Being able to listen to the Red Sox radio broadcast on WEEI through my iPhone is one of my favorite things about modern technology. With the MLB.tv subscription, I can actually watch the Red Sox games on any of my devices, or if I happen to be in a situation where I can’t look at a screen, like when I’m driving, I can still listen to the game live. So even though I was faced with the daunting task of driving the six hours back to San Francisco from LA by myself on Tuesday afternoon, I was excited that three of those hours would be spent listening to the Sox/Royals game. With the converter I use that plays audio from my iPhone over the car’s speakers, I was set. A 16oz Red Bull, some beef jerky, a full sleeve of Sour Cream -n- Onion Pringles and the Red Sox game on my car radio… where’s the downside?
The downside was that I basically had to keep my hand on the radio’s volume knob for three hours in case WEEI wanted to interrupt the broadcast to update its listeners on the Celtics playoff game. Over the course of the baseball game, I think WEEI did this four times. Luckily I was ready each time and avoided hearing the score of the Celtics by immediately turning the volume down. Other than almost hearing the score accidentally a few times, the other problem was that I had to dedicate one of my hands to the volume the whole time. I was already one hand short because I kept getting my entire right arm stuck inside the Pringles container. So I was basically driving up the 101 at 80 miles per hour steering with my knee.
The reason I had to censor the score updates is because I had the Celtics game taping on my DVR back at home. Knowing I’d be in the car at the same time the C’s were trying to close out Atlanta, I wanted to avoid any exposure to the score so I could watch it later Tuesday night. On top of the radio situation, I also had to avoid all text messages, phone calls and the urge to scroll through Twitter while driving.
While this was far from my first time doing the tape delay of a live sporting event, it really got me thinking. Is it worth it to temporarily cut yourself off from the entire outside world because you want to watch a previously-played game as if it’s happening live? Are some games acceptable to do this for while others are not? Are you allowed to strangle someone if they happen to mention the score of the exact game you’re trying to avoid hearing about? It’s a dangerous game we play when we try to create an alternate reality where a sporting event is “live” only when we’re ready for it to be live.
Like I said, I’ve been dealing with this conundrum for years. Living in California makes it even more relevant because during the week, most games played by my Boston teams begin by 4 or 4:30, and unfortunately getting out of work early isn’t always an option. So you do the whole song and dance of taping the game and telling all your coworkers that if they check on the score and happen to mention it to you, they’ll never see their families again. And generally that works because people don’t want their loved ones to die, and because it’s just one hour or so that you have to avoid all spoilers for.
But what about those weekend days when a game starts at 1pm, but there’s just no way you can watch it until 7 or 8 that night? How hard is it to avoid a spoiler in that situation? On that kind of day, it’s not like you can sit in a dark cave shut off from the rest of the world until you’re ready to watch the game. If that was the case, you’d be watching the game live. No, on that weekend day you’re inevitably in a situation where you have to go for a hike with your girlfriend; or go apartment hunting because you decided on a whim to move 400 miles away. So you’re out in the real world where all sorts of idiots can screw up the game for you. You somehow have to avoid the game being ruined by people who are around you as well as accidentally seeing the score on TV or hearing it on the radio. It’s stressful to the point where you’re not even remotely enjoying whatever that other activity is that you got sucked into. And then the person that made you participate in it gets pissed off because you’re ruining everyone’s day…and suddenly she wishes you had just stayed home and watched the game live. (Hint: ruin enough of her Sunday hikes and brunches and she’ll never ask you to miss a game again)
There’s one other problem with this practice of taping the games. This past Tuesday night I was taping the Celtics game to watch it by myself when I got home, but many times a group of us will decide to avoid seeing the score of a game, and we’ll all get together later in the night and watch the taped version. So in theory you have three or four people who are all on the same page, having shut themselves off from all communication about the result of this game. But then you start watching, and suddenly one of the guys is on his iPad screwing around. You warn him that if he sees the final score online, he better not say anything. He doesn’t say anything, but the next thing you know the Celtics are down by seven points with three minutes left, and this guy is putting his shoes on and getting ready to leave. Gee, I wonder if maybe you already know the Celtics’ comeback fell short if you’re walking out the door in silence as the game is still happening on my TV? If you have that friend who really can’t commit to avoiding the result, just stop inviting him over for these delayed viewings because his body language will ruin the outcome for you every time. It’s similar to when you tell your friend not to mention the score because you have it taped at home, and then he says, “ahh, I’ll save you some time, they got crushed tonight.” He thinks he’s doing you a favor, but what he doesn’t know is that now you’re planning to get back at him by ruining something he really cares about, like his upcoming wedding.
My final take is that you cannot do the tape delay thing for the biggest games…The Super Bowl, The NCAA football and basketball championships, any championship games really. These games are important enough that you should be watching live. And you can’t do it everyday for regular season baseball, basketball or hockey games. That’s just obnoxious to be avoiding the outcome of a game every single day. And you can’t do it for football on Sundays because then you miss the RedZone Channel and following your fantasy team live as the games are happening. So really, the only appropriate time to watch games on tape delay is for early-round playoff games in all of the major sports.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go setup Game 6 of the Celtics/Hawks series to tape later tonight.