Sports and the Internet: Times They Are A-Changin'
Over the remainder of the year, FanHouse will be covering the top sports stories of the decade. In this installment, Michael David Smith looks at how the Internet has changed the game for sports fans everywhere over the last 10 years.
At the start of this decade, we sports fans thought the Internet had given us a sports utopia. Consider how great things were for sports fans on the Internet in 2000:
* We didn't have to wait for the daily newspaper to get our box scores; we could just log on to a web site like ESPNet.SportsZone.com and get the box score within minutes of a game ending.
* Writers like Peter King and Bill Simmons were doing online-only columns where they weren't constrained by the bounds of word counts and publication deadlines and could write as they pleased -- and sometimes even respond to e-mails from us, the readers.
* Some of our favorite athletes had their own web sites.
If we had only known how far we'd come.
Forget about getting a box score at the end of a game, now real-time, up-to-the-minute stats are everywhere -- not just on that desktop computer with dial-up modem you were using in 2000, but also on your BlackBerry and your iPhone.
Forget about big-name writers like King and Simmons, anyone can be a sports writer. Forget a few athletes having clunky, badly designed web sites, now hundreds of professional athletes are keeping us updated on their every move on Twitter.
And, of course, that's just the start of it. In 2000, if you wanted game highlights, you had to catch them on SportsCenter. Now it's a lot easier just to find them on YouTube. In 2000, if you wanted to know the basic information about an athlete, you actually had to do a little poking around to cobble that information together.
Now you just Google him or find his Wikipedia entry. In 2000, you knew next to nothing about the players your favorite college team was recruiting. Now you can find all of his/her stats and highlights, plus a huge community of fellow fans eager to argue with you online about whether he can start as a freshman.
There was a time when the idea that your Internet connection could be fast enough to watch live sports online would have been crazy, and yet now watching live sports online is easy -- so easy, in fact, that sports leagues and media outlets are profiting from charging for live sports online while simultaneously fretting that illegal streams are giving people an easy route to avoid paying.
At the start of this decade, there was no such thing as a "sports blog," and the proliferation of sports on the Internet was still limited to either the big media companies or the obsessive fans with their own sites -- sites that would be lucky to get a dozen readers a day. Now we've reached the point where the big media companies like ESPN feel the need to defend themselves from blogs like Deadspin.
My favorite example of the way the sports media landscape has changed with the proliferation of sports news on the web is the NFL Draft. When ESPN first proposed the idea of televising the NFL Draft, people scoffed: Who on earth would sit at home watching college football players' names being announced on TV?
Of course, plenty of people watched on TV, but the way one cable network influenced the draft in the 1980s and 1990s is nothing compared to the way thousands of web sites have influenced the draft in this decade. Search for "NFL mock draft" and you get more than half a million results. We've now reached the point where the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis draws more members of the media than football players -- and the majority of those media members are primarily writing for the web.
Frank Deford, one of the great sports writers of the 20th Century, used the proliferation of NFL Draft information on the web last year as a reason to complain about the ways technology has changed things, in Deford's view, for the worse. And then, in a wonderful demonstration of how far sports have come in the first decade of the 21st Century, the blog Fire Joe Morgan took on Deford point by point, showing that we've never been better off than we are right now.
The truth is, no matter what the Defords of the world might tell us about the greatness of sports in the 20th Century, sports are every bit as great in the 21st. But now being a sports fan is much greater, because the Internet has made sports more accessible than ever before. Looking ahead to the next decade, it's safe to say there's never been a better time to be a sports fan.