I’ve written numerous times about how I’ve fallen away from consistent sports-watching; it’s just fallen out of the routine of my life. Mostly, it’s how much time it takes to complete a game combined with a personal move away from cable (or cable-like) TV. I have so many streaming subscriptions and take such joy from watching movies and TV shows that I’ve just prioritized those viewing experiences over live sports.
I’ve been thinking about my own sports-viewing habits after yesterday’s news that ESPN is now jumping into sports betting with a $2 billion deal with Penn Entertainment, and while it would be easy to say it wouldn’t affect me very much because I don’t watch that often, I think it will discourage me from coming back (if I were at all inclined to do so).
I was living in Wyoming when sports betting became legal there, and my friends were early adopters of the various services (or better put: phone apps) and placed a lot of bets. It seemed to be a genuinely good time for them, giving them a little extra skin in games they were going to be watching anyway.
Even then, I was much more casual about the sports I watched. Much of what I watched was for the social element of hanging out with my friends. But there was a ramping up of the level of disconnect I felt from the “true” sports fans, as the betting lingo overtook the sports lingo.
It was no longer that I simply had been out of the fandom for a while, no longer sure of which teams were the strongest and why, but it was the additional unfamiliarity of odds and how and why bets were being valued and bundled as they were. It felt like the nature of the games had changed (even though they hadn’t really), and it felt like what I imagine people who’ve no interest in, conception of, appreciation for sports must have always felt in social settings where conversations so easily turn to sports. My years of participation in the sports themselves and my years of actual fandom, where I followed my teams actively, prepared me for the new era of sports.
ESPN’s deal seems like it will widen that growing disconnect I feel, as sports and betting on it collapse into one thing. For me (or at least the part of me that passively wishes I were still more active in my sports fandom), this strikes me as a bummer, a mild inconvenience mostly, but as Dave Pell of Next Draft pointed out in his newsletter today, this could have a lot of negative consequences for our culture.
I'm covering this story a lot because I think it will have a huge societal impact, especially among young men. We're talking about a generation already addicted to their phones who are now carrying a casino in their pockets, while constantly being marketed to about the joys of laying a bet. From yesterday, The Mouse Always Wins.
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