What the hell am I doing here?
That's the question that kept tugging at my brain while sitting at the UFC event "in person" a couple weeks ago. I put that phrase in quotes because even while sitting in relatively coveted seats on the ground floor of the United Center, I realized I wasn't actually watching the live action in front of me.
Instead, I kept finding myself peering upward to the crystal-clear JumboTron, transfixed by the up-close-and-personal shots of the fighters grappling on the mat. I wasn't the only one—there were plenty of others around me with necks craned toward the ceiling like we were all hanging out at the biggest, most awkward sports bar in town.
This is a problem for the future of live sporting event attendance. If we're already paying a premium for tickets, parking, transportation and crappy stadium food and beer, and yet end up witnessing most of the action on a massive TV, watching sports at home or a sports bar becomes that much more attractive.
There are exceptions, of course. Hockey and soccer are both examples of sports better enjoyed with more of a bird's-eye-view of the action as opposed to the focused-on-the-ball/puck perspective of TV broadcasts.
But overall, the fact that pro sports attendance figures haven't nose-dived already is a testament to the power of ritual and tradition over rationality. Sports can be a glamorized cult for many of us (just ask Penn State fans) where dragging yourself to a game can feel as obligatory as attending a Christmas church service. There's also the "I-was-there!" bragging rights you can use on your friends or on social media.
My prediction is this: If sports arenas and stadiums don't somehow find a way to improve the experience and drive down costs, common sense will prevail in five to 10 years and we'll all be enjoying the big game on our 3-D, 100-inch, outer-space plasma TVs.
The cheap seats? They'll all become the empty seats.
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.