"It's within the economic reach of the average citizen," says Bensen. "It costs about $3 an hour to operate our machine, about the same as an automobile. It gives you the freedom of a bird. You don't have to confine yourself to a quarter-mile strip, but you can fly all over the country and land anywhere. People can rediscover the country. Human activities tend to cling to the roads and highways, and 90% of the country hasn't yet been seen. It's a new form of hiking. A gyrocopter can be mounted on floats as well as wheels, for fishing in hard-to-reach places. A fellow in Minnesota mounted his on snow skis, and he says it's real sport. A gyrocopter can take off in as little as 300 feet, and it won't spin or stall. It just floats down like a parachute. Like any new device, it will take up to 17 years to become popular with the American public. We have been in business 11 years, the gyrocopter has been on the market six years and people are just becoming aware of it."
?Technological advances also give exciting promise to the future of stadiums, but promise is about all they give. The great Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi, designer of the striking Palazzo and Palazzetto dello Sport in Rome, talks excitedly of domed stadiums with translucent roofs that can be quickly rolled over in case of rain. Domed stadiums for spectator sport may have immediate promise in Europe, which lags about 20 years behind the U.S. in leisure-sports activities, but the outlook here is much more dim. Two years ago Nervi sketched just such a stadium for the Boston Patriots of the American Football League, but the stadium remains nothing more than an architectural plan. Aside from the impressive new stadium that will open in Houston next spring, domed stadiums are highly unlikely in the U.S. in the next decade except to cover practice areas, miniature golf courses, tennis courts, outdoor ice rinks and the like. And in these instances inflatable materials, part of the feedback from the space program, are more likely to serve than sliding or translucent roofs. The simple reason is that the costs for inflatables are low, whereas erection of a new stadium with a special roof requires too much capital outlay. And spectator sports are reaching the point in the U.S. where TV and radio revenue are as important as the live gate.
This is not to say that spectator sports are positively on the wane, but relatively speaking they have lost ground to participant sports. For instance, major league baseball attendance seems to have stabilized at around 22 million a year, and there is no reason to expect that this figure will increase drastically in the next decade. There are any number of reasons for this: there have been too many fickle franchise shifts, the TV policy has been suicidal, the tempo of the game itself became increasingly slow at a time when the public taste was for increased action and there are too many other competing interests. All these factors show in the comparatively slow sales growth of baseball goods. In 1964 Americans spent $76 million on bats, gloves and balls, and by 1974 they are expected to spend only $114 million, not much for the "national game." Economist Snyder says, pessimistically, "I foresee the possibility that sales of baseball goods may not attain the projected figure for 1974."
Like baseball, basketball drifts. It suffers from too many weaknesses. On TV it has been "overexposed." And, as George D. Stoddard, then executive vice-president of New York University, wrote in the ORRRC report on Trends in American Living and Outdoor Recreation, "It is a game best suited to persons with glandular anomalies. It is much too easy. Through incessant scoring, basketball for the spectator involves more neck turning and listening to whistle tooting than anything else. Worst of all, no one as yet has been able to keep gamblers and gangsters out of organized basketball; the game is highly vulnerable to manipulation." To many people the gap between the end of the football season and the beginning of baseball is Dullsville—except for hockey. Basketball is so incapable of filling it on TV that, says Bill MacPhail, "last year we talked very seriously of starting a ski league, in which you'd have something like Aspen vs. Sugarbush."
Horse racing, which offers an outlet for gambling, will continue to burgeon, and football grows as both a spectator and participant sport. NYU's Stoddard sees alumni pressures and the huge capital investment in existing stadiums as basic supports for college football. "What endures," he writes, "is the mighty Saturday spectacle of 'the great game.' For many, football is the spectator sport par excellence.... I do not quarrel with this view; in fact, considering the few colorful spectacles remaining on the American scene, I am inclined to share it."
In professional football, sponsor pressure ultimately will force a championship game between the NFL and AFL. There is sponsor pressure on the NFL right now to go to the two-point conversion. It adds excitement; therefore the sponsors want it. It is highly unlikely that the networks will lose control of pro ball to pay-TV. Pay-TV, which was just outlawed in California, is still at least five years away. That is the trouble with pay-TV: it always has been "five years away." On the field itself pro players will be even bigger. Within 10 years defensive lines should average about 290 pounds. (The defensive line of the 1940 Chicago Bears averaged 220 pounds; today the L.A. Rams have a line that averages 50 pounds more than that and stands 6 feet 5 inches tall. It appears that football, too, is becoming a game for glandular anomalies.) In years past there have been any number of predictions, some of them supposedly solidly based on sociological studies of the American character, that soccer, lacrosse and perhaps even Rugby would be likely to become popular spectator sports. Any such thinking now is highly unrealistic, since the hunger for spectator sports has reached the saturation point. What's more, these sports are unfamiliar to Americans and thus lack the sense of immediacy and identification that spectators demand of a contest. For the last five years various sports spectaculars have been televised, and it is worth noting which sports shows draw the best and worst Nielsen ratings. The lacrosse program, a savage rouser between Army and Navy, ranked 73rd out of 75 sports spectaculars. Soccer and Rugby were 74th and 75th. As a result, there are no plans for these sports for at least the next couple of years. Although one program may seem a flimsy basis for such long-range non-planning, that is the way TV operates. By contrast, the sports spectaculars which did so well, such as auto racing, fishing, track and field and surfing, will be programmed more and more. Indeed, CBS is thinking of a regular program on surfing.
Finally, the immediate future will see an intensive application of science to competitive sports, to the athlete in competition. Consider track and field. Shotputters, discus throwers and pole vaulters discuss their specialties like physicists; thrust, propellant, trajectory are terms as much in use on the infield of a track meet as they are at an experimental missile site. Runners have become physiologists, fascinated by blood chemistry, oxygen debt, adrenaline supply. Ten years ago Roger Bannister conducted experiments in fatigue by running in place on a treadmill; now the Russians have developed an electronic device to study swimmers in action, and presumably its application (and that of similar devices) will spread to other sports. The relation of diet to performance, especially among track athletes, is being studied more and more carefully. Since, historically, track-and-field records improve about 4% every 16 years, today's world records will be as obsolete by the end of the next decade as Gunder Hagg's astounding performances of the 1940s are today. By 1980 an as yet unknown Robert Hayes will have run 100 yards in 8.9 seconds, and some 4-year-old toddler who paid no attention at all to the 1964 Olympic Games will be a 20-year-old speedster running the mile in 3:47. These are both conservative projections. Indeed, as we look back 10 or 20 years from now at the early '60s it will seem as though we lived in Victorian times. The true modern age of sport is only beginning.