Pick any day out of the year -- any one, doesn’t matter -- and there’s enough sports content across every medium to last you a decade, if not a lifetime. Amass all the pregame and postgame shows, video clips, blogs, podcasts, tweets, Facebook postings and DID U C THAT texts, and even a routine December Blake Griffin dunk gets more widespread analysis than “Hamlet” ever did.
And that’s just one day. It’s almost possible now to be a 21st-century sports fan without even watching a game.
How close are we to a world where TV is an option and not a necessity? We decided to find out by unplugging the flatscreen for one week. Could we survive? (Well, maybe “survive” is a bit hyperbolic; it’s not like we were going to be eating bugs waiting for that precious moment when we could cue up PTI.) Here are the rules: No live sports, no news wrap-ups, no talk shows, no documentaries, no pregame or postgame cacklefests. (Hey, it’s not going to be all bad.) Nothing but a computer and a phone to get through the week.
And we begin with the biggest of big dogs … the NFL playoffs.
Day 1: NFL
The first day of our little TV fast happened to fall on the second day of the NFL conference semifinals, one of the minor holidays of the sports fan’s calendar. Catching up on “Sons of Anarchy” while all the rest of the sports-watching public was tuned into Jets-Pats and Bears-'Hawks was like being the one guy in high school who didn’t get the memo about Senior Skip Day.
It’s not like I was in a sensory-deprivation chamber. I did have Twitter, Facebook, the Y! Sports scoreboard and NFL.com all humming away at once. Twenty minutes in, and I’m neck-deep in the first real downside of an all-secondhand sports diet -- the echo chamber, where any story gets passed around and re-amplified beyond all meaning and purpose. Cutler-Hasselbeck, the impending Packers buzzsaw, Saint Brady, Belichick vs. Ryan, feet aplenty … you could literally spend every waking moment immersed in NFL content, and surely there’s someone who is.
The Seahawks alone had 37 videos on NFL.com dedicated to this single game, from pregame reports to weather forecasts to two-point conversion tape to a bemused Pete Carroll’s postgame chat. (And that’s for a losing team. The Patriots had 60 different videos devoted to their game.) It’s the video equivalent of one of those Vegas buffets, where you can sample pizza and Chinese food and omelets and roast beef on the way to the sundae bar.
Still, if I’d been of a mind to watch a full game live, I’d have been Favred. The NFL does offer an audio pass for live broadcasts, and if you're outside of the U.S. and Mexico, you can get a “Game Pass.” For those of us stateside, there’s “NFL Game Rewind,” which runs commercial-free HD games. Beautiful, right? As long as you don’t mind being 12 hours behind the rest of the sports universe -- the games are posted on a delayed basis. It’s not an unreasonable cost, though; you could get all the playoff games, including the Super Bowl, for $14.99 total. But it’s geared to the hardcore fan or the unlucky bastard who has to work on Sunday afternoons. Still, beware the NFL’s draconian blackout policies: streaming does not work at all whenever there’s a game on. You want the NFL? Go to the NFL. But you’ll take it the way they serve it, and you’ll like it.
But if you’re just jonesing for a taste, NFL.com features live streaming look-ins at certain games. So if you’re stuck in church on the West Coast and need to keep up with the early games, you’re in luck. The videos hit the web early -- Jay Cutler’s long touchdown pass to Greg Olsen hit the web just 10 minutes after Olsen crossed the goal line -- and, as you can see above, often.
Are live streaming NFL games coming? One day, certainly. But they’ll arrive on the NFL’s terms and no one else’s.
Believe it or not, the golf season has already started. Sunday marked the conclusion of the first full-field event of the year, the Sony Open in Hawaii. And because of rainouts, it ran 36 holes on Sunday, a marathon charge finally won by Mark Wilson. Unfortunately for Wilson fans -- we know you’re out there -- there was no place to watch anything more than a few select clips online.
Now, even pro golfer Anthony Kim has said that the best thing TV golf is good for is a soundtrack to a Sunday afternoon nap. That said, there are few things in life sweeter than stealing a little bit of sports-watching time while at work, and golf does have meaningful competition going on during the workweek.
Unlike most other pro sports, golf isn’t run by a single autocratic body but by a loosely- knit confederation of little fiefdoms, each with its own take on streaming video. The USGA, which controls the U.S. Open, has no problem streaming its coverage, nor does the Royal & Ancient with the British Open; this past summer, I watched both majors on my freaking phone. (The future rules!) Augusta National, which controls the Masters to such a degree that it doesn't even telecast much of the first two rounds, has limited streaming -- basically, there's a camera set up at Amen Corner that records everyone who plays through. The PGA Championship offers live video of its “marquee group” streamed to the Internet and smartphones.
For most of the rest of the tournaments, the PGA Tour offers snippets and highlights. The Tour’s website does have a Shot Tracker feature, which gives stat geeks a cornucopia of info, from yardage to trajectory to lie, and instantly compares each player’s play with tournament and historical averages. It’s more information at your fingertips than even the caddies possess, and it looks enough like a spreadsheet that you can get away with leaving it on your desktop if your boss isn’t particularly observant … or a golf fan.
Day 1 Verdict:
The NFL, like any good entertainment, leaves us wanting more. Thing is, unlike other sports, we can’t get more no matter how much we’re willing to pay. Golf, on the other hand, knows what we want to see -- the marquee players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson -- and will follow those guys online for every shot they take. Coverage is still spotty week-to-week, but on the whole, we’re already in a world where you can watch golf while playing golf.
And while missing the playoff games made for a quiet Sunday, the agonized wails of Pats fans on Twitter was enough comfort to get me through the week. After seeing my Falcons go out like chumps the night before -- and after spending a day eating nachos while I watched Twitter feeds and score updates -- I was in no mood to be magnanimous. Now on to the NHL!
Tuesday: Hockey and NASCAR
Wednesday: Baseball and tennis
Thursday: College sports