Why Sports Is Best Enjoyed With Human Beings

A buzzer-beater, game-winning basket is scored when you’re watching the game alone. What is your next move — celebrate or communicate?

The likely answer is you grab your phone to text a friend or send a group text. While you’re texting friends, you’re scrolling through and dismissing push alerts as you write a post to share on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or the new social media platform you’re trying out. TikToc anyone?

The new normal is you are never alone watching sports.

And it feels good.

Sports is best enjoyed with other human beings. It makes sense.

We buy tickets to attend games. We invite friends with us or ask to meet up with them. We relish the opportunity to sit in a stadium, arena or ballpark with a crowd, especially with a home crowd for our team, to cheer, celebrate and even agonize.

But, would you want to attend a game by yourself in an empty arena?

You know the answer.

Sports brings us together. It unifies us as a society, globally and locally, in being participants and spectators as well as supporters and fans.

Sports are woven into the fabric of our social being and identity through our culture, family roots and geography. Sports are community-driven, but go even deeper within human experience.

“You want to share the moment and experience it and other people,” said Tom Richardson, who teaches sports digital media at Columbia University’s Sports Management program.

“Are you watching? This is crazy,” is what Richardson texted his son during the final minutes of the Golden State Warriors comeback win over the Toronto Raptors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. “It was my natural instinct to text him about the game even though it was after 11 p.m.”

“Sports remains — even in these polarized times — one of the most communal experiences we have,” said Richard Deitsch, a writer for The Athletic. “The experience of watching something together, even if physically miles apart, cuts down the barriers among us. One of the amazing things for me about recently moving to Toronto was watching the faces in the crowd at Jurassic Park of Raptors fans — different genders, ethnicities, (likely) political parties, all coming together for a shared experience. It’s why live sports are so valuable to outlets. There are very few things like it in North American society.”

We love to interact and socialize around sports.

Sports psychology professor Daniel Wann of Murray State University, who authored Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators, wrote:

It boils down to the fact that as a species, we have a strong need to belong, and to identify with something greater than ourselves. And for many people, watching a game gives us the opportunity to do that. And when our team wins a big game, our self-esteem scores points as well. Psychologists call this phenomenon “reflected glory” — where the success of the team positively reflects on its fans.

When you don’t want to text a friend about the game, you can turn to the world’s largest virtual sports bar – Twitter.

The Twitter sports bar is always open. It never sleeps.

It’s a fascinating three-ring circus where sports talk radio meets sports news network combined with highlights, GIFs and never- ending hot takes from media personalities to fans and an entertaining #NBATwitter community that loves to talk fashion, music and culture — with the same passion as NBA.

Memphis Grizzlies reporter Alexis Morgan sums up the drawing power of Twitter:

“A lot of people think Twitter is a secondary screen when you’re watching the NBA. I kind of think of it as the first screen because that’s the first thing I look at when something crazy happens. A lot of times, I’m watching my timeline more than I’m actually watching the game.”

The Internet has literally changed the game with streaming, distribution and social media communication. Long gone are the days of Ma Bell encouraging you to reach and touch someone.

All of this fan interaction is leading us closer and closer to virtual reality. Right now, digital video streaming service Sling TV is offering a co-viewing feature on Oculus Go app. For the NBA Finals, you can host a game watching party where you can see your friends’ avatars on a couch and communicate with each other.

According to Richardson, you will soon text your friends to meet you on a Saturday at 1 p.m. in a virtual social realm. Think Fortnite meets Ready Player One, in a private viewing room where you will watch a college football game.

The most provocative thing about a VR world is the ability to truly connect with our friends and others. It’s why media analyst, inventor and thought leader Matthew Balls refers to Fortnite as ‘a social square – a digital mall or virtual afterschool meetup that spans cities, neighborhoods, countries and continents.’

The communal aspect of sports will always make it a better experience. And soon you’ll be able to make legal sports wagers with your friends depending on what U.S. state you’re in.

TMR member T.K. Gore is a media executive, teacher and consultant. He serves as a director of business development at Comscore and teaches entrepreneurship in sports business at Northwestern University. You can follow on Twitter at @TKGore.