By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
We can’t be sure if the saying, “Carpe Diem” was coined by an eager and influential executive of the Mesopotamian Entertainment & Sports Network (MESN) or not? History claims Siduri made the statement in the Epic of Gilgamesh and it instructed one and all to “move-on” and leave the depressing aspects of mourning behind. Thus, to “Seize the Day.”
Nowadays, it’s been reduced to something as mundane as a tweet, a catchy buzzword or an advertising slogan. To “Seize the Day” is also a goal or objective.
However, to the sharks in sports television on a holiday?
It’ a land grab.
The most noteworthy sports business activation of “Carpe Diem,” is certainly the National Football League’s impact on Thanksgiving Day. Home games on the American holiday, hosted by the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys, have families across America planning meals and activities around the football games. On a day reserved for giving thanks and paying respects to the pilgrims who first settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Americana of today simply states, “we’re ready for some football.”
With the NFL so effectively ensconced in the fabric of Thanksgiving Day, it did not take Ecclesiastes to figure out there were opportunities for other organized sports properties and their television partners to attempt to seize a day in terms of sports programming.
Thanksgiving Day in the NFL
For decades, the NBA has attempted to claim the sports television landscape of Christmas Day, December 25th. The NBA schedule-makers usually headline the day with a rematch of the previous season’s finalists and, together with their cable and over-the-air broadcasters, book primetime or afternoon time-slots to put the NBA on the radar for sports fans everywhere. A glut of other games, split between two or three broadcast partners, has unfortunately minimized the impact of the programming land grab. It’s a much more difficult programming attempt as the most holy, global and busy Christian holiday is quite different than the more relaxing American holiday of Thanksgiving.
New Year’s Day long belonged to College Football and the Bowl Games. Days of yesteryear bring back fond visions of Rose, Orange, Cotton and Sugar Bowls dancing in our heads on a January 1st football television marathon. But, as with all good things, a glut of additional bowl games, from Astro Bluebonnets to Weed Eaters ruined the specialness of a day that once belonged to the best of college football. The rise of the CFP (college football playoff) system, now trying itself to “own” New Year’s Eve, also spoiled the soup that was a wonderful tradition of New Year’s Day bowl games.
Seeing that opportunity, the National Hockey League snuck-up on everyone in the sports world when they unleashed the NHL Winter Classic in 2008 at a snowy Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, not far from Buffalo. On that day, as light fluffy snow filtered down in front of NBC Sports’ cameras, the Buffalo Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of 71,217 fans and a television audience, all thinking the same “Holy S*%#” thoughts with jaws dropped in amazement as NHL players skated outdoors in their glory. Similar events at Wrigley Field in Chicago (Black Hawks vs Detroit Red Wings) and at Fenway Park in Boston (Bruins hosting the big, bad Philadelphia Flyers) in 2009 and 2010, captured the ice-hockey loving souls everywhere.
NHL Winter Classic 2008
It has only been more recent years where the NHL chose to broaden the scope and schedule with outdoor games anywhere and everywhere, including Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and Dodgers Stadium in sunny southern California, along with a Heritage Classic (actually the Canadian-based original version of the outdoor event), that caused the novelty to quickly ware-off, with the glory of 2008-09-10 in a race seemingly impossible to recapture in fans’ imaginations or in increased television ratings.
Summertime efforts, whether Memorial Day or Independence Day (July 4th) bode nicely to fill a baseball park or 12, but they are largely “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” days and not a sports tv programming marketing effort, no fault to the suits at MLB. Summertime holidays are a tough sell and putting fannies in seats certainly outweighs the more challenging effort to make people sit in front of their tv screens or smart devices. The end-of-summer Labor Day weekend proves daunting, as the sports calendar is chock-full of events, from the start of college football, to the kickoff of the NFL to golf and tennis and back-to-school shopping. That said, U.S. Open tennis and PGA Tour golf have established quiet but effective traditions at Flushing Meadow and the TPC Boston, respectively, with the latter a result of a smart move by the Tour to slide the playoff-level golf tournament to a Friday-through-Labor Day Monday schedule.
“Holidays are particularly challenging for a sports property,” said Ed Desser, president of Desser Sports Media, and industry-leading consultancy. “This is due to the fact that people and families often develop long term traditions. A cookout, a turkey dinner, etc., and breaking into those annual events is no easy feat,” he said.
“The NFL has been playing games on Thanksgiving for as long as I can recall. The NBA has had a tradition of games on Christmas. Baseball plays on the 4th of July. The habits to watch sports on these dates have been established as part of family practices over generations. Unlike something like an NFL opening game on a Thursday night, which can be invented in short order with good promotion and an attractive match up, holiday traditions are much more hard-wired,” Desser said.
That brings us to today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a relatively new holiday in the United States. The folks at the NBA, via NBA TV and Turner Sports, have carved-out extensive programming for afternoon games on the league network and evening shows on TNT, and fans seem to enjoy the programming, coming off a weekend of NFL Playoff games. One smart step for the MLK Day sports programming was undertaken by the BIG EAST Conference and their tv partner Fox Sports (FS1 as opposed to the network), and that was to create a Big East basketball marathon, starting today at Noon with a Marquette vs Butler game and continuing late into the night when Providence visits Georgetown where the students proclaim, “Hoya Saxa,” but surely understand the concept of “Carpe Diem.”