Sports & Arts – Birds of a Feather

**The views and opinions in this article are expressly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the California Ballet Company or indicate endorsement by said company.**

It’s rare that I post an article on this blog that is a personal statement. I prefer to keep things even and educational, but every once in awhile, I feel that there are things that need to be said and an impartial academic approach just won’t do.

So, let’s not beat around the bush: arts and artists are underrated by most Americans.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you are not one of those Americans. But, in light of recent events in the San Diego arts community, it needed to be said. In case you don’t know what’s going on, it’s quite shocking. After 50 years of nationally recognized productions, drawing international stars, the San Diego Opera is closing its doors.

You read that correctly: the San Diego Opera will finish out the 2014 season and call it quits.

What could possibly lead to such a cultural gem and city institution closing its doors? Well, that’s hard to say. There has been much conjecture, a lot of supposition, but no one outside of the the Opera really knows at this point. All we know is that the arts community should be flying their flags at half-mast for a death in the arts family that will send ripples cascading throughout, not just San Diego’s arts community, but the entire city.

We could have a discussion here about the Opera, but that’s not my expertise. My specialization is dance, and the arts in a more general fashion. Some may regale you with an elevator speech about the state of the arts in America, but I’d rather sit back and put two things that I love side-by-side: the arts and sports.

Qual08954PhotoWe live in a society where sports are held in incredibly high regard. In America, the NFL, NHL, MLB, and MLS are largely universally supported by not just the citizens who buy tickets, but the corporations who sponsor them, the governments that spend tax dollars on new stadiums, the media that dedicates inordinate time, space, and energy to their coverage. The frenzy and excitement that accompany a sporting event has been around for thousands of years. Can you say Olympics? Hold a picture of any football stadium next to one of the Colosseum. Notice any similarities? You may even draw some between football and gladiatorial events.

There is nothing quite like the camaraderie you feel when you are surrounded by fans of the same sports team and your team makes that winning score. There’s an amazing sense of of brotherhood between fans that have just watched their team lose their way out of the playoffs. The feel of the bass from the stadium sound system gets your heart pounding, and who doesn’t love the announcements made over the P.A. system that absolutely no one can understand? Beer, pretzels, sodas, hot dogs, nachos. The roar of the crowd. Lines for the public restrooms.

Sports certainly have their charm. I love sports. I even have season tickets to San Diego’s football franchise. But I also support, attend, and generally go gaga over the arts. And you’d be surprised over the similarities between the two!

Have you ever been to an opera, symphony, or musical and witnessed a piece of music that moves you to tears . . . and then realized that the entire audience is crying with you? Have you ever seen a ballerina tossed impossibly high in the air, get caught by her partner with her face mere inches from the ground – and then realized that the entire audience is holding its breathe? Have you ever felt the solid wall of music emanating from the orchestra pit pulsate through your body? Wine, cheese, cocktails, brownies, espressos. The roar of the applause. Lines for the public restrooms.

Heightened emotions, catharsis, elation, escape. These are all reasons we go to both sporting events and arts performances. But why, then, are sports supported so much more? Why are the arts underplayed, cut from schools, eschewed from corporate cultures?

Let’s start with the players and dancers. Football players have to be able to throw a ball fifty yards with accuracy. Baseball players have to be able to hit a tiny ball moving 100mph with a skinny stick. Golfers have to be able to smack an even smaller ball halfway across a course filled with sand pits and ponds with enough accuracy to sink it into a six-inch hole. That kind of skill is rare, and take years and years of training. Most athletes start their sports training in high school. Some in junior high.

Dancers have to be able to balance on one foot, on only their toes for extended periods of time. They have to be able to turn, and turn, and turn, and turn, and never get dizzy. They have to launch themselves six feet into the air. They must fling their partners even higher, and catch a human being with accuracy and safety. They have to be so precise as to move in perfect unison with 30 other dancers. They have to be so flexible as to be able to kick the backs of their own heads. Their training begins anywhere from 3 years old to 8 years old.

Anyone not in the know will likely think that ballerinas are twigs with no strength, no endurance, just floating around on their toes. Why should they be paid to do something that looks so easy? Well, here’s one reason:

Sacrifice copy

 Like professional sports athletes, dancers’ bodies take a beating, and their later years are often plagued with arthritis, destroyed knees, shoulders, and ankles. I’ve seen dancers’ achilles tendons shredded like spaghetti and knees bent backwards at awkward angles. The difference between a football player taking a header during a tackle, and a ballerina taking a header during a failed lift is that the ballerina doesn’t have medical coverage worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In many cases, she’s lucky if she works for a company that can provide worker’s compensation let alone disability insurance for missed wages.


Male dancers are often stereotyped as being fay, flimsy, and not altogether masculine. They aren’t necessarily considered “real men” like a hockey player might be. But consider that male dancers have to launch themselves several feet into the air. They have to have the hand-eye coordination to catch a woman who’s hurtling through space towards them – and not drop them. How many incomplete passes have you seen in football? In ballet, an incomplete pass is called a law-suit.


Oh yeah, and both football players and ballet dancers wear tights:

                                                               Butt2Men tights


Jumping, leaping, catching, turning, running, sweating, taking in the applause. Sports athletes and arts athletes have all these in common.

Comp2        Comp1

Only, dancers have to look pretty while doing it and make it look effortless!

So, why do sports athletes get paid hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, when the dancers who work for some of our nation’s most prestigious dance institutions have to get second jobs? Did you know that New York City Ballet’s season only lasts 35 weeks? Oh, and the salary they get? The average annual ballet salary is $35,000. That doesn’t get you very far in New York City.

Okay, so what about sponsorships? Don’t corporations give money to arts organizations and sports franchises?

Did you know that in 2013, according to an IEG study, corporate sponsorship increased by the following percentages:

  • Sports (football, baseball, soccer, hockey, golf): 6%
  • Entertainment (movies, television, music): 5.1%
  • Causes (eg: Make-a-Wish, Voices for Children, Blood Banks, Susan G. Komen): 4.8%
  • Arts (Performing arts, museums, arts education): 3.3%

Uh huh. That’s right. Arts were at the bottom of the list.

And consider this: nationwide sponsorship of American sports in 2013 totaled $13.8 billion. The arts saw $920 million – for the entire United States. Put into perspective, arts sponsorship totaled 6% of what American sports saw.

Now, its easy to understand if you consider that sponsorship is given in exchange for exposure. Think of it as paid advertisement. A football team will reach more people than a ballet company . . . but think of what a ballet company could do with just a fraction of what the Greenbay Packers get from their sponsors!

But whether your talking about the size of a salary or the amount a corporation is willing to sponsor, it all comes down to one word: exposure.

What does that mean? It means how many people buy tickets and attend sporting or arts events. The more tickets sold, the more income a dance company has to turn into salaries for its performers. The more butts that fill seats, the more money a corporation is willing to give to a company. The more you engage with a theatre, dance company, opera, symphony, museum, or gallery the more leverage those organizations have to keep themselves alive.

And so we come back to the San Diego Opera. Why did they close? Many reasons, but a decline in ticket sales was a major one. In 2013, 513,641 Chargers Fans attended home games in San Diego. If just 10% of those people attended a California Ballet Company production just once during the year, at an average price of $48 (compared to the Charger’s $90/ticket average), that would mean an income of $2.5 million! That’s nearly double the ballet company’s entire annual operating budget! 

One more way to look at things: there are 3.1 million people living in San Diego County. If just 5% of the county’s population purchased $20 tickets (1/4 the cost of an average football ticket) that would mean an influx of $3.1 million into our arts community! Do you have $20? Skip your Starbucks for just one day a week for the next month and you will.

The people of San Diego spend their Sunday afternoons at Qualcomm Stadium instead of the Civic Theatre. Now, I can’t blame you. I’m  there, too. But guess what? I’m at the theatre Saturday afternoon taking in a matinee. Where are you?


—Joe Shumate

Professional Performing Artist & Arts Administrator


**The views and opinions in this article are expressly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the California Ballet Company or indicate endorsement by said company.**



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