Sunday, March 31, 2013

Very Different - Live vs TV

by Bill Holmes

Cowboys Stadium
I had the opportunity recently to go to the NCAA Basketball Tournament South Region round of 16 games. The south region games were here locally at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The stadium is only about 12 miles from where I live. I don't consider Arlington, Texas a typical South location but I've already addressed the NCAA geographical problems in another blog. I spent the outrageous amount of money for tickets because the Florida Gators were playing. I've been a Gators fan since my childhood growing up in Florida. We don't get to see the Gators very often here in north Texas so this year I'm glad the NCAA is geographically impaired.  Most importantly, I got to go with my youngest son who is also a huge Gators fan. As a bonus we got to see  a terrific Kansas - Michigan game before the Gators played. Then the Gators won. It was a great evening and night and turned out to be well worth the money.

All that is just a little background for the real point of this blog. I'd like to talk about the differences
between seeing an event live and watching it on TV. For this exercise I'm talking mostly about sporting events, in particular the NCAA South Regional's. Some of my observations also apply to other events.

Besides going to the games, I also recorded them. I've watched much of what I recorded so here are my views. I've been to many live games and concerts but this may be the first I ever recorded and then watched again.

The first big difference is you have to plan for going to a live event. You have to buy tickets, figure out a schedule, think about traffic and parking, pay attention to the weather, etc. At home you just need to plan to have stuff in the fridge and cupboards and pay your cable bill.

Cowboys Stadium Menu 
In this particular case we decided to leave home about two and a half hours before the first game. That would give us time to drive through rush hour traffic, get good parking and eat an early supper before going to the game. That's usually our plan when going to live games. Better to eat good food and have a reasonably priced beverage before going to the stadium where mediocre (at best) $10 hot dogs and beers are the norm. As it turned out, the restaurant offered free parking for the games if you spent a certain amount. We managed to spend about a $1.50 more than required and had an excellent meal. After that we had to walk a little less than a mile to the Stadium. That was a good thing after a large and satisfying meal. On the way, we passed $30, $40 and $50 parking and that was before we even got to the actual stadium parking lots.

For viewing at home you have to remember to turn on the TV. I usually manage to get free parking on the couch or recliner. I hardly ever charge my guests for food and the beers are way less than $9. The food may not be gourmet but it won't be an overpriced crap hot dog either. Parking is always free and very close by.

The second difference is the cost of the event. That difference is pretty drastic. In the past, the
difference between live events and TV was almost infinite since TV was free. Now days it's not quite infinite but probably pretty close. If you divide your monthly cable bill by how much stuff you watch, any specific hour or two is pretty cheap. That's not the case with most live events these days. They are expensive. For popular sporting and music events it's even worse. Scalpers and ticket brokers buy up most of the tickets and then resell them at a higher price. I paid well over twice face value for the NCAA tickets when service, processing, handling and delivery charges (all scams) were added. I'm a little spoiled and old fashion in this regard. I've been to a lot of sporting events and concerts that were actually affordable. I was at that 1964 Beatles concert in Jacksonville. Check the price on the ticket. There were $4 tickets too. Somewhere along the line affordable changed to whatever the traffic will bear. The rise in ticket prices far outpaces the rate of inflation.

Tickets for all my home events are very reasonable and most are free. I never add a service or handling charge.

At the actual event there are a ton of differences. At a live venue the seats a not as comfortable, the bathroom if farther away and probably grosser, there is no fridge nearby, although a vendor with cold beverages may come by but not on your schedule, and every time you go somewhere you have to crawl over people and go up or down stairs. People stand up in front of you or walk by in the aisle and block your view. Of course there was a tall guy sitting in front of us. He stood up for every good play or crucial situation. Matt and I had to stand for the last several minutes of regulation and all of the overtime period. Thankfully he left shortly after the Gators game started. Depending on the venue you might have to deal with less than ideal weather. I've been at Rangers Ballpark in the rain and August heat.

Here the fridge, pantry and bathroom are all within 15 steps of the TV and no stairs. I have a choice of a couch, recliner and a couple of chairs, all comfortable. The bathrooms are relatively clean. The heat and AC work fine and the roof doesn't leak. There's room to go around rather than over anyone else sitting nearby. You can walk on either side of the coffee table.

Now on to the actual differences in viewing the game. Maybe the biggest difference is at a live event there is no running commentary. No one to tell you what you are watching or how to interpret it. You have to depend on your own eyes to tell you what is going on. Charles Barkley couldn't tell me if a play was good or bad. There is no halftime analysis show so obviously you have no idea what you just watched. Halftime is for finding a bathroom and maybe a concession stand.

We watched the games from behind the team benches and official scorer's table. The TV viewpoint was from the other side of the court. That gives you a different perspective on the game but is a little confusing. A play you remember going left to right now goes right to left. You tend to get the halves confused. Some plays that were an obvious foul from one side of the court look totally different from the other side. Today's stadiums have big video displays so you do get some replays but not nearly as many as on TV plus you don't get the TV expert analysis of the replay. Without the expert analysis there is no way you can interpret the replay. Some controversial calls are not shown on the stadium screens. I've noticed this often at baseball games. They don't want to show up the umpires.

The number and length of the game stoppages are intrusive. Most of the timeouts were not called by the teams involved, they were called by the officials and TV. When you are at home these stops in the action seem normal and are filled with commercials or an update on other games. At the live event they are a real pain. It's amazing how long they last. Not long enough to make a bathroom run but long enough to get your attention. Basketball needs to flow a little more quickly. TV and the referees need to figure out how to speed up the games but I'm not holding my breath in hope that will happen. TV has to get the commercials in.

I was amazed at how few updates we got about the other Sweet 16 games going on at the same time. I would have thought that with the 60 yard scoreboard, baby scoreboard hanging from it, smaller screens and display panels circling the arena there would be room to show other scores. We did get a very few updates during timeouts and halftime.

Now a few specifics about the NCAA games we attended.

Cowboys Stadium is a magnificent venue with a 60 yard wide video display. Despite that, Jerry Jones or the NCAA decided it was necessary to hang a smaller display from the big one, one that is more like those found in basketball arenas. Maybe it was necessary so those close to the court could see a scoreboard. Big and little screens showed the same thing. I'm not a big fan of Jerry's Jiant screen. If you are in a middle or upper deck it is almost impossible to watch the game on the field. The screen dominates your view. From the lower levels it's not quite as intrusive. Another gripe is that the giant screen was a little out of ratio. It seemed a little squished top to bottom and spread out side to side. If your friend the cheerleader asks, I'm afraid the answer is "Yes, that made your butt look big". Giant screens are not kind for most close-ups. College kids with zits do not look good on a 60 yard HD screen. That four foot wide pimple is not attractive. By the way, if you watched the game on TV you may have seen the FGCU Cinderella. She was much more attractive live than on the video screen. The smaller screen hanging from the giant screen had a better ratio. My home screen is slightly less than 60 yards wide but the ratio is perfect.

For basketball, the permanent lower level sideline seats (aka expensive) are covered by temporary flooring, seats, aisles and railings that slope from the court to the lower level boxes. Seems like there would be a better way. There are also way more people on that lower level than during a Cowboys football game. The smaller playing field (court) leaves much more room for seating on what would normally be the football field. Ingress, egress and concessions are not made for that many people on that stadium level.

WiFi and cell coverage in the stadium was less than desirable. Cell coverage was barely OK for simple text but crapped out while trying to send a picture. WiFi was just atrocious. Cowboys Stadium allegedly has AT&T WiFi. I was able to connect a couple of times but never for more than a minute or so. It didn't get any better when over half the folks from the Michigan - Kansas game left. Right now here at home it shows AT&T WiFi out of range the same as it did sometimes when I was in the stadium. Amazingly, I have fair cell coverage and great WiFi coverage here at home. In fact, I'm WiFi connected right now as I type this blog, just as you probably are while reading it.

Unknowingly the NCAA saved me a fortune. There were no beer sales at the stadium for the general public. I don't know about the suites. Beer is usually $9 plus there's a tip if you buy from a roving vendor. I did buy one bottle of water which was only a very reasonable $5. We were at the stadium for over five hours so I imagine I would have consumed a few beers had they been available. There is always beer available at my place and you can get nine or 10 for the price of one at the stadium. No tips either.

Yes, it is a hassle and expensive to go to a live event. You can get better views, cheaper food and beverages, fewer tall people sitting in front of you and a more comfortable seat at home. So why go to a live event? It's because you are in the middle of the action. You can feel the atmosphere rather than just watching it. We were sitting next to the main Kansas section on Friday night. They were a jovial, happy group during most of the game. When Michigan tied it in regulation, you could feel the trepidation from the Kansas crowd. When Michigan won the game in OT, you could feel their joy and the despair and disappointment from the Kansas faithful. When FGCU got off to a fast start against Florida there was electricity in the arena. Everybody but true Gators was rooting for the Cinderella team. When Florida regained the lead you could feel the letdown and the Kansas and Michigan fans began to leave in droves. You couldn't get those dynamics sitting at home watching on TV.

Bottom line is I love that I can watch so many events on TV. I get to watch almost every Texas Rangers game. I get a chance to see most Florida Gators football games. I've watched many of the NCAA Tournament games even though I only went to two of them.  I'm grateful that there is so much sports and entertainment on TV. I'm also grateful that we still have live events. I'll watch most of the Rangers games on TV, but any chance I get, I'll go to the stadium. If it's a team or a game you care about then being there in the moment is better. You can live without the play by play babble. You can figure out what happened without Charles Barkley or Tim McCarver telling you. You can fight the crowd at the bathroom. You can even look at stuff the TV camera isn't pointed at. Go to a concert. The artists may hit a bad note and maybe won't sound exactly like on the album but it's a much better experience than listening to the CD or MP3 alone. You may get hot or cold or wet. You may get a beverage spilled on you. You may also make new friends. You'll get to share the thrill of victory or agony of defeat. You can bond with other Parrot Heads. Group dynamics are powerful and most experiences are better when they are shared. So get out there and support your team or favorite entertainer. You'll probably have a damn good time.


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