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Online streaming changes sports experience

By David Song, November 17, 2015 —

In order to watch professional sporting events, fans used to have to either show up in person or sit down in front of their televisions and get comfortable for a couple hours. But with the rise of online streaming services, this is no longer the case.

Canada’s favourite pastime is now available online as NHL GameCentre, allowing fans to stream hockey games in high-definition on their TVs, gaming consoles, laptops, tablets or phones.

The NFL recently simulcast a game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills on Yahoo. The CFL plans to stream the 2015 Grey Cup on YouTube. As streaming fast becomes an established part of how we enjoy media, it’s undeniable that following sports is now more convenient than ever before. But the benefits go beyond obvious perks like being able to watch a game on your phone if you can’t get home in time for the opening puck-drop.

One key advantage is the ability to watch out-of-market games. Let’s say you’re a Calgary Flames fan living in Toronto, or a New England Patriots fan living in Vancouver. In the past, you would have been unable to watch every game you wanted because your geographical location lends itself to regional blackouts. Flames games are rarely shown in Toronto unless they’re playing the Maple Leafs or another team in the area. The NFL engages in a similar practice.

But streaming services grant you access no matter where you live. This is an enormous improvement for sports enthusiasts, who are now able to check out teams they may not usually root for, and perhaps follow their favourite non-local squads closely throughout the year. Streaming effectively expands audience size for each league that uses it, which will only help pro sports thrive in the long-term.

That being said, the availability of streaming also has its drawbacks as well. Sure, it’s great to be able to watch what you want when you want, and not be constrained by your place of residence or daily schedule. But how much are you really going to enjoy a game if you’re taking peeks at it on your phone? The traditional viewing experience invites fans to come together and appreciate sports as a community, something that NHL GameCentre and Yahoo are not always good for.

We should be careful not to settle for an altered way of viewing games that takes us completely out of this shared experience. Visit the Saddledome once in a while. Have a football and wings night with friends. Take advantage of streaming, but don’t let it distract you from what sports are really about — unity, community and good old-fashioned fun.

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