D12: Virtual Fans

At the Pens game Monday night, two teenage girls were seated two rows in front of my mom and me. They were dressed in full Pens regalia: T-shirts, hats, Pens logos on their purses. For all intents and purposes, they looked like fans.

Every once in a while, they even looked up from their phones to yell, “Go Pens!” And shockingly, this tended to happen at appropriate moments, as if an invisible arm had nudged them and said, “Hey, Fleury just made an incredible save!” prompting them to stand and cheer. Then, they went right back to their phones.

They were on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. I watched them take at least two “selfies!” of themselves watching the game, color correct them in Insta and post them to Facebook. At one point, David, the beer man in our section, who was incredibly entertaining in general, told them to stop texting and watch the damn game. “You paid $150 for those seats,” he said. “Watch the game. Do not make me call security on you. If I see you looking at those phones one more time … ”

Of course, the moment he was gone …

Considering I was in Pittsburgh reporting a story on female fans and had been encountering so many women who truly love their sports teams and know the game(s), I found it odd (although I shouldn’t have) that these teens were acting just like any teenaged girls I would see at a Lakers game or meet on the streets of New York City. They weren’t there for the sport, or to watch the game. They were there to be seen watching the game, and to tell their  friends they were at the game, via any number of methods of social media. They aren’t real fans, I thought.

Or were they?  Maybe they were enjoying the game. For me, it would have been hard. I find that covering live sporting events has become difficult because of social media. You look down to write a Tweet — oh, this is going to be sooo clever — and you miss the play of the night. The moments you would spend digesting what you’re watching and formulating story ideas are spent reading Twitter and wondering what to say next, or taking photos for Insta and Facebook. The actual experience is diminished in service of the virtual one. The same is true of the fan experience. Or maybe I’m just over 30 and old-fashioned.

Maybe those girls were enjoying the game. Maybe they have the ability to live in both realms simultaneously in a way those of us who didn’t grow up with cell phones, smart phones and social media don’t. Maybe the experience will continue to evolve and the next generation of fans won’t even have to leave their homes in order to go to the game. They’ll turn on the game virtually, perhaps via a pair of Google glasses, and a hologram of themselves will appear in a seat in the arena. Maybe that will be just the beginning.



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