Why our cable bills are getting so expensive

Blame it on the sports fans

Have you ever opened up your cable bill and said, “Man, was it always this expensive?”

It is not an illusion — cable bills are actually increasing rapidly. From 2001 to 2011, the average cable bill has almost doubled from $40 to $78. The challenge for the consumer is that it’s an all or nothing deal — you either have cable or you don’t. Whether you solely watch Mad Men, or are a bonafide couch potato, watching every reality show possible; everyone pays the same thing. Clearly, some people are getting their money’s worth more than others. It doesn’t take much digging to realize that the real winners are the sports fans.

Rising prices are only going to get worse. Photo Credit

To understand this, let’s break down your average cable bill. The common misconception is that your cable company is responsible for raising your bill. Look, I hate Comcast just as much as the next guy, however, price increases generally come from the TV networks. If Fox News raises their price, the cable provider cannot all of a sudden stop carrying it. Customers would not only complain but also immediately look to other providers for service. Instead, they eat the price increase and eventually pass it on to the consumer. This is what leads to our exploding cable bills.

When a cable company decides to carry a channel like Comedy Central, they must pay the TV network a subscription fee for every one of their customers. Subscription fees are important because they show us how expensive one channel is relative to another. The fees vary greatly based on the demand of the channel. For example, The History Channel costs roughly 22 cents/month. ESPN you might be wondering? That comes out to $5.13/month, making it by far the most expensive cable channel out there. To understand how sports dominates the TV programming you pay for, consider this:

ESPN: The Worldwide Leader in Sports…and subscription fees. Photo Credit
  1. The ESPN subscriber fee is more than CNN, MTV, FX, TBS, CNBC, AMC, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, The Food Network, and the Discovery Channel…COMBINED! It is more than 20 times the cost of the average cable channel.
  2. The most expensive, non-sports channel is the The Disney Channel. It has a subscriber fee of $1.00. Not surprisingly, Disney, which owns the The Disney Channel, also owns ESPN. That is not a coincidence. Disney bundles their channels together so if a cable company wants to carry ESPN, they have to also take The Disney Channel.
  3. Five of the 10 most expensive channels are either sports channels or carry major sports on their network. To be fair, sports hold their own in the TV ratings. Around half of the top 25 highest rated TV shows last week were related to sporting events. However, the top spot went to Walking Dead on AMC, which charges a subscriber fee of 27 cents/month. Not all sports channels are performing well — a regional network in Houston showing Astros games recently scored a 0.0 TV rating.
Nothing makes an advertiser happier than bros watching sports. Photo Credit

The TV industry can demand a premium on sports content because viewers must watch it live. Over 99% of sports content is watched live compared to 75% of TV dramas or 70% of TV comedies. The audience watching sporting events also falls into a key demographic for advertisers that cannot be found elsewhere — young men. The combination of a live audience plus attractive demographics gives incredible leverage to the leagues and teams when negotiating TV contracts.

The TV networks have responded by engaging in a land grab for sports content. Here are some of the most absurd examples:

  • The new NFL deal signed in 2011 is worth $27 billion making it the most lucrative TV deal in sports. The networks paid around 67% more than their previous deal with the NFL.
  • NASCAR signed a new deal in August of this year which was worth 46% more than their previous deal which was signed in 2005, but here is the kicker: since 2005, their TV ratings have gone down 47% and their admissions revenue has gone down 42%. The sport has gotten less popular yet the TV rights are skyrocketing!
  • The Dodgers signed a deal with Time Warner Cable that creates a brand new channel to broadcast only Dodger games. The deal is worth $7 billion, a 600% increase on their previous deal. Keep in mind, the channel’s sole purpose is to show Dodger games which begs the question: What do they show in the offseason, when the Dodgers…aren’t playing baseball?
Hockey, NASCAR, and soccer are the only major sports that ESPN doesn’t own Photo Credit

All of these new deals will either cause an increase in an existing channel’s subscription fee or add new subscription fees that didn’t exist before. ESPN is one of the biggest perpetrators — since 2006, its subscription fees have gone up 42%. In Los Angeles, residents now have one channel broadcasting Lakers games and a different channel broadcasting Dodger games. Each one of these channels will have a subscription fee around $4 each. And you wonder why analysts project the average cable bill to reach $200 by 2020?

Why hasn’t a hip, rich tech company like Google or Netflix tried to “disrupt” things like they always do? It is not as a competitive a space as one might think. Even though you have hundreds of TV channels, most of them fall under six companies: Comcast, Walt Disney, Viacom, CBS, News Corp and Time Warner. On top of that, Comcast is also a major cable provider.

Many of the sports organizations and teams also have large ownership stakes in TV networks. For example, the Big Ten owns 51% of the Big Ten Network and the Yankees a large chunk of the YES Network. Therefore, the TV networks, cable providers, and sports entities are all benefiting tremendously from this genius model — it is in their best interest to keep it alive.

Inevitably, non-sports fans will realize that they are getting totally ripped off. My favorite explanation came from a post by sports blogger Patrick Hruby: “ESPN’s business model is getting 60 percent of the country that doesn’t watch ESPN to pay 60 bucks a year to pay for ESPN.”

If anything disrupts the TV industry, it would be this: people cutting the cord with cable TV. The movement has already gained some momentum. Over a million people have gotten rid of cable in the past 12 months, almost double the number from the previous year. If that trend gets worse, it would trigger a chain reaction as costs would go up even faster to account for the lost customers. That could open the door for more alternate distribution through digital platforms like Xbox, Apple TV, and Google TV. Maybe even Netflix and YouTube will bid to buy rights directly from the leagues.We didn’t always buy music for 99 cents a song — the TV industry has to evolve over time.

Inevitably, sports will become premium content like HBO. Fans will have no choice but to bear the cost of sports on their own. Pat Doyle, the CFO of DirectTV, recently said, “We’ve got to change the dialogue. Let’s get the people that want sports to pay for sports.”

Until that happens, if you see a non-sports fans struggling to fit in at a sports bar, buy them a beer. It’s the least you can do.

Ravi does not have cable in Chile and is miserable without it. He writes about a variety of sports/business topics which can be seen here. For comments/suggestions, e-mail him at: [email protected]

Next Story — A World Cup Preview for the American Sports Fan
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A World Cup Preview for the American Sports Fan

Only follow soccer once every four years? No problem. Here is everything you need to know. 

1) Cristiano Ronaldo is basically LeBron James when he was on the Cavaliers

No one removes his shirt quicker after a goal than the brilliant, Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo Credit

Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world, but he’s also the most polarizing due to his love for posing shirtless after goals. Unlike Messi who is adored by the media, Ronaldo will take most of the blame if Portugal falters in the World Cup. Here is the issue: Ronaldo once again doesn’t have a supporting cast. His partners in attack are Nani, who had a disappointing year, and Helger Postiga, who generally sucks. A reminder to LeBron haters: Mo Williams was just not very good.

2) The United States is a mid-major in college basketball like Wichita State or San Diego State

A team like Wichita State will dominate their conference because of weak competition. Then the NCAA tournament comes around, and it starts having to play tougher teams like Kentucky. While it can put up a fight, its talent gap is ultimately exposed.

US Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is playing the long game by bringing yong players to Brazil Photo Credit

While the US had a very successful qualifying campaign, their region is one of the weakest in the world. There is no doubt that the US can play with Portugal and Germany, but the talent gap will be the reason why they probably don’t advance. In ESPN’s top 50 players, none of them are from the US. This squad has far more depth than previous years, but needs star players to compete consistently against the world’s best. Look for the US to be much more competitive in 2018 as their next generation looks to be promising.

3) Spain is the soccer equivalent of the San Antonio Spurs

“They are past their prime!”
“They are boring to watch!”
“They win because of a system!”

Basically everything people say about the Spurs applies to Spain — the most dominant national team of the last decade (maybe even ever, if they win again). Many are counting them out because their star players like Xavi (age 34) and Iniesta (age 30) are past their prime. Spain’s biggest advantage is cohesiveness. Their ENTIRE starting midfield of Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, and Pedro has played together for club and country for over 5 years. People forget that World Cup squads start training only weeks before the tournament — it’s a huge advantage to have players that are familiar with each other.

Most unpopular folks in Brazil right now are politicians and Diego Costa. Photo Credit

Another fun fact is that Spanish star striker Diego Costa pulled the ultimate “Johnny Damon” move this past year. For those who don’t remember, Johnny Damon signed with the rival Yankees after helping the Red Sox win a World Series. Costa was born and raised in Brazil, but upset that he was never selected to play with the Brazilian National team. Because Costa was playing in Spain, he was able to get Spanish citizenship and could potentially play for either team if he was good enough. Soon after, he blossomed into one of the best strikers in Europe and had offers to play with both squads: Brazil or Spain. Costa chose Spain and will forever be viewed as a traitor in Brazil. Here is the kicker: What is the Brazilian squad’s only weakness? No star striker. Expect Costa to hear jeers every time he touches the ball.

4) Wayne Rooney is approaching Tony Romo territory

Rooney needs to lay off the pints of Brahma beer this summer in Brazil. Photo Credit

No one epitomizes choking better than Tony Romo in a big game. Unfortunately for England, Wayne Rooney seems to follow suit during major tournaments. Once anointed as England’s savior, Rooney is still searching for his first World Cup goal (yes, you read that right). No other England striker has ever gone eight games without scoring a goal. At age 28, this is likely Wayne Rooney’s last chance to bring glory back to a nation that has dreadfully underperformed at past World Cups.

England’s expectations are low this World Cup, since they feature a largely inexperienced squad outside of a few players like Rooney and Steven Gerrard. Watch for Raheem Sterling (age 19) to be one of the young stars of the World Cup. Sterling will run at defenses and setup scoring opportunities for Rooney.

5) If Chip Kelly coached soccer, he would coach Argentina

Goals will be abundant for Argentina’s “Big 3" Photo Credit

Three of the best forwards in the world play for Argentina (Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Gonzalo Higuain). While most teams play 1-2 forwards, Argentina plays all 3 at the same time. Behind them is Angel DiMaria, one of the most dangerous attacking midfielders in the world. It’s no wonder Argentina is everyone’s favorite to challenge Brazil for the World Cup. If you like goals and want to see lots of them, Argentina should be your team to watch. They cruised through South America World Cup Qualifying by averaging over 2 goals a game. The only problem is that they are weak at the back and will likely concede many goals as well.

6) The “Lance Stephenson” of soccer. Meet Mario Balotelli.

Let’s be honest, the NBA Playoffs were better when Lance Stephenson was playing. But Lance cannot even hold a candle to Mario Balotelli, Italy’s star forward and general pain in the ass. Here are some of the highlights of Balotelli’s resume:

  • In 2010, he was fined for throwing darts at the Manchester City youth team players “just for fun”
  • In 2011, he set off fireworks in his bathroom which burned down his entire house
  • In 2011, he was benched for trying a back-heel goal on an empty net (and missing) during a friendly against the Los Angeles Galaxy
  • In 2011, he was suspended for four games for stomping on the head of Tottenham’s Scott Parker during a Premier league match

Combine this with the numerous fights he has gotten into with coaches and players, and even Ron Artest would be impressed with the caliber of crazy that Balotelli is. Just like Stephenson, his on-field performance varies from breath-taking to completely invisible. Italy’s squad lacks great talent in attack, so they will need the Superman Balotelli to advance in this World Cup.

7) “Go big or go home!” — motto for French National team

The French produce great wine, cheese, and woefully inconsistent World Cup performances.

Here is the French World Cup record over the past 20 years:

1994: Did not qualify

1998: Won the World Cup

2002: Knocked out during group stage

2006: Runner Up

2010: Knocked out during group stage

While they are deep with talent, losing Frank Ribery due to injury is a crushing blow. However, they have a good draw and lots of young talented players, so anything can happen.

8) The “12th man” in Seattle is a library compared to what the Maracana Stadium will be like when Brazil plays

Brazil should win the World Cup for two reasons:

1) Because Nate Silver said so

2) Because they are playing at home

Home field matters at World Cups. Especially when your fans are Brazilian Photo Credit

Per usual, Brazil features one of the strongest squads and deepest squads in the World Cup. What will push them over the edge is having home field advantage in a country where people are obsessed with the sport (until it costs them billions in tax dollars, then they get pissed and protest). Regardless, home field advantage is a big deal in soccer. A European team has NEVER won a World Cup in the Western hemisphere. Home teams score up to 40% more in International matches. Combine that with the fact that Brazil hasn’t lost at home in any competition since 2002, and it would be a major shock to see anyone else raise the trophy this World Cup.

Ravi roots for Arsenal and the #USMNT. He writes about a variety of sports/business topics which can be seen here. For comments/suggestions, e-mail him at: [email protected]

Next Story — It’s not about paying college players
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It’s not about paying college players

It’s about giving them a voice 

Former CBS President Neal Pilson recently cited a report that said CBS TV ratings would drop 15-20% if NCAA athletes were paid. The concept of paying college players is an oversimplification of the challenges that exist within big-time college sports. Instead of debating about paying players, we need to step back and understand the larger issues with the entire collegiate athletic system.

Inefficient Labor Model

Going back to Pilson’s claim, the first misunderstanding is that college athletes aren’t being paid. They are already being compensated today in the form of a scholarship. The overall value of an athletic scholarship is anywhere between $150,00-$250,000 depending on the University.

The better question is, “Is a college scholarship fair compensation?” The answer is yes and no — depending on whether you are Florida State’s star quarterback or Rutgers backup kicker.

First, let’s understand the labor model of college football and basketball. Athletes are already getting paid different amounts based on the cost of tuition at the school they attend. The total compensation amount of a football scholarship at Stanford is greater than one at UCLA because of how much more expensive Stanford’s tuition is compared to UCLA. Therefore, the value of compensation for a football or basketball player is simply determined by the cost of an education (and other athelete perks) at their university. (Side note: This also means you get the best “bang for your buck” by playing sports at an expensive private school)

A report recently said Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel was worth around $500,000 to Texas A&M during the 2011-2012 season. Photo Credit

However, the benefit a football or basketball player delivers to the university is a variable amount, based on-field performance and overall marketability. Obviously, that creates major variability in the marketplace with some players driving tremendous value for their university (hello Jameis Winston) and other players delivering very little (hello Rutger’s backup kicker). Imagine if this model existed in another industry: Let’s say you want to work for a tech company, and every company had a pre-determined wage that they would pay every employee, regardless of experience or value they deliver to the company. That would be absurd, right?

It’s an inefficient economic model that will only exacerbate as college football and basketball revenues increase. Most recently, a lawsuit has been filed against the NCAA regarding anti-trust law which would directly challenge the notion of compensation through scholarship. It’s one of the many class action lawsuits launched by former and current student athletes against the NCAA.

A Real Education?

The model illustrated earlier makes a little bit more sense when you understand the social welfare associated with the system. The compensation doesn’t come in cash, but a college degree which can lead to bigger and better opportunities for the 97% of athletes that don’t go pro. Keep in mind, some of these athletes might not have had the opportunity to attain a college education without their scholarship. While this sounds great in practice, the ability to attain a proper education is impeded by the commitment to athletics.

UNC Academic Advisor Mary Willingham revealed the widespread cheating culture surrounding UNC athletics. She has received death threats. Photo Credit

College football and basketball players spend around 50 hours a week on activities related to athletics. Sometimes they are forced to missed class because of games. In fact, a team that wins the NCAA tournament has to miss around 17 classroom days, almost 25% of the semester. Graduation rates for football and basketball players hover near 65%, lower than the student body and athletes from other sports. We also see many cases of academic fraud and “clustering,” where athletes all major in the same thing, often times because it provides the easiest path to getting a degree. All of this makes one question whether society actually has a genuine motive in providing an education for these athletes.

A seat at the table

In this multi-billion dollar industry, who is actually acting on behalf of the student athlete’s best interest? It’s definitely not the coach, who is paid to win games. It’s definitely not the university, who is benefiting financially from athletic success. Maybe it’s the NCAA, but like any other professional organization it seems to be optimizing against its own business interests.

These are real people who are putting their bodies and future careers at risk for the entertainment of the general public. If we are concerned about the concussion issue for NFL players, why are not equally concerned about the impact on college players? If academics are a priority, why are college football players playing games on Thursday nights on national television?

When college football players banded together to demand answers to these questions, they were met with disapproval from the NCAA. Not to mention, over 75% of the American public opposes the union the Northwestern football players are forming. I would be hard pressed to find people that have actually read the union goals, which doesn’t include paying players. Part of the problem is simply the word “union.” Public opinion of labor unions is at its lowest in the last fifty years. If people actually read the goals, they would see that many of the asks involve improving medical coverage, achieving better in the classroom, and loosening transfer restrictions (which only exist in revenue-generating sports).

College sports’ biggest strength is also its biggest enemy. People are so passionate about it that they are scared to see it change. The notion of modifying the existing model which has been in place for years frightens all of us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Players need to have a seat at the table and if it comes through a union — so be it.

Ravi is currently living in Santiago, Chile. He writes about sports topics on Medium, check out his other work here. For comments, tweet or e-mail him at: [email protected]

Next Story — The Soccer Match That Should Have Never Been Played
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The Soccer Match That Should Have Never Been Played

How Chile qualified for the 1974 World Cup in the midst of a military coup and the Cold War

“It’s only a game.” Or is it?

Upon moving to Chile, I learned about a soccer match that transcends almost every boundary known to the sporting world. In 1973, the Soviet Union and Chile met to decide who would be the final team going to the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. On the surface, it was just a soccer match. Underneath the surface, there was a military coup, the Cold War, and a stadium that was being used as a detention center. It was a soccer match that should have never been played.

On the morning of September 11th 1973, bombs ripped through La Moneda, the Presidential Palace in Chile. By early afternoon, Chilean military leaders had successfully completed a coup d’etat which ousted the democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende. The details of what happened on that day are still very much disputed, although medical autopsy showed that Allende committed suicide during the coup. Civilian rule was abolished and military leaders formed a junta that had absolute control of the country.

Bombs rain down on the Presidential Palace in Chile on September 11, 1973. Photo Credit

The event not only rattled the Chilean people, but the entire world. The Chilean coup d’etat was a major event in the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union. President Allende led the Socialist party in Chile and had strong ties to US enemies such as Fidel Castro. When Allende won the 1970 Chilean Presidential election, US President Richard Nixon feared Chile would turn into “another Cuba,” and severed diplomatic relations with the country. On the other hand, the Soviet Union was strongly in support of the Allende Presidency. They viewed Chile as a new potential ally with close proximity to the United States, just like Cuba.

The first item of business for the junta was suppressing anyone who may have had loyalties to Allende. Thousands of prisoners were rounded up and taken to detention centers around Chile. The biggest one of which was the Estadio Nacional, located in the country’s capital city of Santiago, where the Chilean National Team played football matches. In the weeks after the coup, thousands of detainees were taken to the stadium where they were subject to brutal torture.

As if the chaos wasn’t enough, Chile and the Soviet Union were about to square off in a playoff to determine who gets the final spot in the 1974 World Cup.

The government junta that ruled Chile right after the coup in 1973. Augusto Pinochet is second on the left. Photo Credit

The coup had created drastic change in Chile’s diplomatic relationships with both the Soviet Union and the US. While the US denied it publicly, they strongly supported the junta and eventually Pinochet’s dictatorship, despite all the human rights violations (Augusto Pinochet was one of the members of the junta who eventually rose to power and ruled Chile as a dictator until 1990). It’s one of many unfortunate examples of US involvement in Latin America where the US supported a violent head of the state. When asked about US participation in Chile in 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell responded, “It’s not a part of American history that we’re proud of.”

Not surprisingly, the Soviet Union took the completely opposite stance. Almost immediately after the coup, they cut off diplomatic relations with Chile and were among the most vocal critics of the new military-led government.

The playoff between Chile and the Soviet Union would feature two matches, one in Moscow and one in Santiago. The team with the most goals in aggregate would move on to the World Cup. The first match took place in October of 1973 in Moscow and resulted in a 0-0 draw. The Soviet media and government was humiliated by the result, expecting to easily win in front of their home crowd.

The return match was scheduled in November 1973 at the Estadio Nacional, just 2 months after the military coup. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to play a World Cup Qualifier in a stadium that is being used as a detention center. News of the abuse spread around the world resulting in stark criticism of Chile and its new government. In an effort to improve global opinion, the junta thought staging a World Cup Qualifier in Estadio Nacional could convince the world that abuse wasn’t happening (even though it was).

Chilean military forces patrol Estadio Nacional when it was being used as a detention center. Photo Credit

The Soviet Union protested to FIFA that they would not play a soccer match in a stadium that was “stained with blood.” FIFA sent inspectors to Santiago to check whether the stadium was fit to host a soccer match. The day the inspectors arrived, detainees were hidden underneath the stadium and out of sight from inspectors. FIFA eventually declared that the stadium was fit for the competition.

On November 21st, the game that should have never happened, happened. Before the match, detainees being held in Estadio Nacional were taken to a separate detention center near the Atacama Desert. But these were not even the most astounding facts on the infamous day. The match was played even though the Soviet Union didn’t show up!

The Chilean players took the field, kicked off, and scored into an empty net. Since there was no opponent to restart the match after the goal, the match was called soon after (for video of the goal, see here).

The Soviet Union, true to its word, refused to play in Estadio Nacional. While it’s easy to say that the Soviet Union took the high road, that might not be entirely true. In later years, some Soviet players thought their government did not want to lose to a country with opposite political ideology and instead, took a moral victory in the eyes of the world.

Many questions remain unanswered like: Why did FIFA allow the match to be played if the Soviet Union said they were not coming? How did the FIFA inspectors not see any signs of abuse when thousands of detainees were still being held in the stadium? It’s quite simply one of the most bizarre sporting events ever.

The match is still a dark piece of history both for Chile as well as FIFA. Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, who was there at the game, famously coined it, “the most pathetic soccer match ever played.” Chilean player Carlos Caszely who played in the game, and whose mother was tortured during the Pinochet dictatorship, remembered the game, “That team did the most ridiculous thing. It was a worldwide embarrassment,” said Caszely. (Fun Fact: Caszely would later go on to be the first player ever to receive a red card in a World Cup the following year).

Another reason why the match was so unique was because it marked the first time a country boycotted a soccer match for political reasons. It set a dangerous precedent that resulted in many such boycotts at global sporting events, like the Olympics during the late 70’s and 80’s. A common theme that persisted for much of the Cold War was that most “fighting” was symbolic. Sporting events provided the perfect battlegrounds for ideological warfare.

Fans at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany oppose the new junta government in Chile. Photo Credit

In Chile, Pinochet would rule until 1990 when the country returned to a democratically elected government. Even today, the Pinochet dictatorship is a hotly debated topic. While people acknowledge that human rights violations occurred during Pinochet’s rule, many point to his free market policies as building blocks to the economic prosperity the country now enjoys. In any event, Chile is still in the process of mending all the wounds from its recent political history.

Esoctilla 8 is a section of bleachers that help remember what happened in the Estadio Nacional. Photo Credit

Despite the horrific tragedies that occurred in Estadio Nacional, it is still used today as Chile’s primary soccer venue. In 2011, Chile finally memorialized a section of Estadio Nacional to remember the prisoners that had been detained there. If you visit Estadio Nacional, you will see a section of old wooden bleachers called “Escotilla 8.” The memorial sticks out like a sore thumb in the newly renovated stadium. It’s a reminder of all the injustice that was inflicted within the stadium. It’s a reminder of a time when the lines between sports and politics were often blurred.

It’s a reminder that sometimes, it’s anything but a game.

For more info on this topic, ESPN is running a documentary called The Opposition on April 22nd at 7PM EST. Ravi is currently living in Santiago, Chile. He writes about sports topics on Medium, check out his other work here. For comments, tweet or e-mail him at: [email protected]

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Next Story — How I Connect to My Heritage
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How I Connect to My Heritage

Bidding farewell to India’s brightest star

We arrived in India during June of 1997, a month shy of my 11th birthday. My dad had just got assigned on a year-long project in New Delhi. I had only been to India once before, so my knowledge of the country was limited to the customs and culture that my parents had brought to the United States. The adjustment to India did not go well. I felt lost in a foreign land, homesick for American comforts.

The biggest challenge of moving to India was being completely closed off from the sports world. In those days, the three most important things to me were: my basketball hoop in the driveway, the sports section, and Barry Bonds. Our move to India had stripped me of those things. Keep in mind, this was before the Internet was easily accessible.

And then I found cricket. Or better yet, cricket found me.

I didn’t know anything about cricket before moving to India. During my first month in India, I slowly started watching the sport as it was the only thing worth watching on TV. Immediately, I was hooked. I had found my new passion and was ever so quick to replace my love for American sports with cricket. More importantly, I also found a new hero: Sachin Tendulkar.

“Sachin means more to India than I do” — Amitabh Bachchan, one of India’s most famous actors. Photo Credit

Sports has an abundance of stars, but very few legends. These are the people whose legacy goes beyond just performing well in the field. These athletes come along once in a lifetime and can never be replaced. In boxing, there is Muhammad Ali; in basketball, there is Michael Jordan; in hockey, there is Wayne Gretzky. Any cricket fan will tell you that Sachin Tendulkar is cricket’s legend. Standing at a mere 5’5, he has towered over the sport of cricket for the last 24 years. On Saturday, he walked off the field for the last time.

“There are two kinds of batsman in the world. One, Sachin Tendulkar. Two, all the others.” — Andy Flower, coach of England National Team

The statistics to support Tendulkar’s greatness are staggering. In a sport where the goal is to score runs, he has scored more than anyone else, by a long shot. Even more impressive was his longevity. For most of his 24-year career, he was the world’s most dangerous batsman. I won’t list his accomplishments here, as there is a Wikipedia page devoted to all his records alone. To summarize his career in American terms, he had the scoring prowess of Wilt Chamberlain, the endurance of Cal Ripken Jr, and the consistency of Jerry Rice.

Tendulkar was 16 in his first international cricket match against Pakistan.Yes, that is crazy, even in cricket. Photo Credit.

Ultimately, what separates Tendulkar is his ability to deal with insurmountable pressure. Since he was 16, his every move and knock was scrutinized by over a billion people. “Jordan, Woods and Beckham may cross more boundaries, but nowhere do those players carry the weight of expectation that Tendulkar carries in India (and among the Indian diaspora).” said the U.S. writer Mike Marqusee.

“When he goes out to bat, people switch on their television sets and switch off their lives.” — BBC Sports

Yet the on-field performance is only part of Tendulkar’s legacy. Sports has the magical ability to dissolve differences and bring people together. This was Sachin Tendulkar’s greatest gift to India. In a letter to the BBC, an Indian from a rural town in Bihar, describes watching Tendulkar while growing up, “…on a black and white television running on tractor batteries. And I remember [the] whole village cheering up for this young lad…, the Brahmins[upper-caste] and the Dalits[lower-caste] alike, on that single television screen available.”

India can be divided by language, religion and caste. But everyone loves Sachin Tendulkar. Photo Credit

When Tendulkar walked off the pitch for the final time on Saturday, a small piece of India also left with him. Tendulkar represents the old India, before the economy opened up and globalization dominated popular culture. Unlike the celebrities of India today, who appear brash and westernized, Tendulkar was much more soft spoken. He steered clear of controversy and stood for traditional Indian values. He’s a devout Hindu and a family man. You will find Tendulkar on many billboards in India, but not on any that promote alcohol. In a country where corruption is the norm from politicians to stars, Tendulkar epitomizes what it means to be a true professional.

Fans tweet their reaction to Tendulkar’s retirement Photo Credit

I cannot say my obsession with cricket persisted when I returned back to the United States. Ultimately, you are a function of your environment and I eventually got back into my routine of following my beloved American sports. But I never let cricket stray far away. During big matches India was playing in, I would follow diligently on the Internet. When India played in the World Cup, I would wake up early with my Dad and watch at our family friend’s house. In 2011, when India won its first World Cup in 28 years, I watched and celebrated with a number of my Indian-American friends in San Francisco.

Since I lived in India over 15 years ago, I have only been back once. Almost none of my immediate family lives in India anymore and I still don’t speak an Indian language. The reality is that it is becoming harder and harder for me to find connections to my Indian heritage.

Thanks to Tendulkar, cricket represents one of the few ties I still have. When I watch India play, you would think I spent my entire life there. I understand why a nation of a billion people comes to a stand still when India plays Pakistan. I understand why millions in India and elsewhere wept on Friday, when Tendulkar was caught out for 74, his final innings in a storied career.

I recently saw a Quora question which asked, “What are Sachin Tendulkar’s estimated career earnings?”

Here was the top response with almost 900 votes:

Farewell to one of the greatest athletes on the planet.

When he is not emo, Ravi usually writes about sports/business topics which can be seen here. For comments/suggestions, e-mail him at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter.

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