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Intro – Sports and Entertainment
The summer blockbuster is a Hollywood tradition: ‘Jaws,’ ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘E.T.’ It’s a movie that captures something in the zeitgeist that reveals something about our time. Original yet familiar. Exciting but reassuring. Every era of moviemaking is punctuated by its big hits, and for every era-defining hit, more often than not, someone made a risk. A big studio venturing out with a new type of script. An indie film with a shoestring budget betting on itself. Big studios, however, have always had the upper hand when it comes to gambling on a blockbuster. With more money, they can help their projects with larger marketing campaigns, attach bigger names to their projects, and ensure a certain floor that their movies will perform to.
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Take ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,’ the most expensive movie ever made with over a $400 million budget, for example. Critics mostly panned the film, but Disney was able to leverage the many benefits of being, well, Disney to still make ‘On Stranger Tides’ the third highest grossing movie of 2011. Disney could rely on its names, Depp and Cruz, to reel in viewers, and as the fifth movie in an already massively successful franchise, ‘Tides’ was always poised to perform well. Disney, and studios like it, alone can rely on such luxuries as household names and pre-existing and committed fan bases. Independent studios are constantly having to reinvent themselves, looking for innovative techniques or cutting-edge trends to maximize their return on investment.
Hollywood and Sports
It’s kind of like another 2011 movie: ‘Moneyball,’ a story about Oakland Athletics’s GM Billy Beane’s revolutionary approach to baseball in order to compete as the team with the lowest payroll in the league. It’s also a nice segue into talking about sports management in the same breath as entertainment management. A mostly overlooked connection, sports teams operate in much of the same way studios do. Just like studios produce films or television series, sports teams are creating products. Every team a given organization fields in a given year is its product. The quality of that product is based on its entertainment value — in a movie, that might be a thrilling script, a well-known actor, or some new CGI technology. In sports, there are pretty direct analogues. You have your dramatic game winners, your big names, and your trick plays. Stretch those dynamics over a season, through a series of individual episodes (games), and you have yourself a season of television. Sports are entertainment, beholden much to the same economics that governs Hollywood.
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Like a movie franchise, sports franchises have their built-in fan bases with guaranteed viewership. Perhaps the most glaring difference between Hollywood and sports is that sports’ viewership is based on geography. This gives metropolitan areas with higher population counts, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, an inherent advantage over smaller cities like Milwaukee or Buffalo. Like in Hollywood, it can feel like it’s the big markets vs. the small markets, a tension that has long impeded parity in nearly every major sport’s league. With more people, there are more fans to tune in and buy tickets, which then go back to the team, giving them more money to invest back into the team for a better product.
The goal of every team is championships, which in many ways is like a blockbuster, the goal every studio sets out for with every movie. A championship, like a classic blockbuster, is an irrefutable mark on the industry that imbues everything you do for the rest of history with a certain pedigree. They’re both an indication of greatness and a little bit of magic. Yes, magic. When ‘Star Wars’ came out, George Lucas had undoubtedly laid the groundwork for a great reception, but something was in the air that made ‘Star Wars’ a phenomenon. A combination of talent, hard work, circumstance, and luck: the stars align for an event like ‘Star Wars.’ It’s no different when a team wins a championship when, for whatever reason, all the ingredients come together.
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Small Market vs. Big Market
It’s harder, though, for small-market teams to assemble all the right ingredients. When they can’t afford big names, they have to rely more heavily on intangibles like grit and camaraderie, often yielding their own magic. The Athletics of ‘Moneyball’ fame is the quintessential example of this. Despite nothing on their roster but odd ducks and defective veterans, the 2002 Athletics set a then-American League record with 20 consecutive wins and a playoff berth. That’s a magical run, but the team lacked the roster depth to make a championship. Fittingly, the New York Yankees, the second most-valuable sports franchise in the world, had beaten the Athletics in the 2001 playoffs. The Yankees are famous for assembling their lineup in a mercenary-style way because their wealth allows them to virtually always be the higher bidder. With 27 championships, there’s no doubt it’s been useful, but not foolproof. There is often dissonance among players when they’re assembled with no organic camaraderie.
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More recently, it’s been the case that the magic of small-market teams is pitted against the purchasing power of the big-market teams. Every league but the MLB has instituted a salary cap to address this problem to some success. It does always seem to remain though, that big-name players gravitate toward the big-market teams regardless; most of the time, like actors, they know that they grow their net worth through brand deals and similar things. Yet, when they get there, their success may, and often does, stifle their spirit; the magic they bottled in a smaller market. This perpetuates the problem, making it so the small markets always have what the big markets don’t, and vice versa. Such is the tension between the big studios and the independent ones.
Every team, every studio, is always trying to put themselves in a position where some magic can happen. With so much money as big studios have, you might think it easy to recreate the magic of a blockbuster, of which there are so many. This just goes to show how conducive the restrictions of small, independent studios are to innovation. The truth is that the blockbuster is something right in the middle of the two: a combination of big names, big money, and some small-market magic.
By Patrick Lynott
Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.
I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV, media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.”
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Patrick Lynott is a writer and screenwriter. He cares about Cinema. He cares about meaningful stories. And he cares about preserving and elevating things that people work long and hard on.Despite the incessant barrage of “content” vying for his (and everyone’s) attention, he believes it’s never been more important to pedestalize labors of real art across from a spectrum of voices. The Hollywood Insider is one of the few networks committed to doing this through substantive coverage of quality entertainment. The future of good Cinema and healthy culture relies on outlets and people willing to champion those values. Here’s to that future.