I watched the Bills game at home on Sunday.
At 12:58 p.m. I replaced one of those creepy penguins with another high-definition television. Switch around a few HDMI cables throw in a laptop and at 1:01 p.m. I had the Bears/Packers game on the small TV and the Bills game on the big one. The video quality was far from pristine, but it was much better than anything I saw in my high-definition-less childhood.
I’m not going to do the tongue-in-cheek thing everyone does when they talk about circumventing blackout restrictions for sporting events. “Oops, I broke the law,” and all that. Stop it. No one actually thinks they are breaking the law when they find an illegal feed of a football game.
Blackouts are stupid, a relic of an era technology has rendered obsolete. Legally speaking, it’s the sporting equivalent to jaywalking. It’s sneaking a piece of bulk candy at the supermarket when no one’s looking.
It was incredibly easy to “steal” the Bills game on Sunday. There was nothing to download and no real problems with video quality. Successfully close a few ads and you’re all set. The only real sacrifice was having to check Twitter and my fantasy team on my phone. I’m essentially a tablet purchase away from doing this in some form every Sunday.
Maybe this isn’t “easy” for everyone, but it definitely is for young, tech-savvy people who like sports. Young football fans are growing older, getting jobs and beginning to figure out what to spend their disposable income on. For some it’s an easy call to get season tickets and tailgate seven Sundays a year.
On Sunday it was incredibly easy to sit inside, avoid the rain and make a Wegmans frozen pizza while drinking whatever was left in the fridge. Blackouts don’t hurt technological savvy sports fans anymore. Hell, I wrote most of this while streaming a soccer game played in Athens, Greece. You can watch anything anywhere, even the big bad billion-dollar NFL. And if that football product sucks or the weather sucks or the stadium sucks, why bother making the effort?
You simply can’t overstate how much the Bills being mediocre impacts all this. Watching sports is supposed to be fun. If the product on the field is awful, why drive 40+ minutes to make it to the field? As long as you have the right cables, the game comes to us in 2012.
Let’s pull back a bit here: there’s an entire generation of Bills fans growing up that has never watched the Bills playoff game. Kids in high school really starting to catch the sports bug and make their own spendable money only know a Bills team that wins seven games a year at best. Try convincing them to fill out season ticket invoices. They’d be fools.
None of this is new information. We all know what the deal is with blackouts and the league struggling to sell tickets. High-definition television has made watching sports at home an experience, and Twitter has brought the crowd to our hip pocket.
What we ignore in this discussion—at least in Buffalo—is the lost generation of Bills fans. The group of fans that could determine with their wallets whether the Bills have a future here is getting an awful team and little reason to spend money to see them.
Yearly season ticket drives and attracting families to Ralph Wilson Stadium maintains quotas and makes fiscal sense. The Bills marketing department has done a good job to maximize the good will that has come from free agent signings and a Drew Bledsoe or Terrell Owens. It’s a big reason why the team is still considered viable in Western New York.
Still, the memory of the playoff football in Buffalo is going the way of Sabres fans recognizing Ted Darling’s voice. Football games meaning less as piles of snow grows higher has become an annual tradition in Western New York. Try telling kids who can watch five games every Sunday what a trip to Orchard Park in December is worth.
On Monday morning I got an email from Time Warner Cable offering me $20 tickets to the game on Sunday. Damned if I didn’t check the weather forecast as soon as it hit my inbox. Russ Salvatore took care of things on Wednesday, but I don’t think the threat of a blackout was making me reach for my credit card.
I don’t need Time Warner or the kindness of a restaurateur to watch the Bills anymore. They just save me a few mouse clicks on Sunday afternoons.