First Pitch: Is Going to a Live Sporting Event Better Than the Alternatives?

I can’t say that I care at all about the A.J. Burnett tweet tonight about empty seats at PNC Park. If you missed it, here it is:

That of course caused an uproar, which is usually what happens when you suggest that fans should be at the game when they aren’t. Of course Burnett wasn’t really saying that — he was only commenting that there were empty seats — but the message was implied. Not everyone was mad at Burnett for commenting on the lack of empty seats. Some supported him, and they were all retweeted by him. If there was one crime Burnett made tonight, it was retweeting people who were doing nothing other than asking for retweets, but that’s just my opinion.

PNC Park wasn't packed tonight. (Photo by: David Hague)

PNC Park wasn’t packed tonight. (Photo by: David Hague)

One theme I’ve noticed lately has been that the TV numbers for the Pirates have been great. This year the Pirates have been putting up the highest TV ratings ever on ROOT Sports (and I’m assuming that also includes when they were FSN Pittsburgh). They also put up the highest rating for any MLB franchise on a regional sports network in two years back in July.

The attendance at games has been up this year. Last year they drew 2,091,918. That was the highest numbers since PNC Park opened. This year they are at 2,086,916 after tonight’s game. So tomorrow they will pass last year’s attendance figures, and they will still have four games to go. That said, they probably won’t pass the 2.4 M record set in 2001 when PNC Park opened.

The TV ratings are way up, while the attendance increase has only been slight from last year. That had me thinking about how we watch the games now, compared to how we previously watched games. In the past you had two choices to watch the game: on a small TV in standard definition, or actually go to the game if you were anywhere close. Now TVs are a lot bigger, they’re in high definition, and the result is that you can sit on your couch with a great big, extremely clear view of the game.

Everyone has their own setup. In my office I’ve got five screens going when a game is on. The big screen on the wall shows the Pirates. My laptop is positioned on the desk in front of me, where I can quickly glance up at the game, then back down to type. To my left is a monitor splitting my laptop screen, dedicated solely to my Twitter feed. On the desk beside me is another monitor running off a different computer, which I use for spreadsheets when writing articles, or for watching other games. Next to that is an older TV that is hooked up to an XBox 360, for all of the serious work that goes on in the office. And if I have someone over, we’ll watch in the living room, probably with laptops or tablets in front of us while we’re watching.

There are benefits to going to a live game. The biggest benefit is the atmosphere. But that benefit is quickly being replicated at home by Twitter and other social media outlets. There’s nothing like the roar of the crowd and the electric feel in a packed stadium when things are going well. But watching a Twitter screen instantly blow up with keymashes, nicknames for every player, and celebration is pretty much the online equivalent of a crowd going wild. It might not have the same feel as being at the game, but it does allow you to share the moment with other fans.

It’s to the point where I can’t watch games without Twitter. Even if I’m not tweeting, it’s nice to see what others are saying about a game to see if they share the same opinion I do. It’s not like this is a new concept. Message boards have had game threads for years, although Twitter provides a streaming feed of instant thoughts, and is a bit more mainstream than message boards. And I’m speaking as someone who posted on message boards for years before starting this site and spending more time on Twitter.

Fans can now watch games at home and still experience the game with other fans, even if that doesn’t fully replicate the live atmosphere. There are also benefits of watching at home versus going to a game.

When the game is on, the only effort I have to make is picking up my Roku remote, flipping to the MLB.tv app, and selecting the Pirates game. For a live game in Pittsburgh you’ve got to drive to the game, deal with the tunnel traffic, pay for parking, make your way into the stadium, and find your seat. When the game is over you’ve got to do all of that in reverse, while the person at home can just flip over to Netflix, or start playing Grand Theft Auto V.

Twenty feet away from my office is my kitchen. The beer inside costs $15 for a case, rather than $15 for two beers. There’s all of my favorite game snacks, like Sweetberries, Greek yogurt, and other stuff that you wouldn’t find at the game. Just like the beer, the food is much cheaper at home. The one benefit of the stadium in the food department is that I don’t know many homes that have a nacho cheese dispenser to get stadium nachos. Actually, I just added something to my Christmas wish list.

At home your view is uninterrupted. You don’t have to stand up every other inning because someone in your row arrived late, or wanted to go to the bathroom or get food during an inning. The bathroom is a few steps away, and it’s cleaner than a stadium bathroom. You don’t have people trying to start the wave ten feet away from you, and if you do, you can kick those people out. The similarity here is that you hear people “wooing” no matter where you watch the game. At least at home you can mute the TV.

With all of the technology we have, why would you go to a game? There might be benefits to going to a live game, but I’m not sure those benefits are worth the price you have to pay for a live game, plus the time spent going to and from the game, and the lack of convenience you have at the stadium compared to in your own home. Maybe it would have been before the invention of Twitter, HDTV, and bigger screens, but that’s not the case anymore.

A baseball game is the same as any other form of entertainment. You go to games for the same reason you go to movies, concerts, or any other live event. The atmosphere is the primary reason, but also it’s entertaining to go to a live event. That said, there’s probably a reason TV ratings are way up this year, while attendance ratings have only slightly increased. You have to wait months to watch a movie at home. You can’t watch a concert at home. But you can watch a live sporting event at home, as it is happening, and with more convenience than you get at the stadium. So it’s not surprising that you’d see a lot of empty seats on a Tuesday night in September, despite a playoff race. That doesn’t mean people aren’t watching. It probably just means they’re watching from home.

Links and Notes

**Offense Lackluster Again in 5-2 Loss

**Pirates Notebook: Glasnow Reflects on 2013

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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