Note- the following originally appeared on lowonoil.com.
Ahh, what a great time to be a sports fan! Regardless of how our beloved Oilers are performing, I take comfort being part in what can be considered to be the golden age of being a sports fan. The amount of access and intimacy with our sports and our teams is at an all time high. Actually ‘all time high’ really understates the exponential growth in the fan experience away from the rink in the past five years. Personally, I am starting to question whether or not I even want to keep buying tickets to see games live.
A buddy of mine recently got me thinking about the evolution of the fan experience. He has been living on the other side of the world in Dubai for a few years now. In years past, a life in Dubai would have meant giving up the sports that he held dear and trying to take up an interest in whatever sports are popular in Dubai. Horse racing and polo I think? Life in Dubai today does not bring with it the requirement to watch sports you do not understand. Jaime and I faced off for our fantasy baseball league crown a few months back and his fantasy football team just qualified for the playoffs. He subscribes to the MLB package on mlb.com and has access to the NFL via yahoo.com who apparently has a deal to broadcast games over the internet outside of North America. Not only is Jaime able to continue following the sports he loves, he probably is more in tune with baseball and football than anyone I know.
To contrast Jaime’s experience to the experience of my father growing up really illustrates the progress of the sports fan. My father grew up in small town Saskatchewan in the late 1940’s and 1950’s at a time when being a hockey fan meant listening to Hockey Night in Canada on the radio, which had been on since 1931. The local newspaper might have the scores from last night’s game, or perhaps the scores from two nights prior. Try not to overdose on all that coverage little guy! Of course the television version of HNIC would soon follow in 1952 and the family would huddle around the black and white tv every Saturday night to watch the Leafs or Habs taken on some evil opponent from the States. Depending on your vintage, you were a Leafs fan, a Habs fan, a Wings fan or a Bruins fan. It really all depended on who the great team was when you were a little tike.
Ironically, my father’s experience and my experience were not all that different, at least when I was a kid. There was still the Saturday night game on HNIC combined with wall to wall coverage of about half the playoff series. The newspapers did a better job of getting last night’s results and printing out team by team individual stats once a week. I’d spend hours going through that newspaper looking at every player in the league and how they stacked up. Of course the stats were the basic G A Pt +/- PIM boxcars back then. The vast improvements in statistical detail is another topic for another day.
Things picked up in 1987 when TSN picked up the rights to show a couple of games a week and show a couple of playoff series between US based teams. After Gretzky’s trade to Los Angeles in 1988, HNIC started showing the occasional doubleheader on Saturday nights to let us tune into west coast games. All of a sudden we were up to four hockey games a week! Wow, times were good back then. The doubleheader became a permanent part of HNIC in 1995.
Things picked up in 1998 when Rogers Sportsnet was launched. Sportsnet West became the home of the Oilers and we experienced a quantum leap in the number of games on television. Add to that the NHL Centre Ice package and all of a sudden we had access to every team in the league. From 4 games a week to over 40 per week in the span of 5 years!
So we had all the games we could handle but most of us would take a night at the rink over a game on the boob tube most days of the week. Heck, when I moved back to Canada I bought some Flames tickets just so I could go to a game, any game! Umm, I feel quite dirty having again admitted going to Flames games.
Thank goodness High Definition television came along and changed the game. For a few years we were stuck watching the Oilers on low def but in 2007 Sportsnet came through and started showing Oiler games in HD. Very quickly folks went out and bought snazzy home theatres while the bars purchased huge televisions, all showing the Oilers play in fantastic crystal clear clarity. Part of me thinks the Oilers have always been as bad as they’ve been at times this year but we couldn’t notice due to the lack of high definition….
Which brings us to this week’s announcement that last night’s Oilers/ Lightning tilt will be available exclusively on oilers.com, complete with some sweet Tweets and live chats. All of a sudden the game experience is being brought right into your living room. We can all sit at home in our skivvies and interact with other fans without having paid $100 for a ticket or $8 for a beer times 4 or 5.
All of this progress must have been subconsciously swirling around in my head last weekend when buddy Adam and I pulled the pin on meeting up in Edmonton for the December 19th game against the Washington Capitals. Even with Ovechkin as a draw we just could not convince ourselves that the trip would contain enough fun to justify the expense. Why pay $240 for mediocre seats plus a few hundred on gas, food and hotel when I could watch the game at home on my awesome tv, eating sushi off of a virgin whilst I drank expensive import beers that didn’t have to travel around the arena through rusty pipes? I’m pretty sure I could arrange that for less than the trip to Edmonton and it would be a lot more fun.
So what say you Oilogosphere? Do you still go to games or are you finding yourself content to meet buddies at the bar? Or perhaps you opted to shell out for the NHL Centre Ice package and Oilers PPV package for some good ole home viewing?
And while I have you posting comments, I am curious to hear how the internet game watching experience goes. Sadly I have some conflicting plans and will not be able to partake in the experience this time.
Jonathan also writes over at lowonoil.com. It is a one stop shop for lots of great content on the Edmonton Oilers