At game time, the temperature tumbled to 13 degrees below zero, with a minus-40 wind chill. Referee Norm Schachter's whistle froze to his lips. And the temperature kept dropping, but the fans staunchly remained, hunkered down in Lambeau Field, on New Year's Eve, 1967, for the coldest game in NFL history, a championship showdown forever famous as the Ice Bowl. Fans wore their clothing in layers, with, of course, warmers and ski masks and parkas; crowding together and clinging, many of them, to each other, they braved the glacial temperatures and remained to the dramatic end, a sellout crowd of 50,861.
If that title game between the Cowboys and Packers were played today under the same arctic conditions, how many fans do you think would be at Lambeau and how many would stay at home instead to watch on their HDTVs?
Sports -- nearly all of them, professional and college, no matter the shape or size of the ball, and from NASCAR to NCAA -- have seen their crowds shrink in recent years. For some, the decline continues. For others, attendance has virtually flatlined. Major League Baseball, for example, after three years of slipping numbers, saw a modest increase in attendance last year, 0.5 percent, but the total still fell 6 million shy of the 2007 record (79,447,312).
Everyone agrees that the slumping economy is largely to blame. After all, the attendance downturn coincided, almost to the moment, with the economy's crashing through the guardrail and falling into the subprime sea.
But is there more going on here? Did sports fans realize, perhaps to their surprise, that they could live quite happily, thank you, without attending all those games played by their local teams? Did fans who were able to wean themselves away from their beloved races and traditional tournaments discover a more satisfying option?