INDIANAPOLIS -- What is the Sports Bubble? Can you see it? Would you recognize it if you could? Does it have a smell, touch, taste? Can its movements be tracked with GPS or radar? We know it exists, we know
that. But in what dimension, on what plane of consciousness?
There is no sole point of focus, no single mastermind behind the Sports Bubble. There's no Doctor Drakken who built it in order to rule the world. There is no evil company that created it in an evil laboratory. The Sports Bubble did not exist 30 years ago, but it isn't ESPN.
The Bubble has no birthday. It was born out of a disparate series of moments and factors, all having to do with finance and greed. Free agency, scarcity of appropriate human resources, television, apparel sponsorships and luxury suites are the reasons why, but they're all neither ends nor means. Sports like basketball were humble performance-based entertainments once, like movies or the circus. Then, all of a sudden, there was a lot of money.
Somewhere back in the Eighties, or maybe it was the early Nineties, the operating costs of big-time sports became so high that there weren't enough sports fans to properly cover all the expenses. So large companies came in, buying naming rights and becoming corporate champions. But publicly-traded entities couldn't do it all, the product still needed an audience full of real people. People who weren't really all that into the beauty of pure competition had to be tapped, and they were lured with sex, celebrity and community. Sportz
Any entity that exploits a kids' game for profit is part of the Sports Bubble. Any that exploits common frailty in the name of sports is, too. It's driven by big-picture thinkers who abuse their wide-angle insights for monetary gain. Over the years, the Sports Bubble came together piece by piece, like the second Death Star
. It was gigantic, and seemingly unstoppable.
But the Sports Bubble is not Teflon. It's as vulnerable as any other historical bubble
, and is subject to the same basic rule: when the value of the product is much less than its price, it's a bubble. Bubbles capitalize on the disconnect between money and things, the arbitrary nature of value.
The Bubble will do anything it can do to perpetuate itself. It will lie, cheat and steal. It will even lobby Congress
Someday, the Sports Bubble will pop. It's all fun and games until money's lost. The giant companies that fund the Bubble are collapsing themselves
, and others are deciding that the participation costs are getting too high
. Professional teams in the major American sports
are losing cash faster than they can think about replacing it
, and they're running out of cities to run to
Every top athlete is just one major scandal away from losing their sponsorships, creating controversy that maintains the Sports Bubble with short-term controversy, but simultaneously kills it by damaging its star attractions and fomenting disgust. What you've seen in the past month is the Bubble eating itself. Someday, and it might be sooner than you think, ESPN will start running blood-red lines all over Disney's balance sheet. It's all.
At the Sun Belt Classic two weeks ago in Nashville, a reader came up to me. "I'm worried about the future of the site," he said. "I can't afford to give you much, but here's a ten."
I told him to put the money back in his wallet. "You don't need to do that," I replied. "I'm worried too. But I still have one card up my sleeve, just you watch."
"If things get really bad, if the fundraising grinds to a complete halt, I can write about the Sports Bubble."
When I was fired from ESPN
, directly following and as a result of the original treatise on the subject
, you donated $4,000 in less than a week, which guaranteed the completion of Season 5. Over the summer, when I published Sports Bubble Blues
, the net profit on the presale was $5,500, roughly one-third of Season 6's operating budget. And when fundraising stagnated in November, then stagnated again in December after I offered to match half of the final $8,000 if you would, I went back to the Bubble
. We raised $1,500 in three days, after bringing in less than $400 over the previous 11.
At 1:37 this morning, as I drifted off to sleep at our headquarters in Hoops Nation's capital
, we met our goal. With a gift from Devin Moeller, the total for our matching-funds exercise eclipsed $4,000, and we went over the top. As promised
, I will put in the $4,000 that I was going to go to the Olympics with. We now have secured $15,500, our total operating costs for the 2009-10 college basketball season, and insodoing have guaranteed completion for Season 6.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for supporting our efforts. In a time when written content on the Internet is so prevalent, so overwhelmingly common and available that its face value is virtually nil, it's a true miracle that enough of you find The Mid-Majority worthwhile enough to help keep it going.
In a recession.
In spite of the Sports Bubble.
The only score that matters in business is on the balance sheet. If you don't cover your costs, it's over and it's embarrassing too. Any company that can't pay its bills it a giant #fail. Avatar
if it doesn't recoup its $750 million in costs.
But The Mid-Majority makes sense. It costs as much as it has, it doesn't make a profit and it doesn't lose money. The site has value because you say it has value, not because I tell you it does. But believe me when I tell you this, TMM is everything to me.
I'm not sure what impression I give with the thousands of words I pump out every day in this space, but I'm not a rich guy. TMM is not my hobby. I don't have a "financial cushion" that lets me do this as a low-risk lark.
I was, once, though. Just over a decade ago, I had a six-figure gross and was featured in U.S. News and World Report
as a college student that had started a software company with some friends and "made it." It survived the first dot-com crash by refusing to take on risky entrepreneurial clients, and made it through the second crash in 2001 by becoming small, humble and nimble. It didn't survive outsourcing, and in the end we failed and were bought out. I've been through a bubble, and I know what they look like.
I learned that being poor and smart was more interesting than being rich and perpetually scared. I learned that desire breeds unhappiness, and that there's nothing fun about wanting things. In the end, we were beaten by people from faraway lands who didn't want as much as Americans do, who did more with less; I was disgusted at the ongoing attempts to exploit them for that.
If you believe that God is the sum of all actions, like I do, then God has blessed me with the ability to do a lot of different things. Now, I'm a writer. But like most of you, my savings are depleted and my retirement accounts are worthless. My credit is trashed because I survived 2001 by living off credit cards I was never able to pay back. Now, I live off $25,000 a year, $18,000 of which goes towards bills, expenses and insurance. I write books, do freelance computer work, and get residuals from the old days.
The only way that The Mid-Majority fits into my life is if it's a zero-sum equation, and it's always been like that. I've never profited one cent off this, but I've never lost money either. It's never compromised the rest of my life, even in the turbulent 12 months that just passed.
It's always so gratifying when I go to games and hear behind me, "Kyle! Kyle!" I turn around, and there's an outstretched hand to shake and a smile from a friend I hadn't met before. They might flash their Bally Club card, or have a book they want me to sign. I always have time. I'll talk until you run out of things to say and it gets awkward.
It touches my heart when people ask me how I am. "You alright? Health-wise? Can you hear me okay?"
People know about my health problems, because I engaged in honest and forthright oversharing about those too
. In nearly two months of Season 6, I haven't had one seizure or had to pull over to the shoulder to wait until the heavy cement in my head went away. Yes, I can hear you fine. Just yesterday, I ran almost eight miles in an hour in the CPIA's fitness center. This is the best shape I've been in since I started the site five years ago.
And with the health issues out of the way, with the money situation resolved for Season 6, it's time to start thinking about the future.
With all the uncertainty last season, there was never an opportunity to think ahead, Season 6 was a last-minute decision. But now we have 10 months to figure everything out, and we don't have to go through all that "will it happen/won't it" stuff. Season 6 is guaranteed, and God willing, Season 7 will be an improvement on what's coming together as a really good setup. Despite what some people might say, I know the site has never been this good.
But we can't do it like this. You can't do it all, we can't ask you to dig into your pockets for the full amount. So we're going to split the costs during Season 7, which will have an operating budget of $14,000.
I'll put up a quarterly residual check again in January of 2011. And the last 13 Ballys
, the TMM cut of Basketball State subscriptions
, Bally Club memberships and donations from here on out will go towards the Season 7 fund. The thermometer is reset
. Hopefully we'll get that all raised by November 1, 2010.
Oh, that? Two weeks ago, there was a matching challenge to the matching challenge, by somebody who prefers to stay nameless because you probably know the name, and it's all political so I will never say who. [REDACTED] said that if we secured Season 6, he would put up $4,000 towards Season 7 next summer. And that we could keep doing what we're doing, no compromises or adjusted content. Just like it's always been.
But for now, it's a party! Here are some of the ways we're celebrating! January 4-8 will be Reader Appreciation Week. I collect cool small-college swag in my travels, and we'll be giving it to you when everyone gets back from finals and settled in. We've got shirts, doo-dads, bobbleheads and more! We'll just be giving it out. As promised, we are giving away the 100th Bally, which is a Giant Bally, 18 inches in diameter. The winner, chosen from a random one-dollar, one-ticket virtual drawing from the $4,000 we raised in Matching Funds Madness, is Paul Hampson. We have your address, Paul, and Giant Bally will be on its way soon. We're also suspending the TMM Ad Network for the year. It's free! If you are a blog, message board, fan community or conference, send us a 468x60 banner to bally at midmajority dot com. The first 12 will get their banner and link displayed on the site (and link in the RSS feed). First come, first served, and we have the right of refusal on any entry.
When you realize that the Sports Bubble exists, that it's there, you can deny it. Or you can shrug your shoulders and go back to commenting on Deadspin. You might be sickened by it, and want to fight. But how? The Bubble is as invisible as it's imposing. You know sportz when you see it, but you don't know how to make it go away.
To paraphrase Jason Kottke
, one of the most accomplished conduit-filters on the English-speaking web, who was in turn inspired by The Simpsons
, I offer this solution. It's trouble-free and guaranteed (except, unfortunately, in Tennessee). Remember that Treehouse of Horror episode
when the advertising icons came to life and terrorized Springfield, and then Lisa and Paul Anka made them go away with a song?
The same principle can work against giant destructobots like Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Chris Berman and A.J. Daulerio. This is how you can fight the Sports Bubble. Your non-participation will make it that much smaller, that much closer to collapse. It's difficult, though -- the Bubble preys on your desire to belong to a larger conversation, beckons you to the virtual watercooler where there's always some talk about something only tangentially related to the games. You may have to choose between Bubblefighting and some of your (low-grade, useless, sheepy) friends.
But you can stand strong. When you're being sold golf cock, body spray, lite beer, ghetto bling and celebrity culture, you can choose not to buy. You can look the other way.