There’s always a sense of excitement when game day comes around. But there’s always a crucial decision to make – to go to the game or watch on TV.
Being there is special. To see your heroes in the flesh performing their acts of greatness and to be part of the communal experience. To take in the atmosphere of the crowd. To be part of that atmosphere – cheering, booing, singing. Waving the flags as your team does well, or trying to put the opposition off.
To be there when history is made. It feels more real when you’re there.
But going to games isn’t without its inconveniences. Tickets are expensive, and sometimes hard to get. The view from the cheap seats isn’t great, often a long way from the action.
Getting there, and especially getting home, can be tricky and time-consuming. Navigating around crowded, infrequent and unreliable public transport, especially when there’s track work. Or the hassle of finding parking and getting stuck in traffic. It can take longer to travel than the game itself.
There are long queues when you want something to eat or drink and the prices are highway robbery.
And if you’re unlucky enough to have your reserved seats in the vicinity of drunken idiots it can be unpleasant, especially if you’ve got children with you.
The alternative is to stay home and watch on TV.
Convenience-wise, it’s a no-brainer. No traffic or train hassles. You can get food or drink out of the fridge without missing any of the game or paying the extortionate catering prices. And there is no risk of sharing the experience with undesirable ferals, unless you live with them.
And you don’t have to pay for a ticket. At worst, a pay-TV subscription, which is less than a family ticket to a single game per month and covers unlimited events.
When you’re watching on TV, the view always changes. You’re taken close to the action, at the best angle to see what’s going on. You get the best analysis from players and coaches with experience at the highest level.
TV coverage is constantly improving too, both in terms of quantity and quality. There’s more live sport televised than ever before, shown with better angles and graphics and detailed analysis that breaks down exactly what’s happening.
During the breaks in play, you can give the remote a workout and check scores of other matches that are happening at the same time. And if your team is putting on a truly dire performance, you can turn the thing off. And with no travel time, you can watch another game immediately before and after.
There’ll always be times you’ll be watching on TV. Teams play interstate, sometimes even overseas. And while interstate trips to see your team play are good fun, unless you’ve got a lot more time and money than I have, you can’t do all of them.
TV sport is big business these days. The driver of professional sport in this day and age are the dollars sporting organisations receive for TV rights. Measured not in millions, but billions. While the attendance figure posted on the scoreboard late in the game is important, the numbers that truly indicate the health of a contest are the TV ratings released the next day.
There’s no doubt the balance of power has swung to the broadcasters. Long gone are the days when live telecasts in the host city were outlawed for fear of hurting attendances. Now games are not only shown live, but are played progressively later to ensure higher TV ratings.
Kevin Sheedy, when asked how AFL had changed during his time in coaching, remarked that when he started teams trained at night and played in the day. Now they train in the day and play at night. And they play at night because the broadcasters, who are putting up the cash, want the games in prime-time to maximise ratings.
The line between attending and TV is becoming blurred. Even critical officiating decisions are made not on the field but in video bunkers.
When attending games, there are massive scoreboard screens to view replays. And thanks to mobile technology, fans can reference their own replays. At a recent live event on The Roar, Clyde Rathbone spoke of observing the crowd at a Brumbies game looking into their screens during a stoppage.
Then there’s the role of social media. If you’re not there, you can still interact with the game. If you are there, your thoughts can reach a wider audience. A witty one-liner shouted over the fence can struggle to be heard over the crowd din. But if the right hashtags are applied, the same one-liner will find itself retweeted virally.
With social media, and live blogs on sites like The Roar, we’re not just watching the game but are engaged with it. And there’s always an array of selfies from the ground and tweets making their way onto the scoreboard during the game.
An ad for a betting site that’s being played far too often has a fan proclaiming “I can shout and scream in 100 stadiums, all at the same time”. Not literally true, but such is the ever-increasing range of sports broadcasting and social media that it almost seems possible.
But for all the advances in broadcasting and the greater convenience it offers, it doesn’t, and can’t, ever replace the buzz of being there.
When you’re at the game, you’re not just watching. You’re part of the game. The atmosphere you generate, the colour and noise you make, it inspires the players to greater heights that won’t happen if you’re not there. Or at least it feels that way.
And the great sporting memories are the ones you were there for. Moments like Steve Waugh driving the last ball of the day through the covers to bring up his century, Leo Barry flying high for a premiership-saving mark, John Aloisi slotting home the penalty to qualify for the World Cup and so many more great moments in sport.
Ask anyone who was there, and their memories will be so much more vivid for the experience.
Watching on TV is pretty good. But there’s nothing like being there. It’s why we keep coming back to the ground.