Why sports musicals don’t work.

While watching Rocky IV for the 143rd time the other night, I twittered the question, “Why don’t sports musicals work?”

Something about ’em doesn’t translate, and something about ’em doesn’t even get people trying.  Beside Good News and Damn Yankees, what other shows have sports based themes and been successful?

Is it just because it’s harder to show a Rudy-like football game or a Hoosiers-like basketball championship on a stage?


Is it just because sports tend to be viewed, played and loved by a male majority, and we all know who buys theater tickets?


But I think it comes down to the simple fact that the focus of films is on action (inherent in the name “moving” or “motion” pictures).

The focus of the theater, however, is on characters.

So when you’re writing your next big show, it’s not as much as what happens along the way as who it’s happening to, and who is doing the happening (August Osage is a fine example of a pretty near perfect character driven play).

Oh, and despite rumors that there is a Rocky musical on the way written by Tom Meehan and Ahrens and Flaherty, I’m taking bets that it never gets into the ring.  Any takers?  I’ll give 3:1 odds.

And if it does make it, I’ll go double or nothing that it gets knocked out in the first round.

  • Well, if you want boxing, there’s Golden Boy, the Sammy Davis vehicle. I’ve heard periodic rumors of revivals and reworkings of that. There was also something at NYMF I remember from Broadway Bullet: Cutman. I have a vague nagging feeling there are some others, but my brain isn’t retrieving them. More often, there is a significant sport embedded in a musical, but not a main plot (football in Best Little Whorehouse, baseball in Ragtime, etc.)

  • RLewis says:

    While I agree that sports, which I love, do not translate well onto the stage, I’d disagree that “The focus of the theater, however, is on characters”. Television’s focus is on characters. Theater’s focus is on Ideas. You gotta have a good idea, something to say that matters, that audiences want to wrangle with. Heck, even Legally Blonde has a great message – You can’t judge a book by it’s cover. and/or You can accomplish anything, no matter who you are, if you try hard enough. I guess The Rink doesn’t count, but now I wish I’d seen Debra Harry wrestling show that was on Broadway… briefly.

  • Brad R says:

    I think if you can successfully get the sports audience to come to theater, you’ve accessed an untapped well. Statistics show that most people who refuse to go to theater have never seen a show in their life. The few ones that actually decide to go, most of the time end up having a great time and come back. It’s ignorance and usually some kind of macho-ism that keeps them away. So, if someone makes a show that will attract sports fans, and is successful, kudos!
    Maybe we aren’t doing enough to attract those kinds of audiences? Maybe we should be doing MORE sports shows?
    Just a thought…

  • Notably, of the shows that have been mentioned, only in Damn Yankees is the sport itself the thrust of the plot–the others use the sport as a vehicle for another issue.

  • Dana Everitt says:

    I don’t think it’s a question of action versus character. Rocky is a great character, and personally I wish there was more action onstage. I think it’s just too difficult to show sports onstage- it’d be pretty hard to recreate a football game onstage. Boxing or wrestling is at least contained, but even if you had good enough stage combat to pull it off, most people in the audience -or at least a lot of ladies- do not want to see that. You might as well go to sports event. Like Damn Yankees, I don’t think it’s impossible, it’s just that the audience has to be satisfied with seeing only a little sliver of the game, say a final touchdown.
    Also, women might not be quite as interested in seeing a sports musical but I think they would still buy them in the hopes of getting an apathetic boyfriend or husband excited about going to the theater. You might even get some guys who don’t normally go to Broadway shows because they’re too “gay.”

  • The exception to a dodgy rule? It worked, with top reviews. I suspect it easily recouped over the 6 months since London costs are a fraction of Broadway. Wiki: “Chariots of Fire opened in previews 9 May at London’s Hampstead Theatre, and officially opened there on 22 May.[9] It transferred to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End on 23 June, where it ran through 5 January 2013. The producers have announced plans to tour the production in 2013/14.”

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