Millennials in the Grandstand: Fear Thee Not

In the spring of 2015, an Editorial in issue 22 of N+1 Magazine titled “Meh-lennials! On generational analysis” pointed out an often overlooked aspect of the millennial question and of the practice of cataloging generations. The business of categorizing whole swaths of people born during a certain epoch serves social critics and marketers the most. As the article wisely pointed out and explicated, it’s usually marketers and lifestyle vendors looking for pop culture to sell who see the need to name and identify the supposed characteristics of a specific generation. Unfortunately the narrative given to us by the venders is what most shapes our assumptions and feelings about generations younger and older and even our own, for better or for worse.

Grandstand Just Wants To Make Sure We Get These Digital Natives to Their Proper Place in the Grandstand So That the Old Time Grandstanders Don’t Have an Obstructed View of the Game   

As season 2 of Grandstand Podcast, “Non-Mainstream Sports,” begins its final push to the finish line a subtle underlying narrative has developed.  What will the American sports landscape look like in 20 years after the millennial generation assumes the helm of this industry not only as players but as content producers? Grandstand has too often maligned this fabulous group of individuals for no reason whatsoever. Really we hold no grudges or resentments towards them nor do we really believe in all of the garbage tossed at them by social critics bent on finding a scapegoat for our current existential economic angst and partisan stagnation. Millennials you could argue are Grandstand’s ultimate foil character, an easy prop and a self-serving way to amplify our old timey more traditional style of grandstanding contrasted against their supposed lack of interest for anything bearing traces of the staid pre-digital reality of traditional grandstanders.

I admit I am definitely out of touch when it comes to spectating at the pace of millennials. To talk sports with these new grandstanders is like trying to talk derivatives with a Wall Street suit. I don’t understand what the fuck they’re talking about or referencing.  Personally I feel like I’m on the endangered sports fan list, my kind of grandstanding slowly dying, being co-opted by never ending sports data analysis and ceaseless speculative arithmetical  one-upmanship. The performance seems to be moving away from the field and into the grandstand where jabbering mineworker statisticians try to outshine each other in a race to see who can find the most revealing stat that will change our perception of the gameplay.  Fortunately millennials are a mostly tolerant and compassionate clique and thankfully when they do take over completely I can count on them saving a spot in the grandstand for the few of us who just want sit and watch the damn game. But alas, interruptions for metrics analysis put together by these damn kids or not, the show will go and the spectating spectacle will be just fine if not better while in their custody regardless of what old time grandstanders believe.    

Which Brings Me to the Following

All of the non-mainstream sports profiled so far on this season of Grandstand are more or less thriving in their respective niches with some being more financially lucrative than others, but neither boxing nor horseracing is going to disappear from the American sports viewing landscape any time soon.  Without intending to we have been superimposing these games and their spectating markets onto the Big-4 (Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey) to see how they would fare in a battle for market share supremacy. The informal thesis operating as the connecting thread of this season has been a conversation about pitting millennial sport spectating tastes against the spectating tastes of the old guard of sports Americana. It has been fun to romantically ponder and talk about a hypothetical future where Rugby takes over American Football and of Boxing returning to primetime national television if only for the sake of the thought experiment itself, but none of those games are true millennial games.  That is why a more plausible reality will probably see Lacrosse, Soccer and Ultimate Frisbee take over as popular pastimes and maybe even one day featuring on primetime television. The 20something generation, so as to not say millennials again, has been playing different games than their predecessors grew up playing.  20somethings have also been gradually pushing on the pillars that prop up the old structures of access (network/cable television) to the sport spectating spectacle. Those structures may never fully collapse, but the effects of a new generation of spectators and producers accessing and interacting with the Big-4 in a less traditional manner will produce outcomes that will change the way we grandstand in the future. The new grandstanders have the force and digital savvy to put enough of a strain on the old infrastructures to create a new narrative for not only a dethroning of one of the Big-4, most likely Baseball or Hockey, but for a diversification of spectating so wide that there will no longer be a Big-4 to contend with. The millennial future will most likely feature a Big-2 and a second tier of niche market contenders fighting it out for social media relevance i.e. millennial dollars.

Or…

Will a burgeoning game like Lacrosse or Major League Soccer take over as one of the Big-4? In America Lacrosse like Soccer is on the rise. The National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS) claims that Lacrosse is the fastest growing youth sport.  Non-profit groups like Brooklynn Lacrosse and Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership are bringing this ancient Iroquois game to the inner city and to communities both topographically and ideologically distant from the halls of the elite prep-school environment where Lacrosse has always prospered.  The MLS claims to have the greatest growth in market share of viewers in the highly coveted 18-34 age bracket and perhaps more importantly the MLS has the greatest share of Latino audience which also happens to be mostly millennial. According to a 2013 poll by ESPN, the MLS is as popular with 12-17 year olds as Major League Baseball. Which begs the question, are Nielsen ratings and growth projections enough of an indicator of what is to come next in American sports if the “total spectating experience” is no longer just about watching the game itself via the old mechanisms of the spectacle? Does sampling and trying to figure out who is playing and watching via the old instruments of spectating an accurate way to evaluate if the MLS will ever ascend to Big-4 supremacy?

 Who are these MLS'ers? Nielsen Numbers Graph Compiled by The Atalantic Feb 2014

Who are these MLS'ers? Nielsen Numbers Graph Compiled by The Atalantic Feb 2014

The future cultural capital of all sports is tied not only to the performers, but to the producers of the endless metanarratives borne out of statistical analysis and the producers of the entertainment that occurs between time outs more so than the games themselves.  In this scenario, although monumentally difficult, non-mainstream sports can and should be able to take some customers from the Big-4 by not only boosting their appeal via better conduits of access for digital natives, but by chipping away at the underlying barriers of access to games in communities where participation in a particular sport is still very closely tied to social class and identity. Or maybe it will be something far simpler than this conspiratorial analysis seems to insinuate.  Perhaps, as the Professor astutely pointed out during episode 15, maybe Lacrosse or Ultimate Frisbee is only one excellent EA Sports video game away from sport spectating glory.

In the USA Lacrosse and Soccer both have been planting the seeds of future multicultural crossover appeal and prosperous growth, but as of now both are still associated with white middle and upper class ascendency, save for Soccer in Latino communities.  Both of these sports will continue to thrive and one of them will fare better no doubt, but in the end will there ever be enough interest to galvanize enough support and participation for either of these games to enter into the pantheon of the American Sport Spectating Spectacle? Or as aforementioned will ubiquitous digital access to everything, even the most niche sports, turn us all into omnivorous grandstanders rummaging through an ever expanding field of richly produced sport spectating pastures brought to us by those damn digitally advanced Millennials?    

BTW WTF IDK LMK If You Do

 A very reliable source, millennial and former digital media employee of MLS when asked by Grandstand about who will win the market share war between MLS and MLB said the following, “The death of Baseball is overrated, MLB will win once they figure out Snapchat, Baseball is the best Snapchat sport.” What the fuck? Can I please get a savvy spectator of the new generation to explain that to me?