While sports are about competition and can lead to division between supporters of different teams, in general, sports tend to unite much more than they divide. Sports can help bring together a region as cities rally around their local teams. People are brought together in support of their favorite teams. There is a question about whether the rise in viewing options is leading to a disruption of this community.
It used to be that everyone had to gather around the television to watch the game. Families would come together to watch their teams play. Then homes had more televisions, and people started watching games in separate rooms. Now people are watching games on computers, tablets, and phones as well, and increasingly watching them after the game has already been played.
This has led to a bit of a disconnect within the sporting community, where people share the moments of triumph less than they once did.
So far, the fractures in the sports community have only been minor. The most important thing when it comes to keeping the sports community intact is that most people still watch sporting events live. Waiting to watch a game can be very tricky because you will often end up hearing the score before you get to view the game. However, it may become easier to do this as the number of people streaming sports grows.
The Path of Scripted Television
To understand the path that sports are on you can look to what happened with scripted television. However, you must also be aware that there are some critical distinctions that will keep sports from directly following the path laid out before them.
In the early days of television, before cable and the VCR came on the scene, the shows on broadcast television were cultural cornerstones. There were only a few viewing options. Either you watched a show, or you didn’t. People would see their friends or colleagues the day after the show aired and discuss what happened.
If people were talking about a show you hadn’t seen, you weren’t concerned. Spoilers were not a concern, as people simply never planned to watch a show if they didn’t watch it when it originally aired.
Things changed somewhat with reruns as there became a chance to see a show at a later date, but spoilers were still generally not a big deal.
The VCR gave people the chance to watch a show later, and so there became a little more discretion when speaking about a show to make sure you weren’t spoiling it for someone planning to watch it the next day. However, there were still no real worries about spoiling the show long-term. People generally watched things within a few days of their airdate.
Cable added diversity, so not as many people were watching the same show. This lead to smaller groups of people devoted to certain shows. It reduced the overall community but helped to strengthen the smaller group communities. People were able to identify more commonalities with others based upon their show preferences.
The rise of the internet and the introduction of DVRs led to the most spoiler-rich time in scripted television history. People were saving several episodes of shows up to watch at a later date, and everyone was talking about the shows online. The rise of social media groups made things even worse.
Then streaming came along, and unless you were watching a show with a person or you were to binge a show the day it was released, you likely were not watching any show at the same time as anyone else in your social circle.
You might talk with someone about a show after you know you have both seen it now. However, in cases where you watch the show months apart, whoever watched the show first has likely forgotten several of the things about which the latter viewer wants to talk.
As a result, the community around shows has greatly diminished but not vanished. Now it tends to focus on people who watch a show multiple times and are devoted to knowing everything about it. Things are even more divided into groups than they once were.
Spoilers have also diminished, though. Almost everyone has had something in a show ruined for them, and most people are now careful not to put spoilers out into the world without plenty of warnings.
How Sports Differ
Sports never progressed nearly as far down any of these paths as scripted television did, so there is no reason to think they suddenly will with the rise of streaming. While people are likely to start watching games somewhat more at their own pace, it will be unlikely to ever reach the same rate as scripted television.
A scripted TV show can be just as exciting if you see it years after it first came out. That doesn’t quite translate for sports, though. It is more exciting to watch what your team is doing now (unless they are currently terrible).
Another reason things won’t get to the same level is that some sporting events are really too big not to spoil. The Superbowl is a huge cultural event each year, and people are going to hear the score.
The score is another way in which sports differ. If you hear an important detail about a show ahead of time, it can be annoying but likely won’t completely ruin your experience of watching the show. If you hear the score of a game and know that your team lost, it is not going to be very fun to watch the game.
For those who play fantasy sports, there is also a need to stay current with the games in order to be competitive. You have to follow along with the current football data if you have any hope of winning your fantasy football league.
Except for The Simpsons, scripted TV shows also end. There is a story told over several seasons, and then it is over. Sports just go on and on, though. If you miss one season, you can watch the next without being lost. You might have a few new players on your team, but you are generally dealing with a clean slate.
Despite these reasons why sports won’t fully follow the path laid out by scripted television, it is likely to move a degree further in that direction. People will likely all be caught up by the time the playoffs hit, but fans may save weekday games. Baseball fans could save up a couple of weeks of games and then skip ahead when a score seems out of hand and not fully watch all of the innings.
People will most likely become more mindful during the regular season to ask if others have seen the game before broadcasting the results. It will be on a much smaller scale than scripted TV, but sports are going to continue to become more personalized. The community will be pushed a bit into the background to make more room for the individual.