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

Tim Williams

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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  • Lino Donoso

    Has AJ been watching The A’s attendance? Pathetic (A’s attendance, that is).

  • Lino Donoso

    Should have continued. . .overall, I found your comments about the relative advantages of watching at home v. attending the game very interesting. Lots of implications for the economics of small market teams especially, and The Game generally. If TV revenues increase in relative importance over time (with the advantage of their stability), and the fan experience of involvement and atmosphere is augmented by social networks, I’d expect upward pressure on the costs of game attendance as clubs try to stabilize lost or flat revenues from those attending the games. Maybe increases in ticket prices, food, parking and paraphernalia. Or, creative pricing/packaging (buy a certain level ticket, get free/reduced price reserved parking (if current contracts allow that). Or maybe increased efforts to reach fans outside the immediate market area. With so many former Pittsburghers scattered around the country, this may be a competitive opportunity for the Bucs (Pirates Nation!). Still, the big markets will continue to be big, the small markets small.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

    You also don’t have some crazy person yelling OUT every 5 seconds or some other crazy person humming the national anthem the whole game right next to you. There are the morons who yell woo which is easier to ignore when you’re watching on TV instead of at the game.
    .
    Maybe that’s part of the atmosphere.
    .
    TV is a big reason for the empty seats but I would guess the long season and now chilly weather are playing a role as well. Also it is a weekday, id expect full houses this weekend.
    .
    By the way, I’m going to the game tonight.

  • CalipariFan506

    I think the games should start at 6:30 instead of 7:00

  • johndw28

    On another note Tim- Greg Brown mentioned that there may be an issue with Justin Wilson’s health which might explain his drop in velocity other night? Do you have any updates on this? I am very concerned about bullpen at this point in time. If Justin can’t be counted on the only guys I really feel comfortable in leverage situations are Watson, Melancon and possibly Farnsworth.

    Don’t really want to see much of Hughes, Morris or even Grilli at this point in time. If Wilson is finished for season I think that would be very big loss.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

    The Pirates will not – and should not – bring back A.J. Burnett next year – at any price. Hurdle, the coaches, and his teammates have to be fed up with his childish act.

  • dcpinpgh

    AJ has almost 50,000 people following him. His tweet was to his 50,000 followers not the creepers. If he ticked off some creepers, well the creepers need to spend their time more wisely. Stop looking for reasons to be ticked off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

    In front of the sell-out crowds that showed up for Burnett’s 7 career post-season starts, he has a 5.08 ERA.

  • piratemike

    I just don’t think it is right for a guy who has made at least $100mm to tell people how to spend their money
    If he wants to have a sellout every night why doesn’t he and the other millionaires on the team make up the difference by giving out tickets and popping for a couple hot dogs and a drink?
    AJ talks about how great the Burg is, that’s probably because there isn’t 50 million people packed onto an island like sardines.

  • smurph

    Good points both in the article and the comments. There are factors. Number one, the experience of watching a game is very improved with my 52″ HD screen. Number two, of course, is the economics. Many people don’t have the money to spend $200. or more for their family to drive to the game, pay to park, buy tickets and refreshments. Eight bucks a beer at the game or one dollar a beer at home? Easy choice. Also, people have less free time than they used to. It is not just the 3 to 3 1/2 hrs for a game. Driving back and forth, dealing with traffic. You can do other things while you are at home – take care of some things during the game. As Tim said the atmosphere of the game and the excitement of the game make it worthwhile to attend a couple of games a year, hopefully Pirate wins, as leaving after a loss kind of leaves a bad ending to a good evening. The comment about multi-millionaires (baseball players) being unable to relate to normal people who earn normal incomes is right on.

  • TNBucs

    Three comments:

    1. Last night I was coaching a youth sports practice until close to 8–surely AJ realizes that there are more important things than attending a game no matter how much we love the Bucs;

    2. But then if AJ wants to finance my trip to PNC, I’ll cancel the next practice and attend (Tim–you can give AJ my contact info if he asks);

    3. If you’re spending $15 for a case of beer, you should upgrade your beer.

    • TNBucs

      BTW, I love attending games live–it’s just hard given where I live, family, and finances to work in more than one series per season.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      Someone asked me about #3 on Twitter. I refer to a case as a 12 pack of bottles. I guess some people refer to a case as 24 or more, and that’s usually cans. I’ve never really seen a case of bottles with more than 12, unless it’s general stuff like Bud or Coors, which I don’t drink. Magic Hat is my go-to.

      • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

        Rolling Rock Pony Bottles came 48 to a case if my memory is right about this. One could buy a case of them at the Rathskeller in State College. It was an odd thing to do, order a case of beer in a bar to drink in the bar!

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

          I drank Rolling Rock all the time during college, but I also lived in VA. So all we had was the 12 pack of bottles. They later came out with a bigger case of cans where I lived after Budweiser bought them.

  • rohabi

    Interesting article. $15 for a case of beer? Are you drinking Hamms, PBR, Old Mil? I’m a High Life guy, myself.

  • dcpinpgh

    The play off tickets got snapped up in like 5 minutes…and the play off tickets are way more expensive then the cheap seats on a Tues night. People just didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to go. It’s ok. I said the same thing as AJ when I saw the empty bleachers, “wow, its empty there” What did all of you think when you saw the crowd? Did anyone say, that’s a good turn out?

    Did you guys see the turn out at the Panthers of the NHL game?

    http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2013/09/16/panthers-president-addresses-lightly-attended-preseason-game/

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      Makes sense that the playoff games were sold out so quick. That’s much different than a regular Tuesday night game in September.

  • CalipariFan506

    Tonight I was at the game. Crowd was leaving after McCutchen’s HR in the 7th. It wasn’t even 9:00. Start games at 6:00. People are more likely to head down straight from work so they can be home by 9:30. Not sit around for an hour or two, and know they won’t be home until after 10:00 at the earliest if they want to see 9 innings.

    In the old days most folks worked 9 to 5. Now a lot of people work at 7 and 8 AM. The games are simply too late, especially in September when school is in. You start these games an hour earlier you get more fans.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      A few points there from a business perspective:

      1. The benefits of starting a game at 7 are much better for TV revenues, compared to starting games at 6 for gate revenues. Also, all games start at 7, so that might be a MLB thing.

      2. If people leave early, that doesn’t impact the Pirates. They still sold tickets to those fans. So moving the start time up wouldn’t have any financial benefit in this case.

      I think it’s just a case where you’re going to have bad attendance on a Tuesday night in September, even if you’re in a playoff race.

      • CalipariFan506

        That is true about TV.

        I also think the major underlying problem is a small season ticket base to fall back on. Teams like Toronto drew the same crowd last night but it probably has something to do with their big money offseason moves that boosted initial season ticket sales and that is still reflecting now.

        Maybe next year when the season ticket base increases we’ll see closer to 27,000 instead of 22,000 on these nights, even when there aren’t many more actual butts in the stands.