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For basketball, ice hockey, wrestling and several other sports the story has been much the same: a gratifying increase in the public's interest, coupled with a broad public disinclination to get off its backside and take itself out to the park or stadium. For some teams in some sports, the payments received from TV sponsors have made up the loss at the box office, or even sometimes brought in a big extra profit. But on the whole, taking into consideration the fate of the minor leagues, the boxing and wrestling clubs and so forth, the spectator sports have suffered a severe net financial loss because of TV.
Is Pay TV a good answer? Suppose it were widely available—what reasonably could be expected of it?
Physical attendance at sports events probably would not be helped; more likely, in fact, it would dwindle even more. Instead of going to the stadium on a raw fall day or to the ball park at 90� in the shade, quite a few people would be inclined to pony up a dollar and sit at home with the appropriate beverage, cheering the team on in absentia. Looking ahead, some athletic directors and promoters fear that the crowds may quite vanish, and that with them will go the athletes' incentive to excel. As Nicholas Kerbawy of the Detroit Pistons says: "I'd hate to see the day when sports were played in a laboratory setting. If you take the fans away from the game, you take the sweat away. Ballplayers in every sport are activated by the fan." But this is an extreme of pessimism; the more general view is that the special thrill of "being there" and the social pleasures involved will tend to keep crowds coming—some sort of crowds, at least.
To weigh against a possible fall-off in physical attendance, there are some probable advantages. The big one, from the fan's point of view, would be a virtual doubling of the events available on TV: all those local games and championship fights now blacked out would be his for a price. Would he, though, actually spend his money on these extra and special events? What evidence there is, such as the receipts of closed-circuit broadcasts (the last Patterson-Johannson fight grossed more than $2 million from TV), suggests that he would—that, in fact, the total box office from direct admissions plus coins in the slot would produce such a bonanza that the old Golden Age of Sport would look like Sunday night in Slowville. And with this extra money, many desirable things would be possible.
For instance, subsidies to the minor leagues could be increased enough to permit the farm system to operate with its old vigor. Similar subsidies from the major fight promoters—why not?—could revive the little boxing clubs. More money from college football, which already pays the costs of the minor collegiate sports, could help buy tennis courts, golf balls, eight-man shells, ping-pong and equipment for the 99 other potential forms of physical recreation. Sports, sportsmanship, health and vigor do not necessarily rise in proportion to the amount of sporting dollars available, of course, but it is equally silly to deny that there is a relationship; and whether the money comes from tickets bought at the gate or from coins fed into a box is not decisively important. Chub Feeney, vice-president of the San Francisco Giants, has put the matter with unsurpassed brevity and eloquence: "Revenue," he points out, "is revenue."
All in all, then, it seems entirely possible that Pay TV could—and would be required to—do as much for sports as sports could do for it.
Obviously, Pay TV would not limit itself to sports. Its proponents look forward to selling first-run movies, Broadway opening nights and hit shows and other similar current entertainments—programs which no advertiser can now afford to sponsor but which, through the living-room box office, could pay for themselves and return a profit. Again, the figures are what anyone wants to guess: there is no reason, in theory, why a grade-A movie shouldn't pay off its production costs in a week or why a show like My Fair Lady shouldn't take in an extra $10 million or so. Such incentives, say the Pay TVers, would cause backers to put up more money for hit shows, bring Hollywood's production of feature films back to the level of the good old (pre-TV) days, provoke an outburst of creativity in all directions. At the other end of the financial scale, local stations would also be able to put on public service programs of limited interest—the high school class play, for instance, or a Little League ball game—on the probability that enough doting relatives and public-spirited merchants would chip in at the coin box to pay for the air time and probably even a good deal more, the profits to be turned over to the organizations concerned.
All this being so, or at any rate reasonable and likely, why hasn't Pay TV been launched by somebody a long time ago? The full answer to this logical question runs to several million words. Up to, but not including, the recent hearings, the FCC in the course of its previous wrestling with the subject had received some 25,000 individual items of opinion and information. The proposals and counterproposals that were submitted fill 69 volumes, a stack 18 feet high. As a matter of fact, the man-hours that have been expended scheming, arguing, reading, writing about and forestalling Pay TV probably would be enough, if converted into ergs, to send the entire seven-man Federal Communications Commission into orbit around the moon, an idea so attractive to so many it's a wonder that that hasn't been done yet either.
Briefly, the reason for delay has not been lack of effort by people who want to start Pay TV, but the equal and opposite efforts of its opponents and their success to date, through harassing and legal delaying actions, in preventing the FCC from issuing the necessary permissions.
There is no profit here in going back through the 18-foot shelf of ploys and counterploys. However, considering the complexity and the very great importance of this game, and considering also that even if O'Neil wins his current point for Pay TV in Hartford the competitive struggle will be going on for a long time to come, it is a good idea (otherwise one can't follow the action) to know the names, numbers and backgrounds of the principal players.