At home, there's no line for the bathroom, either
December 17, 2012 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Cricket probably trumps all the examples in this list. For one thing, there's no such thing as seats 'close to the action' in cricket (unless you're talking about seeing a diving catch on the boundary or some other relatively rare occurrence). Even with binoculars, if you're watching the game in person you're really going to miss most of fine points of how exactly the pitch is playing and how the batsman is handling a particular bowler.

Of course, the atmosphere and the experience of being at the ground is something you can't really duplicate at home; but if your interest in the game is at all technical then TV trumps "live" any day of the week.
posted by yoink at 8:50 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I totally subscribe to the theory in this article. For the sport I love, watching it on TV makes you an armchair expert purely in virtue of some accomplished camera work that tracks the action brilliantly. I always feel a little deflated when I see a game live because so much action happens far away, and is almost mysterious. I notice many of my fellow spectators simply watch the action on the live screens. The tickets are expensive. It takes a round trip of 3 hours to get there and back. It's cold. You always sit next to someone with rampant flatulence, halitosis or spectator tourette's.

However, for every x games you go to where you get the nagging feeling - and it's worth noting that NO REAL MAN WOULD EVER CHOOSE TV OVER A LIVE GAME - that you'd have enjoyed it more at home, you get a game so emotional and enthralling it makes you remember why live games are worth going to, and why they need to be thought of not like the same sport, but like going to see a play and going to see a movie.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:53 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Strongly agreeing on being AT a tennis match vs. tennis on TV.

I went to a Davis Cup match in Sweden (vs. Australia), and I could not believe how fast the serves were. We were fortunate to get front-row seats behind a linesman, as well.

Professional tennis is absolutely insane in a live setting.
posted by kuanes at 8:58 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fencing is very hard to view without slo-mo replay.
posted by ahimsakid at 8:59 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Right on about hockey. I especially enjoyed sitting behind the net, about 15-20 rows up.

I don't watch football in part because the NFL had previously refused to allow the "All-22" angle to be broadcast. But apparently that's changing.
posted by mullacc at 9:00 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I became a fan of soccer after being dragged to a bunch of games, so I fully understand what the author is getting at. After seeing a few dozen games up close, then attending some World Cup matches in the stands (when it was in the US), and seeing a few LA Galaxy games when I still lived down there, watching especially US soccer league games (MLS) on TV in the early 2000s was absolutely horrible. Watching World Cup play was slightly better.

My guess is when the MLS first launched, the TV stations just got normal football cameramen and directors to work the games and they were nothing but close-ups of the action, shots of players running and you could see their faces. As a fan, you couldn't see the field for more than a second between close-up shots, you couldn't make out the plays or predict passes. It was terrible. World Cup play gives a lot more screen time to wider shots of the field and though it's not as good as being there, it was better than the MLS on TV, and I think they have improved greatly since but it was pretty much unwatchable on TV when the MLS first launched.
posted by mathowie at 9:07 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is fun to argue about stuff when nobody even knows what we're arguing about. ... . I'll explain in some detail what I mean by reality gap in the next couple of days,
No wonder I don't much enjoy reading sports journalism.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:07 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I never 'got" soccer until the ticket lottery for the 96 Olympics in Atlanta put me in the stands for Brazil - Nigeria.
posted by COD at 9:09 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I enjoy watching football (soccer) on TV, but you lose the ability to see a lot of the movement off the ball, and as a result, don't get as much of a sense of the development of play. You also don't get much of the crowd noise or interaction, which makes live football a completely different experience.

Cycling is interesting- for me, road cycling works much better on television. You have cameras on motorcycles alongside or ahead of the the peloton (as well as following different attacking groups) and then you have helicopter cameras tracking the action as a whole. When you watch a road race live, you have to pick a single part of the parcours. There will be a sort of carnival atmosphere around you, but unless you are at a particularly challenging climbing section, the race itself will pass very quickly.

Cyclocross, on the other hand, I find very boring to watch on television, but a lot of fun to see live. You have a similar carnival atmosphere, and a view of all or significant portions of the circuit, so you can really see the tactics develop.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:10 AM on December 17, 2012

Radio play-by-play beats the pants off of any telecast I've ever seen, and is usually better than a sportswriter's game coverage.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:11 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best place to watch pro basketball is front-row floor, about even with the foul line. I had the great opportunity to do that for one quarter of a game, and it was fantastic, sitting about waist-level with the players, looking up to see passes and blocks and flying sweat, feeling the impact of those very big guys on the floor just feet away. I got hit by a ball. That was cool.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:15 AM on December 17, 2012

I used to get a kick watching darts just for the enthusiasm of the announcers. ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY!

But these folks seem to be enjoying the live game quite a bit.
posted by Kabanos at 9:17 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I stand by my original comment on that blog post, nothing I have seen compares to a NASCAR race live. Although I have yet to see a world class soccer match live, I would love to do that. NFL football really is better on TV, especially now that the broadcasts have realized most of us have widescreen televisions.
posted by zzazazz at 9:20 AM on December 17, 2012

Hockey, better in person, definitely. It's easier to follow the action, yes, but just being in an arena for an NHL game is complete sensory overload. It's exciting just being there, even if you couldn't care less about hockey.

Major league baseball, as much as I prefer it as a game, doesn't really make for an ideal spectator sport either way. In person, everything's too far away and/or at some weird angle, and on TV you don't get any sense of scale (the pitcher is a lot farther from the batter than he looks through a telephoto lens). I suppose in-person is better on the whole, but, yeah. :(
posted by Sys Rq at 9:21 AM on December 17, 2012

I've only been to two NFL games, but I'll concur with him that I found it an underwhelming experience. The first time I had seats in the end zone in the upper deck, which was great for watching the blocking, but it also felt a lot like playing Madden outside in the cold. The second time we were closer to the field, but could see less and the crowd was incredibly rowdy. I haven't been back because it's just not worth the cash. I can see his point about the NBA, but since my local team is the Wizards my chances of seeing big talented players doing magical things is much lower than average.

To my mind, though, the reason to go to a sporting event is for something other than the game itself. It doesn't have to be the high energy frenzy of football or hockey, although that can be fun, but I want some kind of group feeling to see a game live.I went to an MLS playoff game that was really fun for the non-stop singing and chanting. The other end of the spectrum is a relaxed saturday afternoon baseball game, with the sun and chatter and the occasional moment of excitement. In either case, the reason to go is for what you can't get watching the game by yourself, even from the stadium.

I also can't speak for it live, but the sport that I find the absolute worst to watch on TV is lacrosse.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:26 AM on December 17, 2012

Skiing on TV is much better than watching it in person, especially skicross with a backwards-skiing steadicam operator. But you know what is better than both? ACTUALLY SKIING.
posted by mkb at 9:32 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'll comment only on the three sports that truly matter. (American) football is so much better on TV than live. Maybe because I've never been able to afford 50 yard line seats, half the time the action is on the other end of a playing field so big, it is used as a benchmark for really big things. Plus, there is so much downtime in a football game. On TV, you get to see those plays over and over in slow motion; at the stadium, you're just stamping your feet to keep the cold away.

Hockey is better live, but maybe not quite as much so as he contends. Now that televisions have a much better aspect ratio, you can see a lot more of the ice and you're not going to miss the guy off-screen in danger of pulling out a breakaway. I love live hockey, but—and again this relates to my ability to buy red line tickets on the glass—if they're crashing the net at the other end of the rink, I'd rather see that on TV.

If you cannot go to a baseball game live, the only other option is on the radio, in the backyard, with a beer in your hand. Baseball used to be called America's pastime, though football has clearly surpassed it. In the age of radio, this was true. Hearing the play-by-play and color commentator describe the action is glorious. Even during the downtime, which baseball has a glut of, this painting of the picture is great. "We are just about to get underway at beautiful Wrigley Field. The Cubs are dressed in their home whites with pinstripes; blue caps, blue shoes, blue socks. The St. Louis Cardinals are in their traveling grays with red caps and shoes. The ivy is just starting turn green in the outfield, under a beautiful, cloudless blue sky. The wind is blowing left to right at about fifteen miles per hour, and the Cubs are eight and two so far in this young season when the wind is not blowing out. You will need to swing the bat hard if you want it to carry out of the park today. The big right-hander Johnson delivers a strike low and inside and away we go."

Baseball on the radio. In the backyard, with a beer in your hand.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 9:36 AM on December 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

These rankings should be weighted on the cost of the tickets.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 9:38 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yep, TheWhiteSkull I agree with everything you said about cycling (I was hoping it would have made the original list). A grand spectacle like the Tour de France is ridiculous on the ground, you wait three hours for 10 seconds of bikes passing by at high speed and it's over for the day to you. But on TV it's amazing and technical and you can watch the entire race unfold along the course.

Cyclocross is one of the few events (track cycling, maybe too) where you can see almost all the action standing in one place so it's much more enjoyable in person than on TV.
posted by mathowie at 9:48 AM on December 17, 2012

High-level boxing at ringside. Try to remember to breathe.
posted by ambient2 at 9:49 AM on December 17, 2012

I haven't been to a World Cup game since the US hosted it back in 1994. I was 12 and it was truly amazing to watch. We had seats high up in the bleachers in Foxboro stadium next to Boston and I remember not seeing a great deal. But the energy was incredible. My favorite game I think was Korea vs. Bolivia. I did not have a side to support, but the two chants (Kor-e-a and Bol-ivi-a) blended together in my ears. There was not a dull moment.

On TV, soccer is fun to watch, but the energy that sustains the crowd when the players slow down a little just isn't there.

Baseball is better live, even bad baseball (Pirates-Astros about 5 years ago). But it's better because you are sitting with your friends eating overpriced crap and drinking either overpriced beer or from the flask that was smuggled in and chatting and watching the occasional amazing play. On TV, it's about the sport, not the experience.

I find football on TV dead boring. I kind of suspect the live experience would be worse.

It's been even longer since I saw a live Basketball game that I have no opinion in that regard.

Can anyone speak to the experience of watching car racing in person? I'm kind of curious.
posted by Hactar at 9:49 AM on December 17, 2012

Can anyone speak to the experience of watching car racing in person? I'm kind of curious.

The one NASCAR race I went to was years ago, but it was...loud. Like really, exceptionally, shockingly loud. I was maybe 10 so I got nothing from the race, except that it was loud. (well that and a souvenir checkered flag that said "The Rock" on it). . It was quite an experience though, just in terms of the sensory overload, and I would probably do it again as an adult to re-experience that loudness..
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:55 AM on December 17, 2012

I've seen F1 at Monza, Italy; Nascar at Daytona; and the Indy 500. For the spectacle, sounds and moments of close racing, it's hard to top. To watch and understand what's going on in a race, TV has it beat by some margin.
posted by ambient2 at 9:58 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

For those of you playing along, the author, Joe Posnanski, is one of the foremost sportswriters in America.
posted by The Michael The at 10:03 AM on December 17, 2012

I live a few blocks from an NFL stadium in a city not exactly known for its good weather and I'm amazed that people will pay hundreds of dollars to sit in the snow, sleet and or freezing rain, when I can sit and get a better view of the same game in my warm living room. Plus TV has those nifty computer generated scrimmage and down lines that you can't see live.
posted by octothorpe at 10:23 AM on December 17, 2012

My guess is when the MLS first launched, the TV stations just got normal football cameramen and directors to work the games and they were nothing but close-ups of the action, shots of players running and you could see their faces. As a fan, you couldn't see the field for more than a second between close-up shots, you couldn't make out the plays or predict passes. It was terrible.

Yes! I very clearly remember watching MLS in its first season, and thinking this exact thing. I was so excited for MLS, and this immediately turned me off.

And let us not mention the era of the glowing hockey puck.
posted by schoolgirl report at 10:25 AM on December 17, 2012

Seconded for tennis. Any pro sport played on fields/courts with which you're familiar are absolutely mind blowing. I've seen lower level pros play on club courts and it's absolutely astonishing.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:36 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hockey is so much better live. No question. Everybody's already covered it. Football is modestly better on TV, although the pageantry is pretty great live.

Curling is better on TV, especially for the final and semi-final games, when there's only one game being played. As a sport of strategy, the players are mic'd, so you can hear them planning their shot, discussing what the other guy will do to counter and so on. And the overhead cam gets you the exact perspective on who's counting, and the instant replay highlights shots like this. (For the unfamiliar: the goal is to have the most stones the closest to the middle of the target. The first shot is sort of like performing heart surgery, by standing across the room and bouncing the scalpel off the wall onto the patient.)

As a card-carrying Canadian, I am unaware of the existence other sports.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:48 AM on December 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

I don't care much for rodeo, but when I was watching from cheap seats I found myself basically following what was happening from the big screen. I suppose it was still better live, because the crowd was exhilarating (but drunk), and it's not like I would ever sit down and watch a chuckwagon race or bull riding on TV at home.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:01 AM on December 17, 2012

I'd love to see a third category: sports that are best listened to on the radio.

No lie, I listen to probably 100+ Twins games a year on the radio. If they're playing and I am not at work, I am listening. In the past I have even scheduled work trips to visit my branches on Thursday afternoons so that I can listen to the game as I'm driving. However, there are few reasons I'd watch baseball on TV: World Series/Playoffs, strict bedrest, visiting someone on strict bedrest, something historic happening (a perfect game?) and there happens to be a TV nearby for me to watch. I love baseball on the radio. I have no problem visualizing what is going on, and I have this wonderful feeling of listening to the game in the same way that people have listened for a hundred years. The commercials are different, but the game is still the same.

I've tried to listen to other sports on the radio. I can just barely tolerate football. I can't stand the squeaking of soles during a basketball game, and hockey is just DULL. I've never tried to listen to any other sports on the radio...I'm not sure if they broadcast any others. I imagine that listening to golf while driving would result in falling asleep at the wheel.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:16 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Baseball is unwatchable on TV, and almost unwatchable in person. So I guess it should have had a negative experience gap.
posted by Yowser at 11:21 AM on December 17, 2012

Although I gotta agree about football being negative experience. More like -10,000 for those horrifying bleacher seats that make your ass feel like it's going to fall off after ten minutes.
posted by Yowser at 11:23 AM on December 17, 2012

Drag racing. On TV it's sometimes vaguely exciting. If you're there, it's a visceral experience, with unique sights and smells, and noise that lives inside you.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:26 AM on December 17, 2012

I used to listen to a lot of Carolina basketball games on the radio growing up, but outside the warm glow of nostalgia, basketball does not make a very good radio sport.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:26 AM on December 17, 2012

@COD: I never 'got" soccer until the ticket lottery for the 96 Olympics in Atlanta put me in the stands for Brazil - Nigeria.

Having been at that game as well, I can see that. Wading into to the crowd after the game was pretty amazing as well.
posted by kjs3 at 11:28 AM on December 17, 2012

I'd just like to say that the difference between watching hockey on TV is huge compared to watching it in the stands. It is exponentially BETTER to PLAY hockey than it is to watch it live.

I mean, such a fun sport to play. You get to go fast, finesse things, smack the puck, listen the scrush, scrush of the skates and the clack of the puck as it get passed and KER-TWACK as it gets hit into the goal. I love suiting up in 12 layers of gear. I love the lambs wool in the toes of my skates (guys skates will NEVER fit womens feet properly, except for CCM Vacu-Tacks, and do they even make them any more?)

I love the cold, the snot bubble at the end of my nose, the fact that you can play co-ed and it doesn't matter a bit.

Hockey is the best sport there is. It's a damn shame that it's so friggin' expensive in the south and that I got injured in an accident and can't play any more.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:32 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nothing, NOTHING like the sound of a slap-shot hitting the post during an NHL game. The speed of the puck off the stick and the PING of the metal is amazing. Though, not as amazing as a horn going off after a score inside a raucous and chilly 19,000 seat arena. Damn I miss hockey.
posted by stltony at 11:54 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd like to see someone invent a similar metric for which bands are best seen live and which ones are best heard on an album.
posted by cirrostratus at 12:10 PM on December 17, 2012

There needs to be an asterisk next to NBA basketball indicating that for it to be superior in-person vs. watching on television requires having really good, close seats (prohibitively expensive, at least where I live - Lakers are my hometown team) to a degree that isn't the case for other sports like baseball or football.

From my experience in attending NBA games, if your seats are anywhere beyond the first level it is really hard to keep up with the action in the sense that at a certain level of height and distance from the court the players all start to look like stick figures no matter how tall they are, and it is so crowded and fast-paced on the court it's hard to keep up with who is who and what is going on. At least with baseball, even if you are sitting in the upper deck you still know specifically who is up to bat (since it gets announced and also featured on the stadium screens) and who is playing what position, so it's easy to follow even from far away, or with football where you can at least keep pretty good track of the ball (and if you know who plays what position, have a pretty decent idea of who is making the play regardless of where you're sitting).
posted by The Gooch at 12:34 PM on December 17, 2012

Don't worry, hockey jonesing Canadians! World Juniors start on Thursday!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:45 PM on December 17, 2012

I'm going to play marathons and triathlons as the top two 'better on tv' sports.
posted by jacalata at 1:47 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who recently got into F1 and wants to plan to see a race in person next year, I've been weighing the benefits on TV vs. Live and how much money I'm willing to spend.
posted by yeti at 2:00 PM on December 17, 2012

F1 is an interesting thing in that over 90% of the people who are there to see it live are seated somewhere other than the start/finish line. If you want to know what's actually going on TV beats the live experience by a mile. And yet seeing it live is an amazing experience, even if your seats are nowhere near the start or finish. It's actually relatively unusual for the winner to be decided in the last couple of seconds anyway.
If you are going to see it, get access to the timing stats on a tablet or smartphone. That way you know what's going on on the track as a whole while you're still able to see what's going on right in front of you.
posted by Runes at 3:12 PM on December 17, 2012

I also agree about tennis, but for that very reason prefer it on TV. The incredible calibre of even crappier players is so astonishing I find it much more difficult to assess the flow of the game. I remember watching a game with Cilic once - I wasn't really paying attention to the scoreline and thought it was quite close - because there really wasn't much in it! - the scoreline told a very different tale; it was like 6-2, 6-1.

Watching on television gives me a better sense of strengths and weaknesses, flow-of-game etc etc. Not as exhilarating, I grant.
posted by smoke at 5:16 PM on December 17, 2012

I agree with yoink. Cricket is way, way superior on TV than live.
posted by vidur at 7:37 PM on December 17, 2012

Curling is better on TV for all the reasons Homeboy Trouble mentioned, but also for a bunch of other reasons. Curling is the kind of sport that benefits immensely from good commentary—there's a lot of discussion about shot strategy and all the factors that affect it, like ice conditions and the number of timeouts available and whatnot. Faster-paced sports like hockey and basketball don't provide a lot of opportunity for that kind of colour commentary; curling is practically ALL colour commentary.

And then there's the experience of actually going to a tournament round-robin. All four sheets are in use (or however many there are—the Brier I saw had four and that seems pretty normal for Canadian nationals), and if you're the type who isn't laser-locked on one team, you're probably wondering what sheet you should be watching. On television, they stick with one game and only switch to the others if something exciting happens or between ends. In person, you have to do all that work yourself, and after a while it feels like you're always missing something. A roar will go up from the crowd and you'll be busy trying to figure out where and why.

Finally, and I know this will come off as a bad thing, but I actually like this about curling: I get sleepy in the middle of the game. It's a lot easier to take a nap on your own couch than it is in a stadium of old people who will probably make fun of you.
posted by chrominance at 12:40 PM on December 18, 2012

Finally, and I know this will come off as a bad thing, but I actually like this about curling: I get sleepy in the middle of the game. It's a lot easier to take a nap on your own couch than it is in a stadium of old people who will probably make fun of you.

I'm pretty sure naps are the reason they invented the 4:15 NFL game. You watch the first game, have a few beers, and then lie down and nap during the late game. No one can challenge this because you're "watching the game" even if your eyes are closed. Plus, if anything exciting happens you'll probably wake up.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:43 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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