Has TV Killed the Live Sports Experience?

Published on: March 20, 2012 | Written by: Clay Travis

Fans would rather watch sports on television than go to the actual games.

Nearly sixty years after pro sports owners wrestled with how to maintain gate revenues in a television era -- this is how we got blackouts -- the HD flat-screen TV product has surpassed the in-game experience. It's Back to the Future for sports. Turns out all those executives who worried that television would eventually kill the gate revenues were right. They were just way ahead of the curve. 

One of the best books on sports that has been written, "America's Game" by Michael McCambridge, spends hundreds of pages detailing NFL owner fears about how television would destroy the live gate. Those fears weren't realized in the 1950's, but sixty years later they're suddenly here.

In fact, I'll go ahead and say it, I would much rather watch games on television than I would see them in person.  

I'm a season ticket holder for the NFL's Tennessee Titans, but come Sunday at noon I'd rather sit on my couch and watch eight NFL games on the RedZone channel than one game in person.

And I'm not alone.

Lots of y'all feel just like me.

Especially if you're in my generation, under the age of 35 and accustomed to watching any game you want on television.

In fact, for members of our television viewing experience, actually attending a game in person can feel like the inauthentic experience.

Think about how crazy this is. Televised sports feels more real than real life sports. Perhaps that's because I've been conditioned to watch sports on television. With TV you get the best angle and the best replays. In person your eyes are a poor substitute for the dozens of camera eyes that can be culled to give us the best views.

Every time I'm at an NFL game, I always think, man, this looks so much better on television. You probably think the same.

And what am I gaining by being at the game?

At the stadium beers are expensive, my seats are not as good as they would be from my couch, replays of controversial plays are virtually nonexistent -- how often do you have to text a friend to see whether or not a call will stand? -- there are no significant highlights of other games, it's impossible to go the bathroom without missing plays, my smart phone signal isn't consistent because the circuits are often overloaded, travel to and from the event takes a lot of time, and the game itself might suck.

Oh, and it's expensive. Really damn expensive to go to a game. Especially if you want decent seats and have to pay for more than one person.

At home none of these things are true.

That's why giving away tickets to live sporting events has become a time honored tradition across the country. But how bad has it gotten? Sometimes you can't even find any takers for sold seats. 

People won't even go for free. (Put simply, I don't buy ticket cost as the primary reason people aren't going). 

Back in the day when you squinted to watch a 20 inch television screen in non-HD, television was a poor substitute for actual games.

You wanted to experience the event.

Now?

Televised sports are superior to live sports.

What's more, with the rise of social media it's more fun to watch a television broadcast and follow along with what your favorite commentators are saying than it is to watch a game with a friend or two at a stadium. Would I rather read my at mentions on Twitter or watch a shopping cart race at a Titans game?

No contest. (Apologies to Molly Moo).

I struggle with this at OKTC and 3HL, my radio show. Does it make more sense for me to be at games or sitting at home on my couch like a regular fan? After all, 99% of the people who want to talk about a game after it ends have been watching the television broadcast, not sitting in the seats. And here's the deal, I'd rather watch on television too.  

If I haven't seen the television broadcast then it's actually harder for me to connect with other fans than if I've watched it live.

My most read "game stories" are almost always for games I didn't go to.

And it's got me wondering, if people in my generation are increasingly disinterested in actually attending games, what's to come of massive stadiums that are increasingly empty for all but the biggest games?

Now the NFL television contract is so massive that the actual gate from games has become less and less important to the teams, but with live attendance dwindling across the sports spectrum -- look in major league baseball, the NBA, or early round NCAA tournament game stands for visual evidence -- is television slowly strangling the live sports crowd?

I think so.

And if that's the case could we be moving towards a sporting era where teams have to sell exclusive luxury experiences to get fans to attend live games?

Instead of a 70,000 seat stadium where owners make comparatively small sums off 30,000 or more fans in the "cheap" seats, could we be heading for smaller football stadiums -- say 40,000 seats -- with better visuals, more amenities, and higher costs? Or is that size stadium still too big?

I'm going to write about this for the rest of the week, but I wanted to get y'all's opinions.

What doesn't exist now that could make a live sporting event better? What changes could occur that could make a fan leave the couch in favor of the game experience?

In the meantime, it's worth contemplating, just like video killed the radio star, sixty years after owners initially feared it would, has television killed live sports?