Who am I?

I'm from Houston, a graduate of the University of Texas, a fan of the Houston Astros and Houston Texans. But this blog will be about the "greater sports", whatever that means.

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Great Sports Debate: Attend a game live or watch on TV?

An interesting phenomenon seems to be taking place in sports fandom.  More and more sports fans, even the most ardent ones, would rather stay at home and watch TV then attend in person.  While the call of "you gotta be at the big game" used to be the norm, now it's "come over and watch, I'll have three TVs set up and we're making nachos."  This format was probably born at Super Bowl parties, where you really couldn't get a ticket so it was normal to host friends, family, and that one guy who'd show up in football gear as if he was going to play.  Now even for the hometown team or your alma mater, it's making more sense for fans to relax at home and avoid the hassle.

A few pieces of recent evidence that the tide is shifting (these are just recent, but have been going on for the past decade or so).
1) Three of the four NFL Wildcard games needed an extra day to have a blackout lifted on the local TV market.  And these were very dedicated fan bases like Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati.  Green Bay, which boasts of a century long wait list for season tickets, can't sell out a home playoff game against a good opponent?
2) College football attendance, which boasts some of the most dedicated fans who name their babies after mascots and coaches, is down and continues to go down.  And I'm not talking about Akron and Colorado State.  I'm talking about Alabama, Texas, Michigan, and Miami, huge programs with national titles in tow.
Miami fans show up by the dozen near kickoff

Students, like these at Michigan, show up late and
leave early (and their tickets are generally free)

3) Related to #2, BCS game participants can't GIVE away their tickets to bowl games.  Or at least compete with rock bottom prices on the secondary market.  Pre-BCS, it seemed that fans thirsted to travel to New Orleans, Miami, or Pasadena to see their team battle a non-conference heavyweight.  The Rose Bowl is still more than healthy, but fans of schools like Clemson, Ohio State, or Central Florida seem to think "ehh, that's a long way for a game that doesn't really matter for national or conference stakes."  And colleges eat the cost of guaranteed ticket sales, putting a serious dent in the alleged financial reward for going to BCS games.

So what is causing it?
1) Television coverage has gotten so good, it's a better fan experience.
The BCS Championship game will have no fewer than NINE channels from the ESPN family of networks covering aspects of the game.  NFL has so many controversial referee calls and crucial replay reviews (and TV time outs), that the fan at the game is sitting there almost bored.  Plus with DVR capabilities, the game can be paused, replays are at your fingertips, and you can zip through timeouts if you get behind.  TV's have gotten larger, higher quality picture, cheaper, and have better sound systems these days, as well.
Another TV timeout? Pardon me while I nap

2) Ticket prices are darn high.
The average BCS Bowl game ticket price (face) is well over $100.  The average NFL game ticket price is around $200.  The average baseball, hockey, and basketball vary between $25 and $60 per ticket (varies widely by market, and sometimes opponent).  A family of four can sit at home, watch the game (with the aforementioned outstanding TV coverage) for whatever the cable bill costs probably under $5 per day for all the games you can consume.  And let's not even talk about $20 parking...

3) ...and concessions...
With beer upwards of $8 per pour or bottle at pro sports venues, plus pretty average food (excepting baseball  parks, which I think stand above) at $10 per hot dog plus soft drink and chips, a meal for the family and a couple of beers for dad (or mom) gets to $100 pretty quickly.  Not to mention the lines (missing the game), and the natural consequence of drinking beer (another line to wait in).  Order two pizzas and get a six pack of beer and/or soda for the family, and you'll probably be under $20 and have plenty of leftovers.  And a clean restroom that smells nice.
Missing a quarter of the game in line and spending $50
is growing less appealing by the game

4) People are busy, attending games takes time.
For a 3-hour game, most fans will be pulling into a parking spot about 30 mins before kickoff, face off, tip off, or first pitch.  They probably left their home 30 minutes or more before that assuming manageable traffic.  They'll probably take 30 minutes to get back to the car and another 30 minutes home assuming reasonable traffic.  That's now 5 hours for a 3-hour game.  Let alone if it runs into extra innings, overtime, or a shootout.  Not to mention if you want to tailgate, head for drinks after, etc.  Families have a lot going on (kids events, work, sleep, meals) and dedicated 5 hours to one activity can be burdensome.  Think about a weekday game, it's the whole night and the kids will be on short sleep the next day.  Meanwhile at home, you can tune in right at the start, and even turn it off when it's no longer fun to watch.  For college football fans who tend to have to travel across cities, a game becomes a whole weekend.
Not the way people like spending their day

5) Attention spans are short.
In today's hyper-fast internet age, fans rarely focus on one game or activity.  The tendency is to surf the TV to find the best game, text or tweet friends about the game, or update Facebook status as things unfold (or just post a photo of your seats to make your friends jealous).  If you go the game, you are pretty much locked in to that one event.  Then it seems foolish to pay all that money to then sit in your seat and stare at your phone updating Facebook or Tweeting.  The broader fan experience is to watch games with friends via social media, not via your eyes and whatever drunk is sitting next to you.  Done much easier at home.
Even courtside seats and Laker Girls can't pry this
celebrities eyes off his Twitter feed

From a personal standpoint, I do attend many college football and professional baseball games.  I love to focus the subtle things you can see at the game (fielder positioning, appreciation for the speed of the athletes, the roar for a good play).  But other sports (like NFL, NBA, or college hoops), I'd just as soon watch at home.  So there's my line for attending sports events, what's yours?

- David Whitlock


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