I'm a fan of spectator sports, but not because I enjoy being part of the mass that shouts incoherently and dances out of rhythm during commercial breaks. It's because of the whole spectacle that watching all of that involves. The game I like most is your "football" -- you know, the one we call American football. I love the way it mixes sheer brute force with very intelligent and complex strategy. For me, the game is an all-out war the old-fashioned way, the way fighting is supposed to be, one-on-one (or in this case, 11-on-11).
A year ago, I finally had the opportunity to watch a live football game. It was a Carolina Panthers game, the opening Monday night, against the Green Bay Packers. A good game in the first half, and then Green Bay's offense opened up and started scoring. Steve Smith broke his fibula, and you know what happened afterwards. The home team lost 24-14. I lost about $100.
I had gone to the stadium without a ticket, but there are enough alternate salesmen outside (you call them scalpers), that I got a fairly decent seat for $70 and spent the other $30 on parking ($10 dollars, far away from the stadium), some nachos, hot dogs and a soda.
That experience led me to thinking: At the same rate, a family of four would spend about $350 to watch a live football game, supposing they shared some stuff. If you add in souvenirs, you have to tack on an extra $50. This, just to experience the joyous live experience of becoming one with the crowd, because as far as seeing the action (and that includes the cheerleading squad), you're better off watching the game on TV.
If a family of four goes to one event in each major sport in one year, even getting a mid-range ticket, you're talking more than $1,000. You can go to a NASCAR race for about $200 (assuming you take your own sodas), the NBA at around $250, and major-league baseball (in Atlanta) at around $300. At least with baseball you have the option of watching the AAA Knights for around $125, and getting almost the same experience as a regular day with the majors.
If you ask me, a grand seems like a lot of money for one family to spend on just four events a year. Hey, but you could always load up the credit card and pay later, right?
Halfway through that Panthers game, while standing at the concessions line, I thought of that short story by Bukowski, about how the poor get poorer by giving the rich their allowance just to be entertained.
These games are supposed to be an evolution of sorts from the Roman Circus, but in Rome most of the coliseum's seats were given away for free by the king. And I bet the nachos were cheaper than five bucks.
As for me, I'm back to the TV. It gives me the best seat in my house, a cleaner rest room, cheaper snacks and more instant-replays.
Hernan Mena, a native of Mexico, is the associate editor of the regional Hispanic weekly newspaper, Que Pasa.