NFL Sunday Ticket on the Go: The Review

For many fall Sundays now, I’ve trotted out the door in my Steeler gear to drain $3 Coors Lights with assorted bar-based bits of Steeler Nation. I have many fond memories of this from my 20s, but at age Lame, I’d rather just watch the game on my couch like the NFL-loving entitled American that I am. Between affordable good beer, commercial-vanquishing HD DVR, Trader Joe’s chicken taquitos and the freedom to react as violently as I should when the Steelers’ practice-squad OT goes down with an ACL tear, there’s no way I’m dragging my ass an entire block (!) to Durkins’ Bud-soaked confines.

What to do? The Steelers play three or four Thursday, Monday or Sunday-night games each year, and they show up as the alternate televised game here in Chicago every once in a while, but that only represents half of a 16-game season if I’m lucky. I might be luckier if I lived more proximate to Pittsburgh, but I don’t. The most well-known option for non-resident fans is NFL Sunday Ticket from DirecTV, which has brought many dollars to many bar owners, but some of us can’t get a DirecTV hookup due to building restrictions or whatever else. Enter Sunday Ticket on the Go.

STotG is the multi-platform version of Sunday Ticket: it’s built to run on smartphones, tablets and “big browser”, a.k.a. your basic Chrome / IE / Firefox / Safari. DirecTV says STotG is strictly for households that can’t get DirecTV due to line-of-sight issues or restrictions on satellite dishes. I don’t know how they enforce this policy — is some offshore firm logging my IP and running test signups in my area to see if I’m cheating? — but our building isn’t cool with satellite dishes (I think), so I was golden to sign up, once I got over the sticker shock of $350. (Damn. And a major point below.) So, the review:

Interface(s): Pretty good. DirecTV did a phat job of fitting the application to the platform. I like to use my work laptop to watch the games, as I can either hook its HD output up to the TV for mucho size or sit it on my lap for sehr schön interactivity. (See this bitchin’ four-game screenshot.) Last week while in Jacksonville, I checked out a few games on the STotG Android phone app and the interface worked well there, too, in a way that wasn’t just a cut-and-paste of the web interface. I like the constantly updating scores, and particularly the inclusion of the RedZone channel — if I’m feeling information overload, I’ll just click that mug and overload is underloaded, or whatever the hell that should say. (RedZone is not a part of my cable package and not yet offered online, plus RedZone obviously wouldn’t include entire Steeler games, so it’s not much of a stand-alone option for now.) I do wish STotG would have highlights show up in chronological order when I click “Play All” highlights, and Twitter junkies like me would also like to see publicly shareable links to individual highlights. So DirecTV: get on that.

Performance: Eh, OK. The video looks good on my phone, but only so-so on the PC’s greater resolution. I like to hook up to my TV via the PC’s HD output, which came through decently but not as well as the broadcast from a game on HD cable. I’m not as good on video-format technology, but it looks like STotG is a 720p HD stream, and that naturally isn’t going to look as good as the 1080p feed coming from the cable box. I also had some account-logout failure in the 3rd quarter of the Houston game that made me miss the Steelers’ only TD, which sucked because that game didn’t exactly have many other highlights for Pittsburgh. There are also some video-quality issues when you try to do the four-games-at-once quadrant view, but they clear up once all four games have been tuned in for a few minutes.

Value: Sucks. Let’s do some seasonal math up in this bitch:

  • Bar: 16 games * $20 tab per week (beers and food) = $320
  • STotG: (Fees: $350 / 16 games) + (beer: $8 beer-snob two-week supply * 16/2) + ($4 two-week taquito supply * 16/2) = (Per game: $21.88 + $4 + $2 = $27.88) * 16 games = $446.08

That’s a pretty significant difference when you account for food and beer. Excluding those, you’re paying $21.88 per game for STotG — comparable to a bar, but in what crazy world does someone skip food and drink when watching football? That would be like Eric Cantor conversing with someone who isn’t pre-screened to agree with him. I could try to put a dollar value on not having to leave home to watch the game, but then that’s a lot of work for a post I’m not getting paid to write. The point is, dropping some cost-benefit analysis on this STotG offer comes up with a questionable result, particularly in light of available substitutes …

What I’m going to do instead of STotG next year: RedZone plus NFL Rewind equals Tha Shiznit. If NFL RedZone gets this streaming thing going, I plan to combine that with NFL Rewind and get my pro-football fix for a mere $30 plus whatever NFL RedZone charges, which will surely be less than $350.

This plan has some holes: the extent of most of my live Steeler-watching will be RedZone cutaways, and I’ll have to wait up to a day to get a full game on Rewind. But the pro-Rewind Slate dialogue between Tommy Craggs (who was a sports editor at The Daily Northwestern at the same time I was a city-desk editor) and Ta-Nehisi Coates (who worked at TIME Magazine while I was at TIME.com) convinced me that NFL Rewind is a life-changing opportunity to both enjoy the NFL on a new level and shamelessly name-drop journalists I’ve encountered in my career. And you can watch condensed games in 30 minutes? Sheeit, my primetime TV lineup is set for weeks. All for just 20 percent of 2011’s outlandish football-watching cost.

In conclusion: STotG is probably not worth the money. I shelled out for it this year, but having done some more research, I think RedZone + Rewind is the way to go for the 2012 season. Just in time for the Steelers’ many old dudes to wither and fall off the roster.

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