If there is one sure way to be wrong about the future, it is to be conservative about the American capacity for growth. Back in 1939, for instance, the General Motors exhibit at the then New York World's Fair predicted that the number of automobiles in the U.S. would increase from 26 million to 38 million by 1960, or by almost 50%. That was considered an extravagant and fanciful forecast, but the actual number of cars in 1960 turned out to be more than 61 million—the increase alone was nine million more than the number of cars that existed in 1939. Again, in 1951 the Civil Aeronautics Administration estimated optimistically that domestic air travel would soar in nine years from nearly 10 billion to 18 billion passenger miles. The actual mileage total in 1960 was more than 30 billion.
In short, it seems almost impossible to be too far out about the future. The point is stressed because some of the forecasts that follow in this article about sports in the next decade or two may seem farfetched and even foolish. But they are based not on fantasy but on hard facts, on evident statistics, on trends already in existence.
A number of generalizations may be made about the immediate future:
?Sports will continue to boom and boom and boom and will play an increasingly larger role in American life. The simple facts are that more and more people will be earning more and more money and will have more leisure time. The population of the U.S. now stands close to 200 million. By 1980 it will be 260 million, and at the turn of the century, only 35 years from now, it will approach 350 million. As the population grows, the work week shrinks. In 1900 the standard work week was 60 hours, in 1930 it was 48 hours and in 1964 it was 39 hours. In 1976, so calculates the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it will be 36 hours and in the year 2000 only 32. By then Americans will have 500 billion more hours of leisure time than they now have. Sports is an obvious way of passing that time.
?The public purchase of sporting goods will continue to grow at a rapid rate. According to Richard E. Snyder, consulting economist to the National Sporting Goods Association and other organizations, sales of selected goods totaled a mere $167 million in 1933. By 1943, a war year, annual sales had doubled to $329 million. After World War II ended, sales more than doubled again, to $754 million in 1946. In 1964 sales reached $2.6 billion, almost four times the 1946 figure, and in another 10 years should near $4.5 billion. The average annual growth rate for sporting-goods sales is 5.3%, which is greater than that of the gross national product.
?Technological advances will widen and deepen sporting activities in the next decade. American sports grew out of the industrial boom of the late 19th century, and they have traditionally depended upon technological innovations—from gutta-percha golf balls to automatic pinspotters—for stimulus. By 1974 sports will have benefited greatly from space-age research. Indeed, space-age products are with us already. The firm of G.T. Schjeldahl in Northfield, Minn., which was awarded the contract to build the inflatable Echo satellites, has developed inflatable plastic packets the size of a rolled-up tent which can be blown up to cover and winterize an outdoor swimming pool. Texas Instruments has speculated about designing an unlosable golf ball that would contain a tiny transmitter that would send out signals from the wildest rough. It would be impossible for a golfer to damage the transmitter no matter how vicious his swing—after all, it was built for impact on the moon.
?Technological advances in communications will help foster a more intensive internationalization of sports. A prime TV attraction in a few years may well be the U.S.- U.S.S.R. track meet live from Moscow. Bill MacPhail, vice-president in charge of sports for the Columbia Broadcasting System, says the chances are 50-50 that CBS will be able to do a complete live telecast of the 1966 Carling Open in Great Britain, and by 1968 the networks will be able to deliver instant coverage of sporting events from any place on earth.
?Travel will also further internationalization. Already it is responsible for a considerable cross-fertilization of cultural interests and sports. A great number of Latin Americans are now playing in the major leagues (both the National and American league batting champions are Latins), and the San Francisco Giants had a Japanese pitcher last season. A couple of months ago the Cincinnati Reds signed an Italian infielder. The process is beginning to work in reverse. When American baseball professionals reach the end of a major league career they hop a jet to Japan and the waiting Osaka Hawks. Other sports, too, keep spreading from country to country. Judo and karate have become highly popular outside Japan, and the American games of volleyball and table tennis are the rage of Asia. ("My theory," says Sociologist Reuel N. Denney of the Institute of American Studies of the University of Hawaii's East-West Center, "is that volleyball was spread to southeast Asia by airline crews. Now people like the Indonesians want Peace Corps athletic instructors so they can build up their ability in Western athletics.")
?Participant sports will overshadow spectator sports in the next decade, and it is highly unlikely that any new major spectator sport will emerge within the foreseeable future. Baseball, the so-called national game, is likely to recede even more in relative popularity. This trend toward participant sports became apparent in the mid-1930s. In 1934 the National Recreation Association studied the leisure-time activities of a large number of Americans. Most of the people studied were sedentary. They listened to the radio, they watched games, they went to the movies, they read. But, apparently, what they really wanted to do was be active themselves. They wanted to be able to play golf, to go swimming and to sail. These desires became reality after World War II, as documented by Economist Snyder's figures. Even though attendance rose rapidly, participation in sports grew even more quickly, and as of today Americans spend 10 times as much on participant sports as they do on spectator sports. This overwhelming interest in participation is confirmed by the findings of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, established by Congress in 1958. According to the ORRRC, participation in outdoor recreation alone will just about double itself by 1976, and then it will double itself again by the year 2000. In 1960 there were 474 million of what the ORRRC calls outdoor summer "occasions" by Americans. By 1976 there will be 825 million such occasions and by the turn of the century 1.6 billion. By contrast, attendance at outdoor sports events will reach only 416 million occasions by 2000. (Such figures, of course, exclude what one might term television occasions. But it is worth noting that the amount of money spent each year in this country on sporting goods exceeds the total annual advertising revenues of the country's three big TV networks.)
?Although participant sports will grow, some will not grow as much as others. There is remarkable agreement, for instance, that bowling may have reached its crest. Richard Snyder says, "Bowling has had its period of dramatic growth. It's holding its own, but there isn't much new to report about it." The participant sports that will grow seem to be those that combine the outdoors, the "family ethic" and excitement. Skiing and fishing, for example. More and more, family participation is playing a key role in the popularity of sports. "The American emphasis on the small family unit has created a set of strong emotional ties among its members, and thus a familism of a new type has emerged that will increase in importance in the decades to come," Columbia Sociologist William J. Goode wrote in an ORRRC study report, Trends in American Living and Outdoor Recreation. "Outdoor recreation permits family members to be together while permitting each member to synchronize only loosely with the others."