Dateline: 08.09.2036 @536

Hearken back to the early Nineties, when everyone wanted to ?be like Mike.? All three of the major American professional sports leagues — the NFL, NBA and MLB — had recently signed lucrative television deals, and there were still a few competitive Canadian teams left in the NHL. Cable all-sports specialty channels in the form of ESPN and TSN were flourishing on both sides of the border.

In retrospect, it would prove to be the golden era of professional sport.

Fans of different generations can recall the lucrative contract that killed pro sport — Rodriguez's $250 million in 2000, Garnett's $125 million in 1998, Ruth's $10,000 in 1936. The true culprit, though, was fathered by an engineer at a large military electronics development and manufacturing company named Ralph Baer.

Back in 1966, Baer created computer games using a two-way television interface; a year later, the concept was refined to simulate sports games. Baer's creation evolved to popular culture status in 1972 under the guise of the Atari entertainment company and its flagship product PONG.

Fast forward to the present and the videogame industry annually grosses sums reaching into the billions, with sport-related titles earning a hefty chunk of the dollars. As the Ben Johnson doping scandal illuminated the blurring of sport and science, and the World Wrestling Federation blurred the line between sport and entertainment, now videogames are blurring the distinction between sport and media, and it may soon be impossible to differentiate the two.

The irony in the decline of the professional sport empire is that virtual sport was originally an ally, serving to expand distribution in an industry that was rapidly globalizing. But as the technology driving virtual sport improved, children preferred to spend their time indoors emulating their idols via media rather than outdoors actually playing the sport. Over time, the talent base required to sustain a global sports league diminished, a situation akin to the lumber industry running short of trees. The product suffered considerably.

And like the fashion industry at the turn of the century, professional sport became a parody of itself.


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