The purity of watching sports without social media

USA TODAY Sports

I've been called an ADDICT when it comes to social media, and I won't deny it. So this week, I put down my phone and closed my computer to experience the NBA Finals matchup in the strangest way these days - with ONLY the television on. GASP! And I survived. And actually really enjoyed the experiment, and the games.

I did a little experiment this week.

For the first time in the NBA Playoffs, I put down my phone, closed my computer, and just watched the past two games of the Spurs vs Heat matchup. At first, it felt strange to just sit with only the television on, being so used to multitasking during games and giving in to the ADD culture of sports media consumption. I was afraid of what I would miss - the insider information, the snarky jokes from friends, or whether Dan McCarney or Matthew Tynan wore the best sport coat.

And while I think Twitter is like talking to a wall, with the possibility (and maybe even hope) that someone is listening to what you are saying, I rely heavily on the online interactions during sporting events to supplement my experience of the games. No one may care what I think about the game, but it is an outlet for me, and so many others, to express opinions, excitement and frustrations with (imaginary) others.

But it felt so pure to just watch. By giving up the small screen for the big screen, the enjoyment was focused because I could put all my attention and emotion into one medium. Sure, I was screaming a bit more at the TV because I wasn’t rattling it off online, but I felt more involved in the game than ever. And it seemed as though I was one of the few that gave up social media for the games. According to ESPN Research, NBA Finals Game 3 generated the most social activity of the series with 2.8 million tweets sent by 826,000 people.

Social media, and Twitter in particular, has changed the way we view our favorite sporting events by giving viewers the opportunity to experience games through mediated relationships. The more screens you add to your experience, the more your experience will become disjointed yet heightened. You immerse yourself in the social experiences, taking you closer to the action through other’s perceptions and thoughts. In a way, you bond with strangers similar to a sports bar (cue in the Buffalo Wild Wings “Strangers” commercial).

More interestingly, our society is starting to turn to social media to know what the athletes are thinking and feeling. When games are over, fans and media wait for posts from the players – social networks is the new press conference. How did Tony Parker inform the public about his injury yesterday? Facebook. Where does Danny Green share his favorite pictures from games? Twitter. THAT is their way to communicate, and THAT is our way of understanding them.

Sports and sport networks are beginning to understand the value of social media in the creation and identity of the sport community. Such connections allow fans to gain information about their favorite teams and players, which utilizes the media as an outlet to create a sense of belonging to a group. Furthermore, social media gives fans the idea of “power to the people” to express excitement, sadness, and anger about the outcome of games.

I asked my followers on Twitter about being connected online while watching games, and most are on the social media during commercial breaks rather than during game play because they don’t want to miss any of the action. I found myself online even while the teams were playing, missing plays and camera shots. I relied too much on replays because I was so engrossed in the online commentary of Twitter. Yes, it’s fun to read what others think about certain plays and foul issues, as it’s fun to express emotions on Twitter for all to read. But becoming too dependent on the social commentary took away from the enjoyment of the game.

We turn to Twitter for instant game updates, player’s reactions and breaking news. It also serve as a medium for us to feed our emotional need to belong – fans can respond to real-time events, ask commentators or players questions (and maybe receive feedback) and release dramatic responses to what we are watching. With social media playing an important role in the world of sports, we are starting to see first-hand how such media influences sport experience.

So, I wonder what your experience would be if you put down your small screens and just watched? Do you think you would enjoy the game more? Or do you rely on your social media community to add to the experience of sports? There are awesome benefits to social media, particularly in the sporting world, and the tools increase your emotional experiences, but it always takes away from the game.

For Game 5, try this experiment by putting down your phone and closing your computer. Then tell me what you think. I’d be curious to see if anyone else has a change in heart in their (mediated) consumption of sports. Think of it as homework, but more fun.

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