The landscape of how we watched sports has been forever changed by the Internet and social media. Twitter in particular has made sporting events even more of a communal experience, especially with fans spread throughout the country (and the world for that matter).
I love being able to see what people inside of a stadium or an arena have to say about the game as it happens. Getting injury updates instantly from sideline reporters tweeting out info has become par for the course. Take last night’s NCAA Men’s Basketball National Title game for example. Inside of the Georgia Dome were hoards of media, many tweeting out their thoughts and observations of that fantastic action between Louisville and Michigan. Whether it was CBS’s Jeff Goodman, SI’s Seth Davis, ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla, or the local flavor of 92.3 The Fan’s Anthony Lima, the tweets were insightful and entertaining, adding to the game-watching experience.
Hours earlier, one of the biggest events of the year in downtown Cleveland, Opening Day for the Indians, took place. More than 41,000 fans packed Progressive Field to see the Wahoos take on the Yankees. But again, not every Tribe fan can be there. I lived in Chicago for nine years and did my best to get to a bar and watch the game or had I would buy the MLB package on DirecTV or Digital Cable if I could get it. With Twitter now, my friends in Chicago, New York, LA, and Seattle can all get not only watch the game with one of these services or the MLB At-Bat iPad app, but they can get in on some good insight and back and forth with people inside of Progressive Field. People like me.
Because of my affiliation with Waiting For Next Year, I often tweet during Browns and Indians games that I either watch on TV or attend in person. On top of that, I’m usually receiving texts and/or emails from my friends who I am not with. Again, its the communal experience at its finest. Two of the bigger Tribe fans I know – my brother and my close friend Brian – live elsewhere, but so many times the text/twitter/email abilities make it feel like they are next to me. I love interacting with readers of WFNY and my Twitter followers who either agree with me or take me to task on something I may put out there.
Then there is the other side of it: uploads. According to a signalshare.com article, at this year’s NBA All-Star game, uploads — sending out pics and tweets — actually exceeded downloads. In addition to using their phones to reads tweets and emails, fans inside Houston’s Toyota Center were sharing their in-game experience and promoting what was happening on the court, generating buzz for the league and its teams.
The home opener is probably the biggest Twitter day for a baseball team. Yesterday was Cleveland’s turn. I had my phone fully charged to 100% because as a veteran of sporting events in the smartphone era, I know how quickly the battery can drain. Even before I entered Progressive Field, I couldn’t send out an email. My first two tweets came back in error, saying there was a network issue. And again, this was an hour before first pitch and I was walking through the plaza between The Q and Progressive Field.
This season, I moved into a new group of shared season tickets. I took a picture with my son in the new seats to send to my wife. The text didn’t go through. I tried email. That didn’t work either. As the game started and Ubaldo Jiménez reverted back to his 2012 form, I wanted to see what the Tribe beat writers were saying about what they were seeing with him. I tried Twitter, but couldn’t get it to work. I went into my settings to search for a WiFi network inside of the Stadium. Their wasn’t an open or free one available. Our own Scott, who works three blocks away from Progressive Field, had his signal jammed up at his office!
So I went old school, put my phone in my pocket and left it there. The good news was that there was no emergency with my family, because there was no way my wife or anyone else for that matter was getting in touch with me. While my phone showed full bars, you could not make an outgoing call or receive an incoming call if you needed one.
This seems to happen every Opening Day at Progressive Field and then it usually goes away for a while, and pops back up on Friday night and Saturday night games during the summer when the crowd reaches 25-30,000 fans. That is obviously no excuse. In today’s information-now world, to not have even a semi-strong cell phone service available in the middle of a midwestern downtown area is a gigantic failure.
The issue goes on eight Sundays a year down at the Lakefront for Browns games as well. Anyone who has a Verizon phone knows what I am talking about. Like yesterday at the Tribe opener, texts, tweets, and emails go unsent and unread for hours. Phone calls do not come in or go out.
The Indians asked their fans yesterday to Tweet out their smartphone pictures with the hashtag #TribeTown and then they would put them on the scoreboard. I didn’t see more than two or three images go up, because nobody could get their phones to work. Every in-game tweet, Instagram Photo, Twitpic upload, etc, is all free marketing for the Indians. They are one of the most progressive franchises in terms of their use of social media, yet inside the stadium, their users couldn’t get a signal. This will improve when the crowds get smaller, but you miss a golden opportunity on Opening Day of all days.
I emailed the Indians Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, the man behind all of the Indians public relations, Bob Dibiasio and asked him for his take on why the cell phone service was so poor yesterday and why the Tribe does not offer free public WiFi inside of Progressive Field. He said, “we do recognize the cell and WiFi service is a concern of our fans; we are working with MLB to address the issue of connectivity not only here in Cleveland but in all MLB ballparks.”
The NFL has been more out in front of this issue. The handheld FanVision technology is available to all Browns fans and works inside the stadium on a WiFi connection supplied by the team. Patriots Owner Robert Kraft is leading the charge to put free WiFi in all NFL stadiums while taking advantage of its abilities in terms or not just replays on a FanVision handheld device, but with the ability to order food and drinks from your seat from a smartphone app.
Said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last May:
“We believe that it is important to get technology into our stadiums. We have made the point repeatedly that the experience at home is outstanding, and we have to compete with that in some fashion by making sure that we create the same kind of environment in our stadiums and create the same kind of technology. …We want to make sure our fans, when they come into stadiums, don’t have to shut down.”
Browns President Joe Banner and Owner Jimmy Haslam have hinted that there will be improvements to the First Energy Stadium WiFi connection in 2013. I just would like to see it get to the point that my phone battery doesn’t die in two hours despite not being able to get any sort of data connection to work.
It doesn’t seem to me to be that hard to solve. Lima, who was at the National Title game last night, told me this morning that he used his phone and the free public WiFi connection inside of the Georgia Dome last night with no problems. He also had zero problem receiving or making calls. That was in downtown Atlanta, with 75,000 plus in the same building. Then again, I attended last year’s Kansas/Kentucky National Title game at the Superdome in New Orleans and could not get a signal to work there either.
I know this sounds like a trivial issue to some, but this is 2013. We are all slaves to our smartphones. The Indians push their social media agenda about as well as any team in pro sports, yet they have to recognize and take care of a problem that is right in their backyard.
Literally and figuratively.