Futurists speak frequently of the "post-industrial society," an era which is probably already upon us and will likely continue through the year 2000. In short, this refers to a time (or scenario) when the American Way of Life will not be so intensely focused on the efficient production of goods and the mindless consumption of same. Harvard Sociologist Daniel Bell, in his book The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, explained it this way: "The first and simplest characteristic...is that the majority of the labor force is no longer engaged in agriculture or manufacturing but in services which are defined, residually, as trade, finance, transport, health, recreation, research, education, and government."
This means, wrote Bell, that the dominant worker in the U.S. labor force will be the "brain worker." This trend has been clear for many years: jobs that require some college education have been increasing at a rate double that of those filled by the rest of the U.S. work force, and the number of scientists and engineers, a group Bell calls "the key group in the post-industrial society," has been growing at a rate triple that of the rest of the work force.
Thus the U.S. is rapidly shifting toward a society which will be far more cerebral. And, obviously, the braininess of the nation will have a profound effect on sport. Brian Sutton-Smith, professor of psychology at Columbia's Teachers College, says, "As we become more cerebral, sport has to become better and better. The spectator becomes more and more critical. We are coming the other way around from the automated man. There are riots at soccer matches because people are not willing to sit and watch dull, routine matches. Spectators rebel and cause their own happening at a dull match. In a more cerebral future there will probably be a tendency away from massive followings of the monolithic spectator sports and toward more diversity. The popularity of football, basketball and baseball will become commensurate with things like orienteering, volleyball, bicycling. And the large sports of today will possibly become more like art, with a skilled critic commenting on slow-motion TV replays—someone like Howard Cosell to analyze and interpret the play."
If one projects this cerebralness to a logical end, a football game of the future may consist of no more than four plays, each replayed over and over, dissected, analyzed and criticized from a dozen angles of slow-motion replays, with each player's performance judged and scored for its nearness to perfection (like figure skating). The winner of the game will not be the team that scores the most touchdowns, but the team that executes its four plays perfectly. Such might be the content of Monday Night Football for a nation of intellectuals in the year 2000 (although when The Old Intellectual himself was asked his opinion of such a prospect, Cosell rasped, "That's an absurd extreme").
If the general intelligence of the population improves, the appeal of violence in sport might be reduced. John W. Loy, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, says, "I don't see any great demand for blood sport in the future. The growth of sport in the U.S. actually parallels increasing controls over violence. There are more rules than ever protecting players from injury, and better equipment—face masks in hockey, batting helmets in baseball." A colleague adds, "If there is a split in society in the future—a wealthy middle class and a poor lower class—then there is a possibility of split sport forms, with the cerebral and gentler games for the upper class, the brutality for the prols." Sociologist Fred R. Crawford of Atlanta's Emory University also sees little chance for more violent games: "We don't even support the death penalty for criminals. Our value system is actually moving in the opposite direction and in the future I think an Evel Knievel would have to prove that he is not going to be killed before they allow him to do it."
Possibly. Yet perhaps the future was already with us last month when President Ford appeared at a U.S. Army camp in-Korea and was "entertained" by the game of "combat football"—an invention in which there are 42 men on each side, two balls in play at once and no limitation on blocking, tackling, kicking or piling-on. One fellow who thinks such brutality may even be desirable is Lee Walburn, an outspoken executive with Atlanta's Omni group, which owns the NHL Flames and the NBA Hawks. Walburn says, "I think the sports that will claim the big on-site crowds are the violent sports, where there is the chance of injury. People who enjoy that kind of sport won't be able to get the true experience without being on the site to see the blood, hear the smack of the fist on the head or witness the crash of an automobile. On the other hand, the 'beautiful' sports like basketball, tennis and baseball will be watched by esthetes at home on cable and pay TV where they can admire the grace and beauty, like they would a Peggy Fleming ice show. But I think hockey and football will be more violent in the year 2000 because we may be such a sedentary society that we need some release for our emotions. It'll be a matter of psychological therapy to have violent sport. We may not see men fighting to the death, but we could have animals killing each other—cockfights, pit bulldogs, maybe even piranhas eating each other to death on television."
In the glowing '60s, when consumer-spectator interest seemed to have no limit, sport expanded as rapidly as the rest of the economy. But a 1974 Harris survey showed that only tennis and horse racing had gained in spectator interest in the past year. All other sports had declined. Pro football is still No. 1, but season-ticket sales dropped 6% and TV ratings are down. Even Pete Rozelle is slightly glum. "There has been a dilution in football," he says, "because of the new league. There has been a dilution in all sports. You turn on the radio and hear about teams you didn't even know existed. You ask, 'Where is that team? Is it hockey or what?' The days of simplistic identification are over. There are just too many teams." Whatever there may be too many of, Rozelle obviously doesn't think they are NFL teams. The league is still expanding as blithely as if it were 1965—to 28 teams in 1976, to 30 in 1977 or 1978, and, perhaps by next year, on to Europe for a mini-NFL: the Vienna Lipizzaners, the Istanbul Conquerors, the Rome Gladiators.
Rozelle sees the drop in football popularity as temporary and believes it has been caused by an invasion of bleak real life into the previously escapist "oasis" of pro football. "We are a form of entertainment," he says. "In the future, I hope we can keep our off-field problems removed from the game. The public doesn't want strikes and lawsuits, they want enjoyment. I hope we can make pro football an escape valve for the fan again, an oasis from a troubled world." At the moment, Rozelle still sees commercial television and the spectator-consumer as pro football's economic base, and he says the NFL is no longer even toying with the idea of starting its own independent network, an idea that was fairly close to reality five years ago. However, if mass spectator appeal takes a deeper nose dive and ratings drop further, the networks may be unwilling to support the NFL in the manner to which it has become accustomed, namely at a rate of $55 million a year. Cable and pay television will then become a very real possibility.
The payoff for pay television could be nearly astronomical. Jack Kent Cooke, principal owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings, as well as largest single stockholder of the Washington Redskins and chairman of TelePromTer Corp., did some figuring about the Southern California basin where there are some 3.5 million homes. "If just 20% want to watch the Rams, the Dodgers, the Lakers, the Kings or whatever," says Cooke, "you have a total of 700,000 homes. Let's say it's $5 per home. You are playing a numbers game that knocks you for a loop—that's $3.5 million per game!"
But the most likely source of income for sport in the future will be gambling money. Few re-I alists doubt it. Bill Veeck says, "There undoubtedly will be legalized gambling on all sports. There will be off-park betting, of course, and eventually there will be mutuels in our stadiums. There's not a thing wrong with it." University of Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham agrees: "The next step will be legalized gambling—state-controlled mutuel windows. Oh, maybe not at colleges, but certainly for the pros. That's not far out. Rozelle's against it now, but he's progressive as hell and he will probably be the first guy to put betting booths in the stadiums."