Cut the Cord, Keep the Sports (c)

4 Apr

In a perfect world, cutting the cable cord wouldn’t mean cutting sports out of your life.

Last year, I lamented* how my life has been changed without cable TV.  Replacing cable with Netflix and Hulu (via a Roku) has been a success for most of the household – except when there is a sporting event that I want to watch.  Then I’m mostly out of luck.

*Or, as my wife might say, “cried like a b___ baby”.  Six of one…

For the most part, I’ve learned to deal with this.  My friends are great about letting me join them to watch my beloved Huskers play their road games – even that game at Fresno State last fall that didn’t kick off until 10 pm.  Otherwise, I’ve accepted that I’m only going to experience TV sports second-hand through Twitter comments or a highlight clip shared online.

But then, my beloved Kansas City Royals started playing good baseball.  All summer they were either in first place or in contention for a wildcard spot.  I would listen to games on the radio while I was out running errands, but I rarely saw them play on TV.

Once late September hit, it really started to get serious.  The Royals could clinch their first playoff spot in 29 years.  This was something I had to take in.  Fortunately, the MLB TV app was offering a free upgrade so I was able to listen to most of the game without sitting my car all night.  But as the Royals inched closer to that playoff spot, the itch to watch became too much.  I hopped in the car and went down to the neighborhood bar to watch the last inning on TV.  The Royals won and earned a wildcard spot.

For the wildcard game, I needed to step up my game.  The game was on TBS, so I tried the TBS app on our iPad.  Problem:  you needed to be a cable subscriber to access the app.  But if I had cable, I wouldn’t be watching a baseball game on my iPad, I’d use the 50″ screen in my living room.  Back to the bar for that game.

For the ALDS, I settled on MLB.tv, where for $3.99 I was able to access the TBS broadcast on the iPad.  However, that was not a perfect solution.  On the bright side, you could pick which camera angle you wanted to view (center field, catcher, first or third base angle, home or visitor dugout, etc.).  That’s pretty cool.  The downside was you were locked into that camera angle.  For example: if I was watching the center field view, I could see the pitch come in, but if it was hit, I couldn’t see the rest of the play – my view was still coming from that one camera.

MLB.tv did offer a “Quad View” option, where you got the center field and catcher angles (along with two other views) in a split screen.  Unfortunately, the other two angles were locked into the home and visitor dugouts.  I saw A LOT of Ned Yost during those first few games of the playoffs.  Plus, my already small view of the game was now even smaller.  And even though you were listening to the TBS broadcasters, you did not get to see the TBS graphics or replays, so you had better pay attention.

A family mini-vacation aligned perfectly with two games of the ALCS, so I was able to watch those games in the hotel room in full HD glory.  Game three was back to the iPad with MLB.tv.  The clinching game four, started during the afternoon, so I didn’t get home from work until the late innings.  Not wanting to watch the final outs on the Mini’s screen, I scooped up my one year old daughter and ran down to the neighborhood bar*.  We watched the Royals clinch the American League pennant while she ate orange slices from the bar.

*Yeah, I did.  And I’d do it again.

With this crazy, improbable playoff run culminating in a World Series berth, it was time to do something different.  I looked into live streaming options for the Fox telecast, but it appeared to me that I would need a Fox app (and likely, an active cable subscription).  A coworker suggested a website where you can view streams of various sporting events, provided you can navigate a maze of pop up ads and spam links.

Finally, I found the MLB app for our Roku player.  With a $9.99 purchase, I am able to stream the full Fox broadcast (replays and all) on my big TV.  Even better, the app has options to jump to a specific inning which meant I could wait to start Game 2 until the kids were in bed.  Even though the World Series ended in heartache, it was a joy to be able to watch live sports in the comfort of my home on a screen larger than nine inches.

I had the itch for live sports.

*   *   *

You can currently subscribe to services like MLB At Bat to get “out of market” games streamed to your mobile device, but as I mentioned last time, it seems ridiculous to watch a game on a four-inch phone screen when most homes have a 40 inch (or larger) TV set.  Yes, there are ways to get content from your device onto your plasma, but I want something that doesn’t involve buying a new device/TV, tethering my device to a HDMI cable, or some third-party app.

Recently, I discovered that I can cast the screen from my Android phone to our Roku.  That’s been great during the NCAA Tournament, as the March Madness app streams all of the games, but I would not describe the picture quality as “crisp” or “clear”.  And with this set up, I can’t use my phone for calls, texts, tweets, or a quick game of Candy Crush during a commercial.

*   *   *

During the heart of the past college football season, a miracle happened.

No, I’m not referring to Jordan Westerkamp’s ridiculous behind the back catch.  A kind-hearted angel, who will remain nameless, signed into the Watch ESPN app on my Roku with the info from their cable account.  Suddenly, I had access to live college football, and it was glorious.  I thought about the moral and ethical implications of receiving content that I was not paying for.

I also thought that averaging $75 a month for cable TV over the last 20 years – which is probably low – I’ve given the cable companies around $18,000.  Suddenly, watching Wisconsin and Rutgers didn’t seem so horrible.

*   *   *

So where do we go from here?

With every passing year, the likelihood of me going back to cable, or trying out satellite gets lower.  Today’s internet and streaming apps have given us the expectation for content on demand.

In short, I want to view what I want, on my big TV, without having to pay for crap I don’t care about.

The sports networks (ESPN, FOX Sports, Turner, etc.) should follow the lead of a true pioneer:  The WWE.

Yes, you heard me.  World Wrestling Entertainment.

Last year, they launched the WWE Channel for the Roku streaming player.  The 24/7 channel has original content, “classic matches”, and other rasslin’-centric programming.  But most importantly, the WWE Channel offers the monthly pay-per-view events (including WrestleMania) as part of the subscription price.  The price ($9.99 a month) isn’t bad considering each PPV match costs $44.95 ($59.95 for WrestleMania).

I would love to see other leagues and teams follow this model.  Imagine an NBA fan being able to subscribe to see all of the games for their favorite team along with the programming on the NBA TV network.  Or a college football fan being able to subscribe to the Big Ten Network to get access to games.

Major League Baseball has the MLB.tv service that allows you to watch “out of market” games on mobile devices.  You can upgrade to the Premium version for an extra $5 a month (or $20 a year) to be able to use a streaming device like Roku or Apple TV, or XBox).  But the kicker here is “out of market”.  Even though my house is 200 miles away from Kaufmann Stadium, my ZIP Code is considered to be in the Royals’ market – so even if I paid $129.99 for the full season of MLB.tv Premium, I would only get a handful of Royals games.  Heck, even if I was a fan of, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates, I’m still paying for a bunch of content that I’m not interested in.

*   *   *

In my perfect world, there would be options for all types of cord-cutting sports fans:  the diehards who live for the individual sports, passionate fans of individual teams, and the casual sports fan.

That guy who lives for the NFL, MLS, or NASCAR?  He buys a league pass package giving them all of the games.  Casual fans could subscribe to the ESPN or Fox Sports apps without having to get 95 other channels of garbage.  And passionate fans of a specific team could buy a “streaming season ticket” giving them access to all of their team’s games – regardless of the network they are on.

Until that day comes, I’ll be praying my kind-hearted angel doesn’t change the password on their cable account, or my children will be accompanying me to the sports bar for those can’t-miss moments.

*   *   *

(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

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