Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Space Sports

Until such a time as the Space Economy is able to produce materials and services that allow it to support itself, it will have to create products that provide something meaningful to the people on Earth. At this point, the space industry's transfer of material goods to and from space is not exactly a mass market. Even though they help to serve a mass market, (i.e. communication satellites) such activities do not immediately identify identify a space company as the provider of the service. If the space industry wishes to broaden its horizons it will have to create products and services that can be marketed to the more general population.

So what is a space product or experience that is out of reach of the normal person but can still be enjoyed and paid for by that individual? Well, an earth equivalent to this situation would would be professional football or basketball. Many people aspire to be great athlete but if it is out of their reach they are contented with simply being a fan of the experience. The creation of Space Sports would create an identical experience. Space Sports are an opportunity for the space industry to broaden its horizons beyond launch vehicles and government contracts.

A space sport would have to utilize zero gravity to its greatest potential. This means the players would have to be able to fly and maneuver within a large area. Think Ender's Game battle room. Normally, large spaces are difficult and expensive to attain in space. Even Bigelow modules would not do the trick. But it is not necessary to create an interior field for such a sport. With durable space suits and proper safety measures in place the "stadium" could just be a large cage in orbit that keeps the untethered players from flying into oblivion. Such a structure would simple to design, maintain, and deploy and would be magnitudes cheaper to build than a modern football stadium even with launch costs.

The sport itself would probably be a type of 3-D soccer, where the players pass a ball and attempt to put it through the other teams goal area. But there are no requirements for the sport, it could be dodgeball, or something where the teams have to catch robotic balls. This is a decision that would have to be made by the organization founding the sport.

Human players will be necessary. Since human spectators would not have the same connection to a competition of robots. This means that the facility will have to have attached living spaces for several dozen people. With launches priced at 60 million dollars, the teams will likely have to remain in orbit for the entire "season." Meaning a space station will need to be created at the "stadium" with life support and supplies on a scale that has never been attempted.

The cost of food and the construction of living space will be where the highest costs will come from. But these can be one-time costs if the station is outfitted with amenities like gardens and efficient recycling technologies that will minimize the need for re-supply. This way the station can be built and then becomes almost self-sustaining.

Sports are a great business because, once established, there are so many revenue sources. There are ticket sales, television contracts, advertising, and contracts with vendors. Nearly all of these money streams exist in space as well as on Earth. Television broadcasts of the "Space Matches" will be the primary source of income. As the tourist industry begins to blossom ticket sales will be an option. And, as far as vendors are concerned, for tourists to attend the matches, they will need to be fed and transported just as in stadiums on Earth. Partnerships with such space taxis and suppliers will be inevitable.

The risk involved with Space Sports is that they are not something that can be proven as "the next big thing." They would be an all or nothing gamble. But Space Sports have the potential to be a global phenomena devoid of cultural preference, since it would be the first new sport in nearly a hundred years to define the modern technological age. Its complete novelty would be its advantage. But if no one of the planet appreciates it, it will flop hard.

But the potential of the idea could be tested by simply building the "field" and then sending up a couple of teams to play a few televised games. The investment would be around 200 million dollars, for such a test, but is far less than creating an entire space station. If the response is favorable then the complete "stadium" and living area could be built.

Space Sports are something that will eventually come to pass. It is as inevitable as the colonization of Mars. the question is not "if" but "when." It's possible today to prove the concept with a few hundred million dollars. If successful it would give an added boost to the perception of the space industry and space itself and create an entirely new facet in the sports industry. And even though the investment is substantial, when a top professional football team has a value in the area of about 1 billion dollars, revenue of about 350 million dollars, and player expenses around 150 million, the risks and benefits of a Space Sport are nearly identical.

1 comment:

  1. You might want to go take a look at the 1994 "Commercial Space Transportation Study" which looked at a bunch of unconventional markets for space products and services. Section 3.6.4 "Space Athletic Events" The study was done by several companies including talking to a bunch of participants in the fields.