Get ready for lavish sports-themed resorts in college towns, as the expense of fandom continues to increase

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Since America encourages maximum luxury that is far too expensive for the average person, of course, a project combining sports and extravagance is headed for college towns. Sports Illustrated has already built a sports-themed resort in the Dominican Republic, where the 2023 Swimsuit issue was shot. Beginning in 2025, similar resorts will be constructed in communities that are hotbeds for college sports. Luxury, Sports Illustrated, and school spirit will make their first collision in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

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For Sports Illustrated to experiment with an idea like this in America, college towns are the only option. I don’t believe there is enough space near Wrigley Field or Madison Square Garden for horseback riding, scuba diving, or the other various activities that are advertised.

There is always room in college sports for more flash to be purchased by wealthy alumni and boosters, so this is a good business idea from the partnership of Sports Illustrated Resorts, Travel + Leisure Co. and Sports Hospitality Ventures, LLC. The passion and dollars that keep the collegiate athletics going will be able to spend afternoons schmoozing in the skybox on campus, and later during the evening at the lounge while their kids play on the baseball diamond.

Once again, another toy for the folks who don’t feel punched in the stomach every time they receive a notification that their car payment is due. I’m sure a nice scuba-diving jaunt will feel refreshing after an Alabama victory, but what it won’t do is build young sports fans on a wide scale.

In this world where 15 seconds and a tune is the best way to catch young people’s attention, data has shown that Gen Z does not consume sports as voraciously as previous generations. They grew up in a post-recession world in which game tickets, parking, and merchandise have soared in price while incomes have remained alarmingly stagnant.

Disney and Viacom can do their best with Nickelodeon and Toy Story NFL telecasts to get the next generation of kids into sports, but my generation didn’t need to be hooked by a Rugrats-themed NFL playoff game.

Chicago Bulls game tickets may have been expensive in the 1990s — they were certainly difficult to acquire — but from 1993 to 1999 there was Michael Jordan’s Restaurant. That is one of the few places where being forced to wait for an hour to be seated was a great experience.

The restaurant had a gift shop, and on the televisions, NBA Home Video was always playing. If I lived close to the place, I would have visited every day just to watch highlights of my favorite NBA players. Once a table at Michael Jordan’s Restaurant was finally ready, a half slab of ribs with a side of fries only cost $9.50.

Another creation of the 1990s was ESPN Zone in major cities. It was like Chuck E. Cheese meets a sports bar. There were enough televisions in the dining area to satisfy a sportsbook, and their game area was a sports playland. The price of the experience was that of a standard restaurant meal.

Experiences like these combined with the VHS tapes of bloopers and big hits that were readily available, and Ahmad Rashad palling around with NBA players every Saturday on NBA Inside Stuff, made sports accessible to children. Lee Corso’s headgear was as entertaining as any Saturday morning cartoon.

Sports used to be easy to touch. These days, the cost to even watch it is skyrocketing thanks to cable companies driving away subscribers by raising rates every year for access to hundreds of channels of which most people only watched a handful.

I’m sure ziplining on weekends in Tuscaloosa will be a blast for those who can afford it, but pricey places like these Sports Illustrated Resorts are part of why young people aren’t watching games.

They can’t touch it anymore, which leaves them with nothing to feel.

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