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Spectator sports walloping the arts except in San Diego

The Padres have had a horrible season. The Chargers had one last year.

Architectural rendering of the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, due to open in 2018
Architectural rendering of the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, due to open in 2018

There is a battle in our society: jockstraps versus aesthetes; violence versus violins. The struggle is between lovers of sports and lovers of the arts.

Sorry to say, but nationwide, sports are winning big over the arts. Numerous polls show public interest in spectator sports rising and public interest in arts falling.

But there is at least one metro area in which spectator sports may be headed for a bit of a well-deserved pratfall and the arts (classical music, ballet, visual arts, etc.) seem to be rising in public esteem.

Chargers game at Qualcomm

That metro area is San Diego County. There are signs that its love of athletics is waning while its appreciation of the arts rises.

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the percentage of U.S. adults who attended at least one of various types of arts performances or visited an art museum or gallery dropped from 39 in 1982 to 33.3 in 2012. The percentage of adults who attended a classical music performance at least once plummeted from 13 in 1982 to 8.8 in 2012.

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Less than 3 percent of recorded albums sold in 2013 were of classical music. Rock music took 35 percent. Remember the opera simulcasts of the 1970s in San Diego? The public TV station televised the opera, while a local classical music station broadcast the sound. It was glorious. It is long gone.

San Diego Opera 2014 protest in chalk

In the 1970s, general directors of San Diego Opera, when questioned by boardmembers about the large number of elderly folks in the audience, would give assurances that middle-aged folks would soon begin attending opera and replace the old, infirm, and deceased. By the 1990s, the general directors were no longer saying that. Middle-agers were not taking up opera. Indeed, the National Endowment for the Arts found that the biggest decline of arts attendees was among the 45-to-54 age group. About 46 percent of these middle-agers attended at least one arts event in 2002. By 2008, that was down to 36 percent (although the economy had also taken a huge hit in 2008).

But look at sports. According to San Francisco’s research firm WR Hambrecht & Co., between 2007 and 2011, ticket prices in the National Football League and Major League Baseball were going up at a 4 percent compound annual rate. Surprisingly, from late 2007 to early 2009, the nation was suffering the worst economic setback since the 1930s Depression.

According to Forbes magazine, the North American sports market will grow from $60.5 billion in 2014 to $73.5 billion in 2019. Sports media rights will propel this growth. They will go up from $14.6 billion to $20.6 billion between 2014 and 2019 — an amazing 7.2 percent compound annual growth rate.

So, the trend is clear: sports up, arts down. But, whoa, Nelly. San Diego is somewhat of an exception. San Diego Symphony was founded in 1910, suspended in the 1920s, disbanded in 1936, restarted in 1949, and went silent and bankrupt in 1996. But in 2002, it got a $120 million gift from Joan and Irwin Jacobs, to be spread out over several years.

In September of this year, the symphony was able to announce a new contract with musicians; over a five-year period, base pay will rise from $70,000 to $80,000. Ten years ago, the base was $46,000. The current budget is around $22 million. This puts San Diego Symphony in the Group 1 category among America’s top orchestras, as ranked by the League of American Orchestras.

Not everything is glorious. Total concert revenue inched down from 2014 to 2015. But costs were cut even more. The symphony has filled seats by putting more emphasis on pop music. This year’s summer season set an all-time record for tickets sold by featuring a tribute to the Beatles and performances by Diana Ross and jazz trumpeter Chris Botti. Summer concerts have always featured popular music, but the symphony is going heavier on pops during the regular season, too.

Old Globe

“Theater is booming here,” says John Patrick Ford, local arts columnist. Groups such as the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse, along with many smaller companies, are doing very well. The comedy Meteor Shower, which ran from July 30 to September 18 at the Globe, broke a box-office record, becoming the most successful show in the theater-in-the-round space, selling almost 13,000 tickets and grossing $862,000.

The 1990s were once considered the glory years for San Diego theater. But Hal Fuson, former chairman of the Old Globe, a current boardmember, and a subscriber for 30 years (plus 15 years to the Playhouse), thinks the Globe is now doing better than it did in the 1990s. “My general sense is we couldn’t be in a better theater town. A lot of philanthropic money is coming in” to San Diego theater, says Fuson.

La Jolla Music Society is going gangbusters, too. It was once called La Jolla Chamber Music Society, but it changed its name when it began putting on ballet, jazz, and orchestral and cabaret performances. Money is flowing in, audiences are burgeoning, and the society is building a new performance venue, the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, at 7600 Fay Avenue.

San Diego Opera, consistently ranked among the nation’s top ten companies by OPERA America, hit an iceberg in 2014, when the board suddenly decided the company would go out of business. But among public howls, the board eventually reversed the vote, and the company, flush with generous gifts, had a successful 2015 season. It suffered a bit of an operating loss, but it is looking forward to a strong 2016–2017 season.

It will do three old warhorses (mainly 19th-century grand opera) in the Civic Theatre but will do two modern operas and one recital in the smaller Balboa Theatre. The idea is to attract a younger audience. The company is doing a revised and shortened version of the opera Carmen that follows the plot of the novella that the original opera was based on. “Carmen is a prostitute. Don José is a serial killer. The toreador, Escamillo, gets gored to death in a bullfight,” says Ford. “It’s pretty gritty.”

Pretty gritty? How about spectator sports in San Diego? The Padres have had a horrible season. The Chargers had one last year and may have another one this year — but, most importantly, may decisively lose the November vote in which the team is trying to get a fat subsidy for a new downtown stadium.

It certainly appears that pro sports in San Diego are going down while the arts are on the rise. How many metro areas can say that?

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Architectural rendering of the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, due to open in 2018
Architectural rendering of the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, due to open in 2018

There is a battle in our society: jockstraps versus aesthetes; violence versus violins. The struggle is between lovers of sports and lovers of the arts.

Sorry to say, but nationwide, sports are winning big over the arts. Numerous polls show public interest in spectator sports rising and public interest in arts falling.

But there is at least one metro area in which spectator sports may be headed for a bit of a well-deserved pratfall and the arts (classical music, ballet, visual arts, etc.) seem to be rising in public esteem.

Chargers game at Qualcomm

That metro area is San Diego County. There are signs that its love of athletics is waning while its appreciation of the arts rises.

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the percentage of U.S. adults who attended at least one of various types of arts performances or visited an art museum or gallery dropped from 39 in 1982 to 33.3 in 2012. The percentage of adults who attended a classical music performance at least once plummeted from 13 in 1982 to 8.8 in 2012.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Less than 3 percent of recorded albums sold in 2013 were of classical music. Rock music took 35 percent. Remember the opera simulcasts of the 1970s in San Diego? The public TV station televised the opera, while a local classical music station broadcast the sound. It was glorious. It is long gone.

San Diego Opera 2014 protest in chalk

In the 1970s, general directors of San Diego Opera, when questioned by boardmembers about the large number of elderly folks in the audience, would give assurances that middle-aged folks would soon begin attending opera and replace the old, infirm, and deceased. By the 1990s, the general directors were no longer saying that. Middle-agers were not taking up opera. Indeed, the National Endowment for the Arts found that the biggest decline of arts attendees was among the 45-to-54 age group. About 46 percent of these middle-agers attended at least one arts event in 2002. By 2008, that was down to 36 percent (although the economy had also taken a huge hit in 2008).

But look at sports. According to San Francisco’s research firm WR Hambrecht & Co., between 2007 and 2011, ticket prices in the National Football League and Major League Baseball were going up at a 4 percent compound annual rate. Surprisingly, from late 2007 to early 2009, the nation was suffering the worst economic setback since the 1930s Depression.

According to Forbes magazine, the North American sports market will grow from $60.5 billion in 2014 to $73.5 billion in 2019. Sports media rights will propel this growth. They will go up from $14.6 billion to $20.6 billion between 2014 and 2019 — an amazing 7.2 percent compound annual growth rate.

So, the trend is clear: sports up, arts down. But, whoa, Nelly. San Diego is somewhat of an exception. San Diego Symphony was founded in 1910, suspended in the 1920s, disbanded in 1936, restarted in 1949, and went silent and bankrupt in 1996. But in 2002, it got a $120 million gift from Joan and Irwin Jacobs, to be spread out over several years.

In September of this year, the symphony was able to announce a new contract with musicians; over a five-year period, base pay will rise from $70,000 to $80,000. Ten years ago, the base was $46,000. The current budget is around $22 million. This puts San Diego Symphony in the Group 1 category among America’s top orchestras, as ranked by the League of American Orchestras.

Not everything is glorious. Total concert revenue inched down from 2014 to 2015. But costs were cut even more. The symphony has filled seats by putting more emphasis on pop music. This year’s summer season set an all-time record for tickets sold by featuring a tribute to the Beatles and performances by Diana Ross and jazz trumpeter Chris Botti. Summer concerts have always featured popular music, but the symphony is going heavier on pops during the regular season, too.

Old Globe

“Theater is booming here,” says John Patrick Ford, local arts columnist. Groups such as the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse, along with many smaller companies, are doing very well. The comedy Meteor Shower, which ran from July 30 to September 18 at the Globe, broke a box-office record, becoming the most successful show in the theater-in-the-round space, selling almost 13,000 tickets and grossing $862,000.

The 1990s were once considered the glory years for San Diego theater. But Hal Fuson, former chairman of the Old Globe, a current boardmember, and a subscriber for 30 years (plus 15 years to the Playhouse), thinks the Globe is now doing better than it did in the 1990s. “My general sense is we couldn’t be in a better theater town. A lot of philanthropic money is coming in” to San Diego theater, says Fuson.

La Jolla Music Society is going gangbusters, too. It was once called La Jolla Chamber Music Society, but it changed its name when it began putting on ballet, jazz, and orchestral and cabaret performances. Money is flowing in, audiences are burgeoning, and the society is building a new performance venue, the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, at 7600 Fay Avenue.

San Diego Opera, consistently ranked among the nation’s top ten companies by OPERA America, hit an iceberg in 2014, when the board suddenly decided the company would go out of business. But among public howls, the board eventually reversed the vote, and the company, flush with generous gifts, had a successful 2015 season. It suffered a bit of an operating loss, but it is looking forward to a strong 2016–2017 season.

It will do three old warhorses (mainly 19th-century grand opera) in the Civic Theatre but will do two modern operas and one recital in the smaller Balboa Theatre. The idea is to attract a younger audience. The company is doing a revised and shortened version of the opera Carmen that follows the plot of the novella that the original opera was based on. “Carmen is a prostitute. Don José is a serial killer. The toreador, Escamillo, gets gored to death in a bullfight,” says Ford. “It’s pretty gritty.”

Pretty gritty? How about spectator sports in San Diego? The Padres have had a horrible season. The Chargers had one last year and may have another one this year — but, most importantly, may decisively lose the November vote in which the team is trying to get a fat subsidy for a new downtown stadium.

It certainly appears that pro sports in San Diego are going down while the arts are on the rise. How many metro areas can say that?

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Comments

You're a strange guy Don, both a sports & opera fan. Good story.

I enjoy all the arts, but rarely opera. I'm a doer, not an entertainment seeker. I never go to a performance or a game. Rarely watch either on TV. I listen to music when there's time and as for sports- if I can't play I'm not interested. Watching other people play sports is like watching other people have sex; just frustrating if you can't get in on the fun.

Why do people want entertainment, arts or sports? Because when they look at their ballot and the many hours required to understand the issues, they escape into fantasy instead.

Sept. 28, 2016

swell: "Watching other people play sports is like watching other people have sex."

Can't agree on that. One of the joys of watching people play sports is watching them get hurt. It's love of watching violence. That's not part of the thrill of watching people have sex. Sex is participatory. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 28, 2016

Swell's turgid comments are well-taken.

You forgot to mention over-paid "CEO's" that suck the high-brow arts dry.

The "symphony" embraced atonal stuff and I was apparently the only grey one booing.

The "classics" are classics because they have been popular.

"Classical" equates to class-stratification and other effete snobbery. In spite of Reveles' best efforts to turn it around. The snobs just don't get it.

So now we have a many-coloured flag flying on public property in Hillcrest. That may be part of why "the arts" are so well off here. Well, as well off as they are.

Sept. 28, 2016

Flapper: If memory serves (and it often doesn't) there was a delightful movie called Dr.Strangelove. One of the generals was named "Buck Turgidson."

I fear that atonal music will kill classical music some day. Critics invariably measure a symphony's worth by how much atonal music it plays. The audience, wisely, dislikes modern and contemporary music. But the general managers continue to bow to critics. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 29, 2016

At long last . . . at long last--have you no sense of punny?

Sept. 30, 2016

Flapper: I have no sense of punny but an active sense of puny. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 30, 2016

That will do, sir!

Sept. 30, 2016

Flapper: I promise -- no more. If you make the same promise, of course. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 3, 2016

Humpfh!

Oct. 3, 2016

Sodomize the critics.

Sept. 30, 2016

Flapper: I would guess that it happens. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 3, 2016

I enjoy arts and sports. But as I grow older I read a lot more than I watch TV or attend sporting events. On TV I watch. almost exclusively, PBS. When I was younger I had Chargers season tickets. Now I don't give a damn about them.

What is interesting about sports is the athleticism and the grit, or the passion for the sport. The drive to win. But just as competition is entertaining, so are the arts. The arts furnish classics, tradition and a connection to our cultural roots. The joy of celebrating what our ancestors created and passed on.

Life would be far less rich without the arts, and performing arts. Arts can be predictable and immortal, were sports are a one time gamble every match.

Sept. 28, 2016

Ponzi: Sometimes I listen to classical music while watching sports with the sound off. Give it a try. Best, Don Bader

Sept. 29, 2016

Don: So you end up with a sort of ballet. Interesting. But how to sync them? Maybe some of that atonal music will bring it all together for you.

I'd be a lot more interested in sports if there was some relevance to me. If San Diego players were actually my neighbors instead of hired guns from somewhere else. If the team owners had any relationship with the city where their team resides. Even college sports are filled with players recruited from around the world. And now the Olympics is polluted with commercial athletes who may or may not be taking currently approved chemical enhancements.

Fortunately the Reader has writers who are exclusively San Diegans. Hardly any drug users (right?). I'll cheer for them.

Sept. 29, 2016

swell: You don't have to sync the music and the sports announcers because you have turned off the sound of the announcers. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 30, 2016

Kevin Sisterson: You are correct. Two or three percent -- or less -- of the U.S.population is seriously engaged (as opposed to going once a year) in classical music. But MOST of the population is interested in sports, at least to some degree. In Europe, a higher percentage is interested in classical music. I don't know that a lower percentage is involved in sports. Soccer is BIG around the world. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 30, 2016

It's the yahoo factor.

Sept. 30, 2016

Flapper: In South America, soccer referees are occasionally beheaded by indignant crowds. Now that is a yahoo factor. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 30, 2016

Almost half of the population want a tax-cheatin' chump named Trump to be president and leader of the free world. Ain't hat Hillaryarious?

Sept. 30, 2016

Flapper: But he is dropping in the polls. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 3, 2016
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