The importance of sport is being blown out of proportion by the amount of it on television, says a visiting academic

Professor Lawrence Wenner, a visiting fellow at Otago University from Los Angeles' Loyola Marymount University, said the hype around events such as the football World Cup, the US Super Bowl and New Zealand rugby tests tended to falsely magnify the importance of a game.

In a public lecture yesterday he said the amount of sport on television had burgeoned because it grabbed the attention of males, was cheaper to air than other programmes, and drew large audiences.

But the constant availability of sport on television led people to take it too seriously, and even neglect other responsibilities such as family.

"[It] fosters the belief that sport is more important culturally than perhaps it is," said Professor Wenner.

"When we make the game something that is truly significant, we risk losing importance in other spheres."

In less media-saturated times, people might have thought politicians or researchers were heroes, but now heroes had just two flavours - sports and movie/television stars.

Despite the increased availability of sport in New Zealand on Sky channels, ratings show individual major rugby games are being watched by up to 30 per cent fewer people than before.

Professor Wenner said the drop in rugby viewers was probably due to short-term fatigue with the game.

But TVNZ director of programming Annemarie Duff said there was a strong demand for sport on television. She said more and more sport had moved to pay TV over the last 10 years, "so if anything, sport holds a less dominant position than it used to".