“Way I see it, having a local team of superheroes is like having a sports team. Everyone’s rooting for them, they make for great media that isn’t about wars or the water crisis or whatever, there’s merchandising and tourists… all good shit that the local government loves.” —Lisa Wilbourne, aka Tattletale, Worm.
Unfortunately, that’s not remotely close to true. A typical world with superheroes has property damage is in the high billions, and offscreen civilian deaths are way too high. It’s worse off than if there were no superheroes at all.
That’s really too bad, so let’s see if we can construct an exception. A situation where it might actually be to the city’s benefit to have capes and masks running around wreaking (controlled amounts of) havoc. It won’t be much better than regular Earth, but it won’t be worse.
You’ve got what Tattletale calls full-contact cops and robbers, where people dress up in costumes and run around throwing superpowers at each other. The heroes get to say they’re doing it to protect the public, the villains say they’re in it for the money, but really they’re all just playing for fun.
If people get seriously injured, it’s not fun. So everyone on both sides goes out of their way to avoid hurting people. The guy with the power to disintegrate organic matter by pointing at it doesn’t go into crimefighting. And definitely not crime. He’d get arrested and charged with lots and lots of murder. He goes into medicine instead and zaps people’s cancers or something.
The powers that get used by the people in masks are more oriented toward containing their opponents, or defeating them in any relatively harmless way. If Mythos messes with Relentless’ perception of time during a fight, everybody’s OK with it as long as she puts it back afterward. There are also people with powers like explosions and lasers, but nothing that can’t be set to stun gets used in a fight.
As you might expect, since people are running around (or flying as the case may be) and hitting each other, injuries do happen. No deaths or anything classified as catastrophic, but there are a lot of concussions. This is recognized to be a problem, but the average fan doesn’t really care.
A typical cape fight looks nothing like a crime in progress and more like an improvised stage production. A villain group announces that they’re going to, say, rob a particular bank that weekend. On Sunday the bank is closed and there has been plenty of notice for bystanders to get out of the way—except of course for the people who bought tickets. At the prearranged time, the villains arrive and pose dramatically for the cameras before walking toward the front door. The heroes drop from the sky and start the fight.
If the bad guys fight their way in, they break into the vault and get out with as much as they can carry. It’s all covered by the bank’s villain insurance, along with any property damage. If the heroes win, the villains get captured and left shouting phrases like “Curses! Foiled again!” until the actual police arrive. There usually aren’t charges pressed, because everyone knows it’s all part of the game. The bank was never actually in any danger of losing anything, and the endorsement deals are good for business. In any case, everything is back to the status quo pretty quickly.
The villains are obviously playing along. If they really wanted to rob the bank, they could just not tell people ahead of time. But then it’d be treated as a crime instead of a sport, and nobody wants that. Besides, they’d lose all their fans.
Obviously, this wouldn’t be able to work without a powerful industry backing it up. That’s where the money comes in.
There are the ticket sales, and people might pay through the nose for that, but you can only fit so many people around the site of a bank robbery. It’s not like superheroing takes place in a baseball stadium. The real money comes from merchandising. If people will buy a T-shirt that looks like Peyton Manning’s jersey, they’ll buy one that looks like Enforcer’s costume. They’d do it for golf if that were the sport that everyone cared about, and I guarantee superheroes are at least as interesting as football players. From selling things with their logo on it, the National Supers League could probably bring in, oh, at a random guess let’s say $2.1 billion per year.
Ticket revenue is pretty much negligible next to that, and advertising will be less than it is for current sports. There may be just as many people watching it, but when superheroes fight supervillains it’s not exactly a predictable length with scheduled commercial breaks.* Call it a billion and a half in advertising.
Selling the rights to televise the matches could bring in another three billion dollars, and I’d imagine there’s a lot to be made from movie deals as well. The Avengers made a lot of money, it would have made a lot more if they could have marketed it as “based on a true story,” and that means more money for the superhero teams.
The fans, meanwhile, enjoy being able to follow their favorite franchises. There are rumors that Captain Anvil might leave the Defenders and move to a different city? Well if that happens, you’ll have to start rooting for the villains over there! He’s supposed to be on our team! It’s hard to imagine a sport that’s better designed for rivalries than this one.
There’d also be all kinds of non-fight-based events. If the fans have been arguing over whether Atalanta could outrun Speedster over a long enough distance, organizing a race means free publicity for both heroes and a great advertising opportunity for the NSL. But the main events are always the classic heroes-vs-villains match-ups.
You might not like the idea of a giant entertainment industry built around watching people hit each other. But a lot of people enjoy watching it, and there aren’t all that many people being hurt and they aren’t being hurt that badly, so it’s fine. Right? Anyway, if you’re in favor of the continued existence of football you should probably consider these superhero fights a good thing for the same reasons. You can’t tell me it wouldn’t be entertaining.
*Usually it’s over more quickly than a normal sporting event. With some exceptions. When Vortex dueled Chronomancer, they both got mistaken for statues of themselves. Eight hours in, Chronomancer won with the first punch, and those two have avoided each other ever since.