People Consume More Music So Why Do Sports Get More Money?

Paysimaginaire-flickrBy Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.

People spend way more time listening to music than watching sports. And yet sports programming generates six times more money than the recorded music industry.

What’s up with that?

Such was the question posted at an SF Music Tech panel called “Music, Tech & Money” (.pdf), according to a tipster, who believes it was moderator Hany Nada, a partner at GGV Capital, who said:

“People spend 4 hours per week watching sports and 40 listening to music. But the music industry is one sixth the size of the sports industry. Why?”

It’s a good question. I wasn’t at this latest SF Music Tech, but my theory has long been that it’s because sports was never really disrupted by on-demand media (DVR, online services) the way almost all other forms of audio and video have been.

"Take Me Out to The Ball Game" (1908)

Sports doesn’t want to be timeshifted, because then you have to turn off your phone and disengage from the world (otherwise someone will likely ruin the game by divulging the score) unless you have access to something like this. And it doesn’t want to be downloaded, traded, streamed later, or archived, for the same reason.

Sports is pretty much the last thing that people need to watch in real time. On-demand access improves almost all audio and video except for sports (and the evening news, for older demographics), so the old systems are still in place there. They know the ads will get seen. And if anything, the second screen just offers more opportunity to make money. In terms of live attendance, there’s a different allure, too, with the regional pride and competition aspects. Maybe American Idol etc. are on the right track with the latter.

Basically, the issue is that Sports and Music are completely different animals. Still, it might be fun to try to draw up a list of possible lessons from the sports industry to the music industry, along the lines of our lessons from the podcast renaissance:

People Like Competition

Sports, in America anyway, are about winning or losing. This is one reason we don’t like to watch soccer. American Idol understands this, as do music competition sites like OurStage, but maybe there’s room for a bit more formalized competition in music. (Yes, all of social networking is already a competition for bands seeking Likes and Follows, but that’s not a formal, viewable-in-real-time competition).

Regional Segmentation

Sports has lots of fans because each town has its own team, and each team has its own style, even though the players come from everywhere these days. Maybe music needs more local scenes. People in Seattle really like, lived grunge, from what I understand. These days, it seems like, for the casual music fan, music is not only everywhere, it’s from everywhere.

Undivided Attention

Yes, music is everywhere we go, on every ad we hear, and on every television show. On top of that, many of us listen to it as much as we can, while we’re doing everything from driving to working to jogging to, um, expressing our love for one another. Elevators, waiting rooms, hallways, offices, restaurants, videogames, etc. — this is how we end up hearing 40 hours of music per week. We sometimes consume music sometimes without noticing we’re doing it.

On the other hand, watching a game that includes your favorite team is a practically religious experience for many people. They can’t not watch.

The lesson for the music industry: It could help to cultivate undivided attention, whatever that means. It’s not going to happen all the time, because again, music and sports are different. But it could happen sometimes, whether through advanced formats, interactive experiences, live streaming of shows, and whatever else people can think of to make people focus on what they’re listening to.

Harness The Second Screen

For sports broadcasters, smartphones and tablets aren’t competition — they’re just another place where they can send fans advanced statistics. Audio fingerprinting is even capable of syncing the stuff on the small screen with the stuff on the big screen. Perhaps there are ways to sync music apps with the music that’s playing (both Dan Deacon and Musixmatch have done interesting things along these lines — expect more on those soon).

[Thumbnail image courtesy Becka Spence.]


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  1. Interesting question.. with music, a lot of the listeners usually use online streaming sites or even download it for free unlike sports..

  2. IMO there is just “too much” music now… and it’s all about quantity and NOT quality. Too much band playing too much gigs even for free at the same town. This means: music is cheap/free, always available: worth less.
    You can’t just watch your favorite sport game whenever you want, you have to wait for the right time. When a sport fan goes to another time zone, and his favorite game starts at 3am, he will stay up all night just to watch the game! Because that’s a one time opportunity.
    If something is easly accessible and there are tons of them, it losts it’s value.

  3. Here in the US we ended music education in our public schools…But we never got rid of sports in our public schools.
    So because of this, kids grow up with, and can appreciate a sense of what it takes to play on the level of a professional athlete…..and as a result they can respect it.
    But they can’t appreciate what it takes to be a professional musician because we took away the education necessary to do so.

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