The other night in Boston, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made the case that basketball is poised to become the dominant sport in America in the years ahead.
"Our demographic keeps on getting younger," he told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. "The NFL and baseball, they keep on getting older . . . And in the bigger scheme of things in terms of building fans for the future, what do you want your kids to play? I mean, of all the sports out there, do you want to go to a baseball game, or do want to watch your kid play basketball? Do you want to worry about him a whole football game, or do you want to watch your kid play basketball? Do you want him to get healthy from running the court, or do you want to watch him play football and worry about collisions?"
Interesting points. And another point in basketball's favor, thinks Cuban, is the accessibility of the players.
"[I] think what really makes the NBA stand out heads and tails above every other sport is you know our players," he said. "Tom Brady, [Rob] Gronkowski -- how many other football players, if you saw them from the Patriots, would you know? . . . In baseball, of the 25 players, you might know two or three. Kids play [NBA] 2K, watch a game, watch TV; you know every player. That’s a huge advantage because our players have brands. Our players have platforms. Our players have voices. LeBron [James] tweets, and more people see it than our politicians."
Is Cuban right?
We asked our NBC Sports Boston Insiders to make the case for -- and against -- the sports they cover:
WHY IT WON'T: If the NBA comes up short in surpassing the NFL as the sport of choice in this country, there are a few factors that will likely come into play. LeBron James is still a major draw both on and off the court. And while there are many talented young players in the league, the NBA without LeBron will be lacking the elite superstar power we’ve grown accustomed to seeing as the face of the league. When Larry Bird and Magic left, Michael Jordan was still around. When MJ fell off, we had Kobe Bryant. Since Kobe walked away, it has been even more of LeBron’s world. Who’s got next? Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Russell Westbrook are some of the names that immediately come to mind. And then there’s the potential for the NFL’s ratings to bounce back under the (seemingly never-ending) leadership of commissioner Roger Goodell.
WHY IT WON'T: The NFL's popularity won't fall off a cliff because of anthem protests or concerns surrounding head injuries. But it might if the sole focus of the league office is to up its value to $25 billion. That was at one point in time Roger Goodell's stated goal, and there's no reason to believe that has changed. League owners recently rewarded him for his work on the business side of things by handing him a five-year contract extension. But as long as the NFL's energy is geared toward its profitability and not its product, then viewership will eventually suffer. Improving the officiating, starting up a legitimate developmental league . . . Those would cost NFL owners money but would serve to improve the quality of the game more than, say, plopping a team in London.
WHY IT WON'T: No matter how high quality the broadcast, the game of hockey probably translates the worst of all the four major pro sports to television. Players and owners have a rocky relationship that's already completely killed one season (year-long strike) and nearly destroyed two others (lockouts that shortened the schedule), meaning there's always the danger of a distrupted or canceled season when a labor contract expires. And this may sound strange, but the players are too darned nice and respectful. They’ve been taught to shy away from being individuals and calling attention to themselves, which can be problematic when it comes to things like branding and marketability. There’s also the concussion issue, which is becoming a major looming problem for any contact sport like hockey.
WHY IT WON'T: The game needs speeding up, and they're going to have to make changes to do so. (At the amateur level, it's much quicker.) Some can argue baseball isn't accessible for lower income people; more accurately, basketball is simply more accessible. There are success stories of kids playing baseball with milk cartons for gloves, but it's fair to wonder why someone would go that route if there's a basketball hoop down the street.