands, TV production companies exist solely for profit. The producers do their best to create a popular show that can run long enough to get into syndication, then they retire into mansions made entirely out of chocolate and high-priced escorts. That's not just the goal, it's the only goal.

And we're OK with that, because it's always been that way; that's our reality. Besides, our support of any particular show isn't like our support for our favorite team. We watch it, maybe buy a few DVDs or some posters -- and that's it. It's not like we live and die by it.

Or that's what I thought until I started reading those Comic-Con blog updates -- girls camping out for hours and hours for a chance to be near the actors in 'True Blood'; the shouting and cheering during the 'Community' panel; the 4000 strong simultaneous nerdgasm that was the 'The Big Bag Theory' panel -- TV fans are just as committed to their shows as any sports fan. Further, the ultra TV fan spends cash just as freely on merchandise as the ultra sports fan does.

All the time, effort, and money we fans pour into our favorite shows means only one thing to the people making them: profit. Now, before you call me a commie in the comments JohnGalt1138, please understand I'm not against profiting at at all. You can ask my stand-up agent, I'm actively seeking to sell out to the highest bidder. If I could, I'd let a sponsor place an ad beside every (Fresca) single (Tough Actin' Tinactin) word (Gene Simmons Brand Feminine Wash).

What I'm asking is what would happen if the owner of a TV production company decided to go Steinbrenner on us. What if, out of the mists, a man wearing a turtleneck under a sports jacket rose up and said, "All I care about is winning Emmys every year. I don't care how much it costs, I'm going to put the best TV I can out there week in and week out.

"And you know what else? Every penny you put in the support of this show will be plowed back into it. Buy our DVDs? It goes back into the show. Purchase our t-shirts? It goes back into the show. Spend $380 on a character statue. It goes back into the show!"

I know it sounds silly. In fact when I pitched this article, I wrote "This is a nutty idea" and my editor wrote back, "Yes, it is. Are you still fighting that Tylenol PM addiction?" But however nutty, you have to admit that it's also strangely compelling. Imagine what a TV Steinbrenner could do!

He could sign free agents.
"Since all of our fans bought the new posters, we've decided to go out and hire Brad Pitt to star on what we're now calling 'Three and a Half Men.'"

He could produce more than 22 episodes.
"The 'Mad Men' action figures are selling great, so we decided to make 35 episodes, just like TV shows in the 60s used to."

He could build grander sets. "The cereal sold so well, we've decided to upgrade that studio. Yep, you could say that this is the house that Urkel built."

But most importantly, what TV Steinbrenner could do is funnel the money that fans spend on their favorite shows into something tangible on the screen. For the first time ever, all that support we show at events like Comic-Con would actually be supporting the show rather than the Maserati addiction of the people who own it.

I think I'd like to see that happen at least once. Even if it didn't work out, at the very least a TV Steinbrenner would give Larry David someone fun to impersonate again.

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who really hopes you like this column. For more information about Jay or to catch one of his live shows, check out www.jayblack.tv)

[Follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]

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soccer pittsburgh

I'm so happy that soccer is becoming a more popular sport here in the U.S. I doubt it will ever be more popular than Basketball, Football, or Baseball, but it'll work it's way up there. I always found it interesting that nobody likes it here but in the world it's the most popular sport.


September 15 2010 at 11:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I believe what you envision here already exists in the form of HBO. After all, people pay $10 or so a month and they expect Emmy-quality shows in return. How is that different from people buying Yankees gear in expectation of them going to the playoffs every year?

July 28 2010 at 8:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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