26 October 2010
This statement goes against the very fabric of this blog's existence, but we fear that the value of the live stadium experience is degrading. With each new high definition technology, added camera angle and on-screen "PitchTrax" box, watching at home on a big screen HDTV or at a bar with friends is becoming increasingly more appealing. Think about it - in terms of knowing exactly what happens, as it happens (one of the main benefits of attending a live sporting event in the first place), the stadium experience is lacking. This point is backed up by our recent experience at Yankee Stadium for game four of the Yankees' 2010 American League Championship Series against the Texas Rangers.
During that pivotal game, there were no less than three defining moments in the game that fans in many areas of the stadium (including our section, section 428) were left wondering about:
- In the second inning, Robinson Cano launched a ball to right field that barely reached the front row of seats to put the Yankees up 1-0. Immediately, Nelson Cruz pointed into the seats, protesting for fan interference. Rangers manager Ron Washington came out to argue. Up in section 428, we were left diving for our smartphones or calling relatives to find out what REALLY happened. Even after watching replays, it was inconclusive and subjective, but shouldn't fans in attendance have the opportunity to see it?
- Later that same inning, the experience repeated itself as Lance Berkman blasted what appeared to be a solo home run down the right field line to put the Yankees up 2-0. The crowd went crazy, but was immediately hushed when the umpires convened in the middle of the diamond and Yankees PA guy Paul Olden announced that the play was being reviewed. Fans at home (or in bars, or in the luxury suites at the stadium) saw replay after replay of the ball clearly sailing foul, while those of us who were "unlucky" enough to be at game four of the 2010 ALCS were left in the dark. Eventually, the umpires came out to make the correct call, but fans in attendance never had the "luxury" of watching the replay on the 100 foot HD video board that was standing idly by. Once again, smartphones were used by people AT THE GAME to try to replicate the home viewing experience. Weird.
- In the fifth, Mark Teixeira hit a chopper to third base and barely beat out a double play. From section 428, it appeared as though Teixeira had slid into first - and injured his leg doing so. All around, people were wondering why he would have been so dumb to slide into first base and get hurt in the fifth inning of ALCS game four. As fans at home knew immediately (and those of us at the game found out a couple of innings later), Teixeira had pulled his hamstring and what looked like a slide into first was actually him crumbling to the ground in agony and he'd probably be done for the rest of the season. We even took a video of the play from our vantage point: Does that not look like he slid into first base? Why couldn't we have seen a replay on the 100 foot HD board so we weren't yelling like idiots about a key player sliding into first base like an idiot?
Before anyone goes off in the comments section explaining that this is the way attending a live sporting event has always been, let us explain our point. Ever since the average fan was priced out of the seats closest to the field, the allure of attending live sporting events has been the camaraderie of 50,000 like-minded fanatics and the resulting atmosphere. Our argument is that with the enhanced at-home baseball viewing experience via new technologies, the desire to experience "mystique and aura" is at risk of being replaced by "I want to see the damn pivotal moments." Also, when you go to a game, you might run into this guy (who actually DID get to see that Cano play, up close and personal):
We wouldn't have written this post if we didn't have at least the beginnings of a solution, so here it is: get rid of the antiquated policy of not showing key replays on the HD video boards. We appreciate that sports
teams [leagues, see update below] don’t want to incite riots and put the umps on blast for blown calls, but keeping fans in the dark is not a way to keep them going to games in large numbers, or to keep them engaged while they are at the game. In our increasingly information-based and digital society, people EXPECT to have information at their fingertips. Therefore, the fix is simple – show replays on the video board immediately. Make umpires responsible for their calls and enlighten fans, providing a better experience. They'll look at their smartphones less and enjoy the game more. Everyone wins.
UPDATE (10/26 1:35 PM): Already some great responses on Twitter. @gcf123 points out that the "no replay policy" is the doings of MLB and not the individual teams. This is a great point that gets to the crux of the issue. If teams want fans to pay their hard-earned money to attend games, it is their job to advocate for fans and improve the experience. It is up to the teams to understand how advances in technology (and rules changes such as the introduction of official instant replay) are affecting the fan experience, so they can present it to the league. Each individual team runs promotions to get fans into the seats, why shouldn't it be their job to continue to go to bat for those fans when league policies make absolutely no sense?