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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Cosell Interview with the Birdchaser

From the archives, a short interview with Howard Cosell. Not sure how we did this one, since he died thirteen years ago this month. But what the heck, good fun for all.

Cosell: Those of you at home may not know this, but birdwatching, or birding as the binocular-sporting crowd calls it, is more popular than golf and tennis combined. Millions of folks out there spy on birds for fun, but only a relative few have actually taken it to the level of a sport. I'm joined today by one of those curious few who think they can convince the rest of us that watching birds is actually a sport. Please join me in welcoming The Birdchaser.
Birdchaser: Pleasure to be here.

Cosell: Lets start out with a simple question. How would you convince me that watching birds is really a sport, and not just a mild obsession for folks who prefer feathers to felines?
Birdchaser: There's no question that for most people, watching birds is just a curious pastime. But just like there is a difference between playing catch with your kid, and playing Major League Baseball, there is a difference between birding and birdwatching. Watching birds is an idle pursuit. Birding--chasing around to see how many birds you can see in a given area over a limited period of time--is a serious sport.

Cosell: If its a serious sport, are there fans? Why don't we see birding competitions on television? Sponsorships of birding events? Cash prize winnings?
Birdchaser: Ah yes, as a sport, there are many events and contests--such as big days, big years, and team events such as the Great Texas Birding Classic and the World Series of Birding...

Cosell: World Series of Birding? That sounds like wishful marketing to me...
Birdchaser: Perhaps so, but in all seriousness, there are events out there. As for prizes, well, we tried over a decade ago to get serious cash prizes for the Great Texas Birding Classic, but purists on the planning committee didn't want to take birding down the road of professionalization--actually they called it corruption--like we saw in surfing back in the 70s. So it remains mostly an amateur sport.

Cosell: So it doesn't even rise to the level of bowling, as a professional sport?
Birdchaser: Well, sadly, no, but...

Cosell: So why should we take it seriously, as a sport?
Birdchaser: Because there are tens of thousands of people out birding at any given time--competing to see how many birds they can see, posting their sightings on the internet for other birders to see...

Cosell: The internet? So its an online sport?
Birdchaser: Maybe. But the real birding takes place out in the field.

Cosell: So can we follow these guys around? Who would watch such a thing on TV?
Birdchaser: Perhaps not the same folks who watch golf, but if you can watch a guy hit a little white ball with a stick, you should be able to watch guys scoping out shorebirds on the mudflats...

Cosell: Shorebirds? Mudflats? Doesn't sound like the makings of a Wide World of Sports special to me...
Birdchaser: But what if there was a $500 cash prize for the team of birders that found the most birds during a competition on the Texas Coast? What if there were major automotive sponsors who wanted to showcase birders rushing around in their SUVs? What if there were a standardized course, where folks could stand and wait for the teams to arrive and see how many birds they could see there compared to the other teams? What if...

Cosell: Sounds like you're dreaming there, Birdchaser.
Birdchaser: Perhaps, but...

Cosell: Meanwhile, let me know when you get those million dollar prizes lined up, and the major sponsorship for an event we can televise. In the meantime, I wish you the best of luck. To you and all the bird watchers at home, have fun out there!


Anonymous said...

It will not be a very difficult transition for birders if NASCAR sponsors birding competition. We already speak much the same language, and with a little adaptation (for a price) we will gladly rename our events. BMW Birdathon, Cape May Grand Prix, McAllen 500...

Major birding competitions already have:

Crew Chief = team leader
Sitting on the bubble = owling at 11:50 PM on Big Day
Jump = starting Big Day at 11:50 the night before
Pace lap = scouting the day before Big Day
Pit stop = self explanatory; the fewer and shorter the better
Spotter = the guy with the scope

Birds parts and behaviors will be re-labeled:

Body-side molding = Sapsucker lines
Scoops = Pelican bills
Brake fade = Albatross landing
Buy the farm = Window strike
Draft = V-formation
Bodywork = plumage
Attenuator = Woodpecker skull
Loose = Ani flying in the wind
Fastback = Chimney Swift
Sprint = Woodcock flushing from underfoot
Bling (decorative flare) = Painted Bunting
Hauler, Flat Out = Peregrine in a stoop
Blip = wing flick
Donuts = Phalaropes

Certainly, for the cause of bird conservation, we will change a few other names. Neophyte birders will be "Yellowtails." Wild bird seed will become "Fuel" (any thing except straight gasoline), and patio mix will be "Pop" (exotic fuel blend).

Useful Reference: Glossary of auto racing terms hickoksports(dot).com/glossary

Anonymous said...

Great post (and follow-up comment!)

Rob, I think you're on to something here, though it seems like your inner Cosell gets the best of you here. However, the proof is in the pudding. Sponsors follow fans. Get enough people to prove that they'll follow birders to the extent that they'll follow, say, pro bass anglers, and the money will follow.

The problem with birding as a sport (or perhaps I should say ONE problem) is that there's a a couple of championship level events but nothing below them, at least as far as I can see. Every popular sport has many levels of organization. Baseball is an excellent example, engaging athletes and fans alike from little league to high school to college to the minor leagues to the majors with tons of tourneys and adjunct leagues.

My point is that if birding wants to be a true sport (does birding want to be a true sport? do birders want to be considered athletes?) then birding needs to emulate the infrastructure. Set up a tourney at every conference and convention. Connect those to regional heats and qualifiers and send the winning teams to the World Series of Birding. The current system of allowing anyone to buy in to a shot at the championship flies in the face of what competition and sports is all about.

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