Not long ago President Nixon summoned a group of governors to the White House for a discussion of the nation's energy emergency and, as is his wont, began the meeting with some unconnected small talk. First the President dwelled lightly upon the fortunes of his No. 1 favorite sports organization, the Washington Redskins. Then he turned to Marvin Mandel, the Governor of Maryland, and inquired as to precisely what has gone wrong with the Baltimore Colts this season. Without hesitation, Mandel quipped, "Same thing that brought us here today, Mr. President—lack of energy."
And now, suddenly, lack of energy is not a joke at all. Last Sunday night the President set forth the first dour specifics, a series of measures meant to cope with the crisis. With his announcements came the certainty that the energy shortage will change the way we all live, including our sports and recreation. The Sunday shutdown of gasoline pumps—including those serving powerboats, private planes and recreational vehicles—will have an immediate and direct effect on what Americans can do with their leisure time.
For at least a fortnight, talk about what might be done had swirled around. Here and there actions had been taken—both broad and narrow. The South African government instituted a full ban on all boating, private planes and auto racing, an act that sent a wave of chills through U.S. car-racing officials. At the other end of the spectrum, the management of the Kansas City Arrowhead Stadium ordered custodial personnel to cut the temperature in public rest rooms to the meat-locker level of 50�—an act that produced its own set of chills.
Professional basketball and hockey teams were experiencing more and more trouble with delayed or canceled flights; no games had yet been directly affected, but the NBA advised teams to review their transportation situation to avoid violating the ironclad rule that any team that misses a game will be fined a flat $15,000—with no excuses of any kind accepted. The heat has been turned off in all the municipal swimming pools of Fort Lauderdale, and a rigid new rule is on the city books of Lauderdale Lakes: no basketball court will be lighted unless 10 players are on hand and ready to play. In Oregon a voluntary fuel-usage cutback was proposed by Governor Tom McCall as early as last August, and his state school superintendent strongly suggested then that all football games be held in the afternoon. The recommendation was ignored by varsity teams because of the revenue involved. High school basketball games all over the country have been rescheduled to afternoon hours to save a bit of heating fuel, as well as the gasoline students would use going home and driving back to school again for a game. Big Ten Conference thinkers have suddenly realized that all of their schools are located alongside grand superhighways and are giving serious thought to chartering buses instead of planes for interleague contests. The situation at California's gigantic Marina del Rey has already reached the action—or non-action—level. No fewer than 780 of the 2,600 powerboats based there burn No. 2 diesel oil, and the fuel dock exhausted its supply in November and will get approximately 7,000 gallons for the entire month of December—less than 10 gallons per boat. (A typical 38-foot powerboat running on two 350-hp engines uses 27 gallons per hour when cruising at 22 mph.) In Mount Laurel, N.J. the Ramblewood Country Club went on daylight savings all by itself to make more time for golf and less for clubhouse power consumption.
And so it went, large effects and small from a fuel-energy crisis the extent of which no one had yet defined for certain. One of the more heartening sights over the Thanksgiving weekend was the massive, gentle submission by many U.S. motorists to the 50-mph highway speed limit suggested earlier by the President. Cynics could hardly believe the sight of normally savage speedways like the New York Thruway and New Jersey Turnpike taken over by docile, unhurried motorists rolling along as calmly as Amish buggy-drivers on their way to church. Indeed, there are those who see possibilities of real benefits from such curbs: the renaissance of a peaceful, less polluted, more leisurely life-style in an America minus gas-gulping 70-mph road monsters and our general all-round mindless consumption of energy—whether in the form of unlimited coast-to-coast jet flights, or the proliferation of drive-in hamburgers, drive-in banks, drive-in everythings.
The one concrete fact about the U.S. fuel shortage is that it has arrived, which leads to apprehension about what else may lie ahead. It is impossible to gauge yet what savings the Sunday closings of gas stations will effect, since that depends on the spirit in which the American public will take the measure. But the very thought of limited Sunday travel is enough to cast deep gloom over those involved in almost every form of the recreation business, from pro football owners to amusement park operators, from scuba rentals in Florida to ski rentals in Vermont. What happens to owners of powerboats, planes, snowmobiles, trail bikes and the like? One New York state trooper was so upset by the prospect that he growled, "If they won't let me use my snowmobile, I'm going to put a speeding ticket on every jerk I see with a pair of skis on his car."
Meanwhile, sports executives themselves are worried about the darkening situation. Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn has solicited from all team owners "recommendations to alleviate problems arising from the fuel shortage." The single most obvious method of saving power through baseball—eliminating night games—gives most baseball men a creepy feeling. Minnesota Twins President Calvin Griffith despairs at the thought of his sport being played solely in sunlight. "If they tell us we can't play night ball because of the electrical power drain, we can't exist," says Griffith. "From a business standpoint, we simply cannot play during the day. We couldn't even pay our hospital insurance with what we'd draw with all-day baseball." Bill Giles, vice-president of the Philadelphia Phillies, agrees with Griffith: "We'd average only about 10,000 fans without night games and we would draw less than 600,000 a year [compared to 1,475,935 in 1973]. I would guess the city alone would lose about $300,000 in revenue on that basis and I don't even want to think of what the ball club would lose." The specter of strict gasoline rationing, which could come at some time in the future, is equally troubling. The Twins' Griffith says, "There is no doubt about it, if people are forced to make a decision on how to use their gas, we're going to be one of the last they'll show up for. And without people having a way to get to us, we're out of business."
But Dick Cecil, vice-president of the Atlanta Braves, disagrees. He can even see some possible good in rationing if it comes: "It could be that people wouldn't have the gasoline to drive up to the mountains or off to the lake and maybe they would drive to Atlanta Stadium instead." Maybe they would.
But the fact is that gas rationing—whether by formal edict, super-high taxation or plain shortages at the pump—is almost surely in the cards and will certainly have wide and sharp effects on enterprises as varied as racetracks and rodeos, trout fishing and tennis tournaments. Ski-area operators are desperately concerned. Over the Thanksgiving weekend Mammoth Mountain in Southern California was packed to the rafters, perhaps the largest single weekend crowd in its history, with 11,000 people on the slopes one day. Any serious clampdown on driving would leave Mammoth a shell of its present robust self. Evan Russell, director of publicity there, says flatly, "If just Sunday driving were banned, it would close us out. About 90% of our business is from Los Angeles—and most of that by private car."
The powerboat industry is profoundly pessimistic about the future, as well it might be. Powerboat sales fell off just on the tide of talk about a fuel shortage. Monroe Spodeck, president of a Fort Lauderdale marina, says that his firm's boat sales have already plunged by 80%. He adds darkly (but perhaps accurately), "It would be better if we had a hurricane or something to destroy the marinas—at least that way we could collect insurance." In Mays Landing, N.J., Charles Walters, vice-president of Post Marine Company, which specializes in pleasure boats, observes, "We've had dealers cancel orders for boats. We laid off about 15 workers last week, paid them for the week, gave them a turkey for Thanksgiving and told them it was beyond our control. We tried as long as we could." Beyond the fuel problem lies another: styrene, a petroleum-based material used to make 65% of all fiber glass hulls, is in short supply and, thus, manufacturing—even of sailboats—will be sharply curtailed.