Is Watching Sports on TV Actually Better Than Being at the Game?

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterNovember 3, 2011

As a sports fan, there really is no better place to experience a big game than at the stadium.

The communal atmosphere. The buzz in the building. The fresh air. The feeling of 45,000 standing and cheering as one. The ticket stub you can stick in a scrap book forever to prove you were there.

There really is nothing like being at the game.

And yet, as a sports fan, there really is no worse place to watch a big game than at the stadium.

The hard plastic seats with no leg room. The obnoxious drunk sitting next to you, spilling his beer all over your shoes. The stupid kid behind you who won't stop kicking you in the neck. The terrible weather. The long lines for food and toilets. The lack of replay. Never being able to get a phone signal to see what everyone is talking about on Twitter. The two hours it takes to get out of the parking lots. 

Both good and bad, there really is nothing like being at the game.

Has the bad finally outweighed the good?

In the first episode of the Wide Left podcast, we spoke with Darren Rovell of CNBC, who mentioned that sports teams are increasingly competing with themselves to get fans into buildings. Rovell mentioned that some of his friends go to the game and then watch it on TV after they get home because they feel they miss too much being there.

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  A general view of the scoreboard at Cowboys Stadium on September 26, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Read that again—fans believe they have to watch a game on TV because they miss too much by actually being there. As crazy as that sounds, they might be right.

Without the benefit of a TV camera that could literally zoom into Nick Hardwick's prostate if the director called for it, we may never have known—and fans at the Chiefs-Chargers Monday Night Football contest surely couldn't know—that Philip Rivers closed his top hand too early, causing the fumble that cost the Chargers a victory. Score one for TV (and the Chiefs).

Has public sentiment about going to games really changed because of the ability to see more from home?

Do we care so much about having access to the other games going on with up-to-the-second fantasy stats that going to the game is somehow worse without those amenities?

Or does it all just come down to money?

Despite our astronomical cable bills, thanks in large part to the rights fees cable providers pay to networks like ESPN, paying for one month of cable is still cheaper than going to a professional sporting event. If your cable bill is $120 per month, that's around $30 each week, cheaper than just one ticket to almost any American live sporting event.

In fact, even if you can snag a ticket for $30 (and go to the game with your friends so you're not paying for a wife and kids to go with you) that doesn't include astronomical prices for parking and concessions. Going to a game has almost become impossible for the average fan to afford.

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  A detailed picture of bottles of beer before Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I went to an MLS stadium this year that offers parking for $20, beers between eight and 13 bucks—for one beer—and a nine-dollar hot dog. I love wieners as much as the next guy, but there is no way I'm spending nearly 10 bucks on one, no matter how big it is. (Wait, that came out wrong.)

If a league trying to find a fanbase in a sports-saturated market is okay with teams charging prices that are so extremely prohibitive for fans—not including the actual cost of a ticket—what are we to expect from the more traditional American leagues?

Heck, some colleges charge upwards of $35 to park if you come early to tailgate. Who is willing to pay that much to park a damn car? Who can afford to pay that much?

It will be interesting to see what the NBA does for fans when games start back up again (assuming games start back up again soon).

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 24: Philadelphia 76ers fans cheer during the second half of their 86-82 win over the Miami Heat in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 24, 2011 in Philadelphia,
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Will the NBA go out of its way to interact with fans more than it has in the past? The new owners of the Philadelphia 76ers told reporters during an introductory press conference a few weeks back that they are doing everything they can to make the experience in the arena more enjoyable and fulfilling for fans.

The Sixers have started by slashing ticket prices for some of their better seats, promising other benefits for being at the game once the season begins. The question is, really, what can they offer that's better than sitting at home and watching on TV?

Can we get giant bags of snacks for two bucks at the arena? Can we lie on the couch and fall asleep, only to rewind the game and catch up during commercials at the arena? Are pants suddenly optional at the arena?

While it would be amazing, those things won't likely happen at sporting events anytime soon. But there are a few things arenas can do to make the fan experience better.

Arenas can start offering TV screens on the backs of seats where fans can follow along with the telecast and rewind, if so inclined, for plays they want to see again.

Arenas can offer free wireless that actually works for all carriers, not just whatever phone company slapped a logo outside the building.

Arenas can offer extra benefits to those who show up to the building that fans sitting at home can't receive. And I'm not talking t-shirt cannons, as awesome as they are. Teams are going to have to get more creative.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 23:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts in the fourth quarter while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 23, 2011
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Rovell thinks a league like the NBA is in a great position to make the players more accessible to fans. If Kevin Durant is going to play flag football with college kids during the lockout, and countless NBA stars—Durant included—are playing street-ball games where fans can watch for free talk and talk to the players, why can't the league set up programs to have them play HORSE with kids a few hours before the game?

Why not have a league mandate that players sign autographs after the games? Why not make practice sessions always open to any season-ticket holders who want to come in and watch?

I don't want this to sound like teams aren't doing enough. Some teams do a great job with fan outreach. Some of the suggestions I just made have been implemented for years in buildings across the country.

And yet, in a dwindling economy with more and more options for our entertainment dollars, some teams need to figure out a way to do more or run the risk of losing more and more fans to their own product.

The irony of this whole situation is that seeing a packed building on TV somehow makes the game more exciting to watch. So in order for the TV experience to be at its best—and therefore better than the experience at the game—we need people to go to the games to fill those seats we can no longer afford to fill.

Maybe teams can start paying people to sit in the seats so the experience is better for the real fans at home.