” Should I stay or should I go”
I used to work in sports television. I was one of the guys who sat inside a converted tractor trailer in a maintenance area, parking lot, or the bowels of a stadium, staring at close to a hundred tiny television screens, yelling at people. I was part of, or led teams, that broadcast golf tournaments, car races, baseball/football/basketball games, motocross events, volleyball, field hockey, water polo, and soccer. I watched from there so you could watch from home.
I am also a fan, having attended many of those same events after having bought a ticket or been invited to attend. I’ve walked the fairways, sat in the bleachers, enjoyed corporate suites and the best seats in the house. I love sports. I loved producing and directing sports for television and I love watching sports. As those of us who are sports fans wait for MLB, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and other professional and college sports to resume we wonder how it will all look and sound. We wait for the “okay” to attend in person and in the meantime watch our favorites on the telly. I’m waiting too and while I wait I thought I’d give you my perspective of the best way to watch.
YOU’RE BETTER FOR HAVING BEEN THERE
Several sports fit into this category. The most notable for me are (in no particular order):
College Football and Basketball
The best in arena v television experience for me is hockey. The game is so fast and the athletes are so impressive that you can’t get the same experience by watching on television as you can from a seat, any seat, in the building. The nuances, the line changes, the strategy, the speed, and the puck are all lost, or mostly lost on a TV screen. If you’re a sports fan and have never been… go to a hockey game.
I feel the same way about the in-person experience of a baseball game but for different reasons. The noise, the feel, the surroundings of a game in a big league stadium is an unrivaled sports experience for me. If you’ve read some of my musings you know I am an unapologetic baseball fan. It’s my favorite sport and, despite MLB’s best efforts to change my mind (universal DH), it always will be. Go to a game, sit in the stands, eat a hot dog and drink a beer. Watch the players in the field, but even better, in the dugout. The only drawback to going to a game in person is that it means you can’t listen to your favorite broadcasters. That would be Mike Krukow, Duane Kiper and Brian Anderson for me.
The in-building experience for major college sports is also leaps and bounds above watching those games on TV especially if it’s a game at a big time arena. Watching football and Notre Dame or Ohio State or Michigan or Alabama is goosebump inducing. Seeing a contest at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Allen fieldhouse or Pauley Pavilion will be a lasting memory. Sure there are too many TV timeouts but that just gives you more time to enjoy the antics of the students in attendance.
How many times have you watched, in person, elite athletes compete in a swimming, track or gymnastics meet? Watched water polo in person? Seen a weightlifting, fencing, boxing, or judo competition? If the answer is never you are missing out on some of the most interesting and compelling competition in sport. Every two years a lot of us are glued to our televisions when athletes, representing countries from all over the globe, compete in the Olympic Games. Those events give us dozens of memorable moments. Keep watching but if you get the chance to go to a National Championship, or an Olympic qualifier, in any of these sports don’t think twice. Go.
There’s No Place Like Home
By contrast watching some sports is just better from the comfort of your living room, man cave, or friends house. These, again in no particular order are:
I spent most of my career in sports television broadcasting in the golf space. I wrote a book about my life in TV called, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat). I tell a bunch of behind-the scenes stories. Go buy it. Anyway, my point is I have been to hundreds, maybe thousands of golf tournaments in my life and I can say in no uncertain terms that the best place to watch a golf tournament is on TV. In person you can watch one hole or a few players at a time. TV can give you the entirety of the golf course, most, if not all, of the players in contention and a running leaderboard to let you know where the players stand to par and each other. You don’t get any of that on site. What you do get is exercise, fresh air, and the chance to see the backs and backs of heads of hundreds of golf fans just like you. If you’re going to a PGA TOUR event because you think your son or daughter is going to get a hat, ball, or pin flag signed by Tiger Woods, don’t. You’re not.
I would offer one caveat to this advice. If you have the chance to go to one of pro golf’s four major championships, DO IT. I know there’s even more people and less chance of seeing your favorite player up close and personal but being at a major is, or should be, a bucket list item for sports fans. Especially The Masters and I say that with no disrespect intended toward my friends at the U S Open, the British Open or the PGA Championship.
Auto racing is another sport, at least for me, that is best watched at home. The broadcasts are so good and so thorough that unless you like really loud noises, the smell of grease, ethanol and body odor just stay home and watch it all unfold. Again, there are exceptions. If you have access to pit road, get yourself to the track. And like the situation with golf if you get tickets or the chance to attend The Indy 500 or the Daytona 500 take advantage of that. Once.
The absolute, no doubt in my mind, worst sporting event to attend in person is an NFL game. I don’t care which team floats your boat the in game experience in any of the stadiums around the country is PAINFUL. So many stoppages of play, so little anything of interest between plays, and practically zero information about players, plays, and coaches is given to fans. It’s expensive, crowded and, at least for me, unfulfilling. Watch the game on TV, or better yet, get the NFL RedZone network and watch all the games on TV.
So that’s my primer, my advice. Take it with a grain of salt and go enjoy what you enjoy however you enjoy it. You may have noticed that I didn’t mention the NBA. That’s because I don’t watch it on tv or in person.