MONEY

10 Things Americans Have Suddenly Stopped Buying

Popping bubble gum
Ross Culshaw—Getty Images

America is just not the clean-shaven, gun-buying, soda-drinking, Chef Boyardee-eating place it used to be

For a variety of reasons—including but not limited to increased health consciousness, the harried pace of modern-day life, and plain old shifting consumer preferences,—Americans have scaled back on purchases of many items, sometimes drastically so. Here’s a top 10 list of things we’re not buying anymore, at least not anywhere near as frequently as we used to.

Cereal
In one recent four-week period, cereal sales were down 7%, and cereal giant Kellogg’s sales decreased 10%. The reasons for cereal’s declining dominance at the breakfast table are many. As the Wall Street Journal reported, consumers are more apt nowadays to turn to yogurt or fast food in the morning, and they’re less likely to have time to eat breakfast at home at all—not even if it’s a simple bowl of cereal.

Consumers also want their breakfast to pack more punch, protein-wise. “We are competing with quick-serve restaurants more, but the bigger driver is that people want more protein,” Kellogg CEO John Bryant told the Journal. It’s no coincidence that milk sales have been falling alongside cereal, with cow’s milk struggling especially due to the rise of alternatives like soy and almond milk. (Sales of yet another breakfast-at-home staple, orange juice, have plummeted 40% since the late 1990s.)

To try to put cereal back on the spoon of more breakfast eaters, food makers have been resorting to all manner of gimmicks, including the promoting of new higher-protein cereals, as well as the idea that cereal is a great late-night snack rather than just a breakfast-time basic.

Soda
The crash of soda—diet soda in particular—has been years in the making, with consumers increasingly turning to energy drinks, flavored water, and other beverages instead of the old carbonated caffeine drink of choice. The latest Wall Street report from Coca-Cola showed that the soda giant missed estimates, partly because sales of Diet Coke in North America fell in the “mid-single digits.”

(MORE: 10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On)

While a lot of soda’s slump can be attributed to shifting consumer preferences—more organic, less sugar—the broader war on soda involving taxes and big-beverage bans must factor in too. And if First Lady Michelle Obama has any say in things, the decline of soda is a trend that’ll continue: Her ongoing “Drink Up” campaign encourages kids to consume more water—and, consequently, less soda.

Gum
Likely due to heightened competition from mints and candies, chewing gum sales have dipped 11% over the past four years, the Associated Press reported. The editorial board of the News Tribune of Washington state, for one, weighed in that it is wonderful that gum sales are down in the gutter, sniffing, “Gum-chewing doesn’t do us any favors, making us look like cows chewing our cud. For humans, that’s not a good look.”

Guns
Gun sales have been booming in recent years, with sales periodically juiced when perceived anti-gun politicians enter office or a high-profile mass shooting takes place, prompting consumers to seek guns for protection—or just out of fear they won’t be able to buy them in the future because tougher gun regulations might be passed.

Lately, however, gun sales have fallen, sometimes sharply. The big reasons why this is so seem to be that there’s little in the way of likely gun control for gun enthusiasts to motivate new purchases, and also that everyone who has wanted to buy a gun in the past couple of years has already bought one (or seven). In the first quarter of 2014, the guns-and-ammo-focused Sportsman’s Warehouse retail chain saw comparable stores sales drop 18%, while gun sales at Cabela’s fell 22%.

But a little perspective is necessary. While guns sales and background checks are down compared to the past couple of years, they remain far above the levels of the early ’00s. As gun industry experts have put it, the decline probably just represents a “returning to normal” for gun sales—which aren’t as strong as they once were, but are still very strong nonetheless.

Cupcakes
Well, it looks like many of us at least have stopped buying the pricey “gourmet” variety of cupcakes. That’s the conclusion to be drawn with the collapse of Crumbs, the 65-store chain that shut down abruptly in early July. The news was widely interpreted as a sign that the gourmet cupcake trend is officially dead.

Chef Boyardee
ConAgra recently issued a warning to Wall Street that its consumer food volume experienced a 7% decline, and that it faced “continued profit challenges” due to some of its flagging, tired products—in particular, Chef Boyardee, the 86-year-old canned pasta brand.

Golf Gear
It’s not surprising that going hand in hand with fewer people playing golf, there are also fewer golf purchases being rung up at sporting goods store registers. The most notable eye-opener occurred this past spring, when Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that its golf equipment sales were down around 10%, at the same time the average driver was selling at a price of 16% less.

(MORE: Could Rory McIlroy Be Golf’s Long-Awaited Savior?)

Razors
Beard-loving hipsters were blamed for the decline in razor sales last summer, and in 2014, razor giants like Procter and Gamble (owner of Gillette) has continued to blame poor sales on the trendiness of beards. Everything from the shaggy beards worn by the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, to month-long no-shave “challenges” like Movember and Decembeard have been cited as reasons why guys have scaled back on razor purchases. In response, marketers have introduced even more varieties of new high-tech razors, while also pushing the concept of “manscaping,” with special razors designed just for the task. The hope is that even if men aren’t shaving their faces, they might still shave one or several other parts of their bodies.

Bread
According to one survey, 56% of American shoppers said they are cutting back on white bread. White bread was surpassed in sales by wheat bread sometime around 2006, but in recent years the gluten-free trend has hurt sales of all breads. Sales are even down in European countries like baguette-loving France, where consumption is down 10%. In American restaurants, meanwhile, there’s an epidemic of free bread disappearing from tables, as fewer owners want to bear the expense of putting out free rolls and other breads that no one is going to eat.

Convertibles
The fun-loving, wind-in-your-hair thrill of driving in a convertible just hasn’t been enough to keep consumers buying the classic ragtop in strong numbers. Businessweek noted that convertible sales have fallen 44% since 2004, and automakers have been significantly scaling back the number of models that are even offered in convertible form. Apparently, too many consumers see convertibles as impractical, and/or not worth the $5,000 or so premium one must pay compared to the regular model.

Data recently released from Experian Automotive indicates that the convertible is largely now a toy purchased by the rich. Nearly 1 in 5 convertible buyers have household incomes of at least $175,000 (compared to 11% of buyers of all cars), and 12% of convertible buyers own homes valued over $1 million (compared to 4% of buyers of other cars). For what it’s worth, convertible drivers are also better educated than the average car owner (50% of convertible buyers have at least a bachelor’s degree, versus 38% overall), and nearly one-quarter of all convertibles are now purchased in three sunny states with ample coastlines: California, Florida, and Texas.

Related:

10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On

TIME Sports

ESPN Sportscaster Comments on Ray Rice Stir Controversy

Commentator Stephen A. Smith has been accused of victim blaming

+ READ ARTICLE

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice received a slap-on-the-wrist, two-game suspension after being arrested and indicted for allegedly hitting his now-wife so hard that he knocked her unconscious. Following the NFL’s announcement of the punishment, ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith implied yesterday on First Take that women need to be careful about what they do or say so as not to tempt men to viciously attack them:

We know you have no business putting your hands on a woman. I don’t know how many times I got to reiterate that… But what I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family, some of who you all met and talked to and what have you, is that again, and this what, I’ve done this all my life, let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come, or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you. So let’s try to make sure that we can do our part in making sure that that doesn’t happen.

He goes on:

In Ray Rice’s case, he probably deserves more than a 2-game suspension which we both acknowledged. But at the same time, we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because we’ve got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way. And I don’t think that’s broached enough, is all I’m saying. No point of blame.

ESPN host Michelle Beadle fired back at Smith after the segment on Twitter.

She has also retweeted several violent threats that were made against her following her comments.

Smith responded by trying to clarify his position and apologizing to Beadle. He tweets that he never accused women of being wrong. But he also concludes, “I was simply saying to take all things into consideration for preventative purposes.”

MORE: The NFL Needs To Take Domestic Violence Seriously

TIME World Cup

FIFA Rejects Calls to Strip Russia of World Cup

(ZURICH) — FIFA rejected calls to move the 2018 World Cup from Russia, saying the tournament “can achieve positive change.”

Russia’s alleged involvement in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine last week prompted calls from some lawmakers in Germany to review the country’s hosting rights.

On Friday, FIFA issued a statement saying it “deplores any form of violence” and questioning the purpose of relocating the sport’s showcase tournament.

“History has shown so far that boycotting sport events or a policy of isolation or confrontation are not the most effective ways to solve problems,” FIFA said, adding that global attention on the World Cup “can be a powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments.”

The conflict between Ukraine and pro-Russia separatist rebels escalated days after the World Cup ended in Brazil.

On July 13 in Rio de Janeiro, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a World Cup hosting handover ceremony with Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff. Both then sat next to FIFA President Sepp Blatter to watch the final at the Maracana Stadium, won by Germany.

FIFA, which has Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko on its executive committee, said a World Cup in the country “can be a force for good.”

“FIFA believes this will be the case for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia,” the governing body said.

Blatter already rejected calls to strip Russia of the tournament after it annexed the Crimea this year.

“The World Cup has been given and voted to Russia and we are going forward with our work,” Blatter said in March.

In a separate statement Friday, Mutko said a U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics had been a mistake.

“So there’s no sense in reacting to politicians trying to make names for themselves,” Mutko was quoted saying by Russian news agency R-Sport. “We’re preparing in a calm way, building facilities, getting ready for the World Cup.”

Russia has announced a $20 billion budget for building and renovating 12 stadiums, and other construction projects, for the first World Cup in Eastern Europe.

“FIFA has stated many times that sport should be outside politics,” Mutko said. “Hosting an event like this, we’re doing it for athletes from all over the world, for footballers, for the fans.”

TIME Sports

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Stop Keeping College Athletes Poor and Trapped

Ed O''Bannon
Ed O'Bannon playing for the UCLA Bruins in 1995. O’Bannon, along with a few other players, is suing for players to have control over the use of their likenesses, which earn millions of dollars for the NCAA. J.D. Cuban—Getty Images

Without unions, college athletics will remain a subtle but insidious form of child abuse.

A new survey finds that 60% of incoming college football players support unions for college athletes. The horror! Were such unions allowed, our glorious cities would crumble to nothing more than shoddy tents stitched together from tattered remnants of Old Glory; our government officials would be loin-cloth-clad elders gathered in the rubble of an old McDonald’s passing a Talking Stick; our naked children would roam the urban wilderness like howling wolves, their minds as blank as their lost Internet connection. We would be without hope, dreams, or a future.

Or at least that’s what you might believe based on the nuclear reaction a few months ago when a dapper man named Ramogi Huma attempted to destroy everything that America holds sacred with just such a proposal to unionize college athletes. His argument was simple: that college athletes should be classified as employees of their colleges and therefore receive certain basic benefits. He did not advocate player salaries, but only programs to minimize brain trauma risks among athletes, a raise in scholarship amounts, more financial assistance for sports-related injuries, an increase in graduation rates, and several other similar goals.

You would have thought he’d proposed dressing the Statue of Liberty in a star-spangled thong.

But Huma is not alone in his assault on the NCAA’s iron-fisted control of all things related to college athletics that might generate income (as befits their new motto: “If it earns, it’s ours.”). Other current and former college athletes are questioning the NCAA-brand Kool-Aid. Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, along with a few other players, is suing for players to have control over the use of their likenesses, which earn millions of dollars for the NCAA — but not a cent for the players. Another class-action anti-trust suit has been filed to remove the cap on player compensation — currently limited to the value of the scholarship they receive, plus room and board — as an illegal restraint of trade.

Predictably, the NCAA is against any scheme to get college players paid, claiming that unionizing will “completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone to attend college.” Attend, but not necessarily complete, especially if you suffer any long-term injury. Because if you don’t compete, you don’t complete.

And the NCAA has the backing from some powerful Washington, D.C. politicians who, according to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), worry about strikes that will “destroy intercollegiate athletics as we know it.” Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) also chimed in: “I haven’t looked at the specifics of this and what would be required, but having formally chaired the House Education and Workforce Committee and worked with the National Labor Relations Act for the last 30 years, I find it a bit bizarre.”

Nothing more reassuring than someone who acknowledges he hasn’t really “looked at the specifics” but has an opinion anyway.

Well, Senator, here are some specifics:

  • Last year, NCAA March Madness made $1 billion for CBS and Turner Broadcasting.
  • The NCAA takes in more than $6 billion a year.
  • The NCAA president made $1.7 million last year.
  • The NCAA top ten basketball coaches earn salaries that range from $2,200,000 to $9,682,032.

While these coaches and executives may deserve these amounts, they shouldn’t earn them while the 18-to-21-year-old kid who plays every game and risks a permanent career-ending injury gets only scholarship money — money that can be taken away if the player is injured and can’t contribute to the team anymore.

The irony is that the NCAA and other supporters claim it will sully the purity of college sports — desecrating our image of it as a youthful clash of school rivalries that always ends at the malt shop with school songs being sung and innocent flirting between boys in letterman jackets and girls with pert ponytails and chastity rings. In reality, what makes college sports such a powerful symbol in our culture is that they represent our attempt to impose fairness on an otherwise unfair world. Fair play, sportsmanship, and good-natured rivalry are lofty goals to live by. By treating the athletes like indentured servants, we’re tarnishing that symbol and reducing college sports to just another exploitation of workers, no better than a sweat shop.

Everyone’s hope was that once these inequities were exposed, the NCAA would do the right thing. That hasn’t happened on a meaningful scale. Instead, they battle in court, issue press releases, and appeal to Norman Rockwell nostalgia.

The athletes are left with the choice of either crossing their fingers and hoping their fairy godmothers will convince the NCAA to give up money that it doesn’t have to, or of forming a collective bargaining group to negotiate from a place of unified strength.

Most Americans agree that the athletes are being short-changed. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll concluded that 51% of Americans believed that universities should be required to cover medical expenses for former players if those expenses were the result of playing for the school. A whopping 73% believed athletic scholarships should not be withdrawn from students who are injured and are no longer able to play.

But when it comes to these same student-athletes forming a union, an HBO Real Sports and The Marist College Center for Sports Communication poll showed 75% of Americans opposed to the formation of a college athlete union, with only 22% for it.

Why such a difference between wanting equity and supporting the best means to achieve it? Despite 14.5 million Americans belonging to labor unions, we’ve always had a love-hate relationship with them.

The Love: Unions can be like a protective parent arguing with an arrogant teacher over their child’s unfair grade. The Hate: Unions can be like a bossy spouse who complains about all the work they do for you while shoveling corn chips into their maw from the La-Z-Boy.

Our relationship with college athletes is much clearer. We adore and revere them. They represent the fantasy of our children achieving success and being popular. Watching them play with such enthusiasm and energy for nothing more than school pride is the distillation of pure Hope for the Future.

But strip away the rose-colored glasses and we’re left with a subtle but insidious form of child abuse.

Which raises the question: How will things change?

When I was a young, handsome player at UCLA, with a full head of hair and a pocket full of nothing, I sometimes had a friend scalp my game tickets so I could have a little spending money. I couldn’t afford a car, which scholarship students in other disciplines could because they were permitted to have jobs, so I couldn’t go anywhere. I got bored just sitting around my dorm room and frustrated wandering around Westwood, passing shops in which I couldn’t afford to buy anything.

How will things change? It’s possible the NCAA will eventually capitulate to these common-sense requests, but since it hasn’t so far, the only reason it would change its mind now would be because of the threat of the union. Either way, the union will have caused positive change for these young athletes. But without a union, these student-athletes will be without any advocates and will always be at the whim of the NCAA and the colleges and universities that profit from them.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). Abdul-Jabbar also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

MONEY Sports

How the Economics of Playing Football and Basketball Compare

That loud roar you heard this week was NFL training camp getting under way. With less than six weeks until the Green Bay Packers head to Seattle for a game against the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks, fans across the country are following every move of their favorite players and planning for their fantasy football draft.

We decided to take a look at some of the important markers in the life-cycle of a professional athlete. From sporting gear to concussion rates, the gallery below provides a snapshot of what parents have to pay to get their kids on the field—and how long players stay in the big leagues once they actually get there.

To put the numbers in a little bit of context we compared football’s costs to basketball’s.

TIME Sports

LeBron James Sends Cupcakes to His Neighbors to Apologize for Causing a Ruckus

A sweet gesture

As soon as LeBron James announced that he’d be returning to his native Ohio, everybody pretty much just went totally nuts. Cleveland Cavaliers reporters (and fans) swarmed his home in Bath Township near Akron, causing traffic jams and general chaos.

LeBron was aware of all this, and to apologize to his neighbors, decided to send shipments of cupcakes.

Each box included six “Just A Kid From Akron Cherry Cola” cupcakes and six “Homecourt Chocolate Chunk” cupcakes from a local bakery, ESPN reports. Both flavors were created specifically for James’ foundation. We’re a bit skeptical about a cherry cola cupcake, to be quite honest, but hey, it was still a nice gesture.

MONEY Sports

Could 25-Year-Old Rory McIlroy Be Golf’s Long-Awaited Savior?

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland holds up the Claret Jug trophy
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland holds up the Claret Jug trophy after winning the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Sunday July 20, 2014. Scott Heppell—AP

He was the consensus choice as golf's "next big thing" even before winning the British Open over the weekend.

As a sport and a business, golf is stuck in a proverbial sand trap, probably the deepest and most difficult one ever encountered by the industry. Player numbers are on the decline, especially among young people, and golf course closings in the U.S. are trumping golf course openings by a stunning ratio of nearly 10 to 1.

There is some hope, however, that golf will experience a renaissance, even among kids who are now too accustomed to instant gratification and too distracted by smartphones and social media to bother venturing outside to play baseball or go for a hike, let alone try their hands at the time-consuming, frustrating “old person’s sport” of golf. And one of the big reasons for this optimism is that today’s most exciting players also happen to be kids, and none more exciting than Rory McIlroy, the 25-year-old winner of the 2014 British Open.

OK, so a 25-year-old isn’t exactly a child. But he’s a kid compared with the prototypical gray-haired, 50-something golfer out on the links. And his success couldn’t come at a better time. McIlroy is part of a much-needed youth movement in golf, notes Jim Frank, a contributing editor to Links Magazine who has covered the sport for three decades. Joined by emerging superstars Rickie Fowler, who is also 25 and is known for cool clothes and shaggy Bieber-like hair, and incredibly talented young female golfers like Lexi Thompson (19) and Lydia Ko (all of 17), McIlroy is seen as a fresh injection of energy, excitement, and—dare we say it?—perhaps even hipness into the sport.

“He supposedly took the first selfie of a British Open winner,” said Frank. Hey, that’s gotta count for something.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of McIlroy and the rest of the youth movement—besides their unwrinkled, photogenic faces and a generally cooler appearance compared with the usual grandpas on the links—is that they’re changing the perception of how to play golf and when one tends to peak in the sport. “In the past, the assumption was that you didn’t really hit your stride until your 30s, after you’ve worked out the kinks in your game,” said Frank. “Today’s young players are really powerful, they wrench their backs and really hit the ball hard. And they’ve been playing so long that by the time they’re in the late teens and early 20s, they can dominate.” (They can also get injured; just look at how Tiger Woods’s body has fared in recent years.)

Nonetheless, the excitement, power, and youth that McIlroy and his peers bring to the game has to be good for golf, right? Sure, to some extent. But Frank believes it will take more than one charismatic, curly-haired Irishman to turn the tide.

“Are 14-year-olds sitting in front of a TV on a Sunday morning at 10 o’clock watching Rory McIlroy?” Frank said. The answer, of course, is no. While some parts of the golf world are trying to make changes to become more appealing to younger players and families, Frank believes that some retrenchment is still needed, and that the sport will always remain a niche activity, and one that always skews older.

When people in the business talk about rejuvenating the sport, they sometimes ask, “What’s the snowboarding of golf?” said Frank. “Snowboarding brought young people back to the mountains, and it helped save skiing.” Unfortunately, because a sizeable faction of the golf world has no interest in changing the game or doing much of anything to appeal to younger people, “there may not be an equivalent of snowboarding. But that’s the way we have to think of it.”

The big irony, Frank said, is that right now, when golf seems to be struggling so mightily in its attempts to attract new players to the game, there has never been a better time to play. “The equipment has never been better, and there’s great value for what you can buy fairly cheaply,” said Frank. “You can get on almost any golf course in the world, or join almost any club if you want. There are no lines, and there aren’t people behind you telling you to play faster.”

MONEY Sports

Tiger’s Back—But Golf Is Still In a Hole

digging golf ball out of bunker
Thomas Northcut—Getty Images

Tiger Woods has finally returned from injury and is playing the British Open this weekend. But is he back in time to save his sport from irrelevancy?

Tiger Woods is back on the course at the British Open this weekend, his first major tournament in nearly a year. Though he took home the trophy the last time it was played at Royal Liverpool, in 2006, he’s facing a tougher challenge this time, starting Saturday’s round 14 shots behind leader Rory McIlroy.

A Tiger on the hunt is always good for television ratings, but even the return of golf’s highest-profile player may not be enough to blast the sport out of its current hole. Golfer numbers are down. Golf equipment sales have been tanking. The number of golf courses closing annually is supposed to dwarf the number of new courses opening for years to come. “We really don’t know what the bottom is in golf,” Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Edward Stack said in a conference call in June, attempting to explain why golf gear sales have fallen off a cliff. “We anticipated softness, but instead we saw significant decline. We underestimated how significant a decline this would be.”

What accounts for golf’s present rough patch? Here are a handful of reasons, including the curious case of Woods himself.

People are too damn busy. When someone asks how you’re doing, the response among working professionals and working parents especially is probably a kneejerk “crazy busy.” Studies show that leisure time has shrunk for both sexes, and that dads are doing more work around the house, though moms still devote more time to chores and childcare than their spouses. A so-called “leisure gap” still exists between mothers and fathers, and while dads tend to enjoy an extra hour per day of free time on weekends, they’re more likely to be watching TV than hitting the links. Fathers spend an average of 2.6 hours per week participating in sports (compared to 1.4 hours for mothers), which isn’t nearly enough time to play 18 holes.

As new dad Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal put it recently, speaking for dads—all parents, really—everywhere, “It is more likely I will become the next prime minister of Belgium than it is that I will find 4½ hours on a weekend to go play golf.”

A year ago, golf groups launched a “Time for Nine” campaign, pushing the idea that, because so many people can’t find the time for 18 holes, it’s acceptable to play a mere nine holes. The problem is that it looks like people don’t have time for nine holes either, lately.

It’s elitist and too expensive. There are plenty of ways to save money on golf, including booking discounted, off-peak tee times and finding deals on equipment. So golf can be affordable.

It’s just that, by and large, the sport has a well-deserved reputation for being pricey—think $400 drivers, $250,000 club “initiation” fees, and too many gadgets to mention. The snooty factor goes hand in hand with the astronomical prices and atmosphere on the typical course. As USA Today columnist Christine Brennan cautioned recently, unless the sport figures out a way to change course, “Golf is destined to continue to hemorrhage participants and further ensure its place as a mostly-white, suburban, rich men’s niche sport with plenty of TV sponsors who make cars, write insurance and invest money.”

It’s just not cool. In 2009, Jack Nicklaus lamented, “Kids just don’t play golf any more in the United States and it is sad.”

American kids today seem to be nearly as overscheduled as their parents. And like their parents, tweens and teens probably don’t have the time to regularly play 18 holes, what with soccer practice, saxophone lessons, and coding classes to attend to. Even if kids had more time, would they want to spend it playing an “old man sport”? When iPhones and tablets and Xboxes and Instagram are drawing their attention?

Among the suggestions offered by Golf Digest to increase participation in the sport, columnist Ron Sirak recommended that the USGA should fund caddie programs, and that private clubs should give four-year “scholarships” to junior players, with free lessons and playing privileges.

It’s too difficult. Pretty much every other sport on the planet is more immediately rewarding than golf. Take a snowboard lesson in the morning, and by afternoon, you can make a few turns down the bunny trail without falling (much). Golf is renowned not only for being frustratingly difficult for beginners, but even longtime players “enjoy” it as a frustratingly difficult hobby.

“The deep appeal of golf, once you get hooked, is that it’s difficult,” John Paul Newport, golf columnist for the Wall Street Journal, told NPR in May. “Normally when you play a round of golf, you step onto the green and that’s when all the intense stress starts. You know, this tiny little hole, you have to look at putts from many ways, you hit it a few feet past and you add up strokes quickly around the green.”

Newport was discussing a new golfing option involving 15-inch cups, a system created to make the game much easier and approachable, particularly for beginners. But don’t expect to see it anytime soon. In the description to Golf Is Dying. Does Anybody Care? author Pat Gallagher points to golf’s “resistance to productive change” as a big reason why participation has slumped dramatically. “While other sports have embraced new technology and innovation with open arms, traditionalists strive to protect the game of golf and keep it exactly as they love it—even in the face of suffering courses and shrinking audiences.”

Tiger Woods. Skeptics insist that golf isn’t dying. Not by a long shot. The sport’s popularity, they say, is merely taking a natural dip after soaring to unjustified heights during the “golf bubble” brought on by the worldwide phenomenon that was Woods. After the infidelity scandals and, more recently, poor play and loads of injuries from Woods, fewer people are watching golf on TV, buying golf gear in stores, and, you know, actually going out and playing golf.

So perhaps it’s not so much that golf is losing favor with the masses today as it is that golf’s widespread popularity a decade or so ago was something of a fluke. The decline in golf, then, would basically be the return of golf’s status as a niche game. “Golf courses were overbuilt, saturating major cities and secondary markets with ridiculous golf hole per capita ratios,” golf blogger David Hill wrote in a manifesto on why the sport, in fact, isn’t dying. “Tiger’s decline from Teflon coated Superhero to mere great golfer precipitated the bursting of the golf bubble. It’s as simple as that.”

TIME NBA

Poll: What Jersey Number Should LeBron James Wear: 6 or 23?

All hail King James

King James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he needs your opinion. LeBron asked his Instagram followers for their input: Should he wear number 6 or number 23? The championship player wore number 6 in Miami after leaving the Cavs, possibly resurfacing some resentment in Cleveland. Or will LeBron James choose number 23, the number he gave up to honor Michael Jordan?

Take the poll below.

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