Social media changes how we watch sports

| March 29th, 2013

As a huge Chicago Bulls fan, I thoroughly enjoyed their recent game against the Miami Heat. It’s always must-see TV when your favorite team goes up against the league’s best, but the atmosphere around this game was even more intense because Miami entered the contest on a 27-game winning streak, the second longest in NBA history.

Chicago won an entertaining game 101-97, and I loved every second of it. But afterwards, I couldn’t help thinking about how my game-watching experience now is so different from what it was ten—or even five—years ago. I watched the game at home by myself (I know, I’m a loser), but I was not alone. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, I was able to share in the highs and lows of the game with thousands of other fans, many of whom I didn’t even know.

Ten years ago, I would have had to go to a sports bar for a similar experience (ignoring the fact that I was only 14). And I would have shared the moment with the somewhere between 10 and 20 people. Instead, I reveled in each highlight dunk, complained about each suspect foul, and cracked dozens of jokes at Miami’s expense along with fellow fans from around the globe.

This experience was not limited to simply this one game, although it was magnified by the significance of the contest. Similar ones happen for fans everywhere whenever their favorite team is playing, whether the platform is Twitter, ESPN, or another social media outlet. Being a fan today is not just about watching the games. More than it has ever been, fandom is about experiencing moments together with your fellow fans.

Well, maybe not more than it has ever been. Sports bars, tailgates, and game parties, which offer much of the same camaraderie (and arguably even a better version of it) have been a staple of fandom for years. Maybe it’s simply easier to be a part of these moments now—especially for those who live out of the media market of their favorite teams—since you don’t have to leave your own couch.

Alone among millions

Is this trend good or bad for sports fans? Much like the social media technology itself, I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s great to be able to experience these moments and events together, but it should not replace actual person-to-person contact. I’d rather watch a game with four or five buddies and stay off of the internet than sit by myself and be “hanging out” with other fans online. Unfortunately, the former option isn’t always possible, so the second one is a much better alternative to sitting alone and talking to no one.

The other issue is making sure that you don’t get so caught up in talking about the game that you actually miss out on the game. When I am really into a game, I find social media too distracting, as it’s easy to get wrapped up in debates and/or conversations and miss what’s actually going on. Thus, I turn my computer off (I’m still stuck in the Stone Age without a smartphone), or at least only look at it during commercials.

What does this all mean? What am I trying to say here? I’m not sure I have a grand point. I just think it’s cool that we can share in our fandom in real time during games, even if there’s nobody else there with us. That’s a privilege previous generations of fans didn’t have, and I want to take a moment to appreciate it. I also hope that we don’t gradually lose out on the old-school ways of experiencing sports together.