How The Next Generation Watches Football

How The Next Generation Watches Football

Today's young adults consume the NFL in ways that vary greatly from their parents. A panel of college students discuss those differences, including the impact of Twitter on Sundays and which broadcast personalities resonate

How someone views the NFL and its product largely can depend on their perspective. (Doug Murray/Icon SMI) How someone views the NFL and its product largely can depend on their perspective. (Doug Murray/Icon SMI)

The lead item of this week's column is absent a familiar voice:


Hold your applause, please.

Instead, I’ve empaneled a group of college students—newspaper editors, writers and television majors—to answer a series of questions on how they consume the NFL and to share their thoughts on broadcasting.

The panel:

The only requirement the panel was given was to keep the answers tight. They were free to skip any questions. 

How do you watch NFL games? Be as specific as you can.

Adriana Bush: I typically stream the games online because I work at the newspaper every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and there are no TVs and I don't get phone service. Streaming is a hassle because sometimes pop-ups will come up that block the entire screen and prevent me from watching the game. Or the Internet service will be slow so I’ll hear the broadcaster announce a play but the screen will be frozen on a previous play. But it’s better than nothing. As soon as I get home I try to catch the night game on TV. I always watch the Monday and Thursday night games on a TV at home while reading commentary on Twitter with my phone.

Cody Goodwin: My living room has a gorgeous 46-inch TV. But I usually have both my phone and/or computer close by. I’ll use both Twitter and the Yahoo! Sports App on my iPhone for both commentary and stat tracking during the game. If it’s a Chiefs game, I’ll use the TuneIn Radio App to listen to Mitch Holthus from 101 The Fox in K.C.

I always have my computer and iPhone next to me while watching football.

Sarak Kirkpatrick: As a Seattleite and Seahawks fan studying in Boston, I have to watch games on my computer for the most part. Usually I have Twitter open in one window and the game in another.

Ryan Krasnoo: I watch games at my apartment on TV, and I normally have access to either my phone or computer. I'll probably be tweeting about certain things happening in a particular game, as well as checking my fantasy team to see how my players are doing.

Beth Maiman: I always have my computer and iPhone next to me while watching football. On my computer, I am checking how my fantasy team is doing and I use my phone to check Twitter or text friends about how their teams are holding up. If it's a big game for my favorite team, then the devices are put away because I find it distracting.

Brooke Pryor: For the most part, I watch NFL games on my iPad using NFL Sunday Ticket while I'm at work. I work with three assistants and they usually have games pulled up on their laptops, so between all of us we have a mini-sports bar minus the drinks and wings. I also get push notifications for halftime and end-game updates for my favorite teams, which feels pretty redundant while I'm watching the game.

Alysha Tsuji: If it's a really important game to me and I want to know everything that is happening at once, I'll have the TV on, my laptop open, and my iPhone in my hand.

Aron Yohannes: My layout is pretty nice during the actual games because I always have multiple screens in front of me. I'll have two TV's up—one for Fox and the other for CBS. Then I have NFL Red Zone on my laptop along with TweetDeck open. I swap back and forth between the two. TweetDeck is perfect for keeping up with stories, player injuries and stats before, during, and after games. As a Raiders fan, I have to watch them lose so I put that on my iPhone because I can throw that the farthest.

The NFL got into the social media act at the 2012 Pro Bowl in Honolulu, setting up computers on the sideline for players to tweet during the game. (Perry Knotts/AP) The NFL got into the social media act at the 2012 Pro Bowl in Honolulu, setting up computers on the sideline for players to tweet during the game. (Perry Knotts/AP)

Is there something different about how you watch the NFL compared to your parents?

Bush: My dad only watches the game on television and if he’s at work or out, his second choice is listening to the game on the radio. He doesn't know how to work social media and would never watch it on the phone because he complains that the “screen is too small.” If I’m at work, my second choice is streaming or Twitter, not the radio. In fact, I don’t even think there’s a radio at all in the office.

Goodwin: Twitter’s the biggest difference. They don’t follow the tweets during the game. They just watch it. Occasionally, my dad will tune in to radio broadcasts, but it’s not often.

Kirkpatrick: The most significant difference is my heavy reliance on Twitter. My parents just watch games and read game stories later, whereas I’m refreshing Twitter every 20 seconds during a game.

Krasnoo: My parents are casual Patriots fans, so they will follow the Pats, but few other teams. With me staying up to date on my fantasy roster and being active on Twitter by following NFL analysts, I think I consume the NFL much more holistically than my parents do.

Maiman: Considering my father is always asking me why I need my phone or computer out while we watch football, then yes. My dad sits down for the entirety of the game, not moving even for a bathroom break, while I will take full advantage of the commercial breaks to occupy my time with something else. Also, if his beloved Vikings are on TV, that trumps all, even if there is a better game on, which is vastly different from my generation, who are more concerned with fantasy football and catching the Red Zone Channel. 

Pryor: Everything about the way I watch NFL is different from my parents' viewing habits. I'm not quite sure how I ended up as a sports journalist considering my dad naps through NFL games and often changes the channel to NASCAR and my mom once said she would rather watch anything other than an NFL preseason game. They are extremely casual viewers, and today I had to explain fantasy football to my mom. But it's definitely refreshing to go home and not be surrounded by all football all the time. As far as sports journalists go, I guess I'm still a casual viewer by most standards, but I enjoy fantasy football and I enjoy being engaged in a few teams every week.

Tsuji: Yes, definitely. My parents aren't on Twitter. That's already a huge difference. They see the game on TV—and that's it. Maybe my dad will talk about it at work the next day. Meanwhile, I'll watch the game, post some tweets and talk with friends about it right after.

Yohannes: Oh, yeah, there’s a huge difference. Once an NFL game is done, so are my parents. My parents switch the channel and move on with their lives. I head straight to the stats and notes to research more about the game. My dad also likes to write off games early; you can convince him that a game is over in just the third quarter. Plus, my parents watch the NFL as just a hobby, but this is my career and passion.

Do you watch an NFL pregame show, and if so, which one and why?

Bush: I normally watch the FOX pregame show. I like that they have a great mix of cast members and analysts consisting of formers players from different generations. Also, I watch show because it’s entertaining with their comedic additions, such as Rob Riggle’s weekly picks.

Goodwin: I actually don’t. I used to watch ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown back when I was younger—from age 5 until about 11. It was neat to hear about the stories of the day and listen to the analysis and get the numbers I needed to know. But I found I could learn all of that just by reading, too. Just not a big fan of the personalities of those pregame shows.

Chris Berman is in his fourth decade being a part of ESPN's NFL coverage. (Getty Images) Chris Berman is in his fourth decade being a part of ESPN's NFL coverage. (Getty Images)

Kirkpatrick: Rarely. I generally get all of my pregame analysis from Twitter or newspaper articles. Those tend to be more informative than anything I can get on TV.

Krasnoo: I don't, no. They don't interest me much, and I have other commitments and responsibilities on Sundays as well, so I typically only have time to watch the games themselves.

Maiman: Since I have always lived on the West Coast, anything before 10 a.m. is a rather early wakeup call for a college student. However, if I do happen to be awake, ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown is my choice. Beside the fact that the show is entertaining, I like the way they break down certain plays and are willing to share their opinions and offer advice in fantasy football. In addition, I grew up with Chris Berman, so he is basically a father figure, and Cris Carter was my first ever football jersey.

Pryor: I don't usually have time to watch pregame shows on Sundays, but I do like to watch ESPN’s NFL Insiders during the week because I really like Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter. Both provide great insight and together they have a really great energy and dynamic. I also like being able to get quality NFL news during the week rather than waiting to catch up with everything Sunday morning or get snippets during SportsCenter.

Tsuji: No, I don't tend to watch the NFL pregame shows as heavily. The game is what matters. If there's any news or updates I need prior to the game I'll have already seen it on Twitter. I'm more about the postgame shenanigans.

Yohannes: I always rotate between all of the different pregame shows on CBS, Fox, ESPN, and NFL Network. All of them are good in my opinion but each in their own different way. It’s a close call between ESPN and CBS as my favorite right now, but I’ll say CBS because they always keep me entertained. 

What kind of analysis do you want from an NFL pregame show?

Bush: I want to hear keys to victory for each team, what players to watch, why these players are predicted to have success, injury reports for any players who are game-time decisions, and fantasy football projections for certain players. 

Goodwin: Hard to say. I’m a big fan of film room work, so I wouldn’t mind seeing more of what certain teams have to do to score and stop certain players and teams. The ins and outs are interesting to me, but numbers are always fun, too. Just lose the fluff in the broadcasts, I suppose.

Kirkpatrick: I want more stats and relevant news. I don’t need the dramatic storylines and unnecessary fluff. I want to know who’s playing, what the matchups are, interesting statistics and so on. I want specifics, not absurd speculation and tomfoolery. If pregame shows gave more of that, I’d be more inclined to watch.

I used to watch ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown ... but I found I could learn all of that just by reading, too. Just not a big fan of the personalities of those pregame shows.

Krasnoo: I like when analysts tell me something I could not have gathered on my own. Breaking down certain scoring plays or going through coaches' thought processes in particular situations always intrigues me.

Maiman: Although I have been watching football since the tender age of 3, I never had the opportunity to play and therefore really like when pregame shows break down plays or key scoring drives. I also enjoy when analysts include their predictions as well. 

Pryor: In some ways, I avoid the pregame shows because there's only so much analysis I can take. But if I could have an ideal pregame show, I would want it to be more streamlined with quick-hitting analysis that hits the major points—injuries, key matchups and what to watch for, etc.—something that can be easily digested.

Tsuji: From a pregame show, ideally, I expect to hear the predictions of the hosts, the history of the two teams playing against each other and about the current success/failures of the teams playing. What I would like is for the anchors to have personality, without focusing too much on their predictions and not enough on the game itself.

Yohannes: Well I definitely know I want great film breakdown for upcoming games. I certainly don’t want to watch debate and listen to opinions that I’ve heard all week long. Showing tape is a big component to me and I want a pregame show that can help viewers understand more of what needs to happen correctly on the field for a team to win. When I think of analysis, I think of somebody breaking something in pieces for others to understand.  A lot of shows already do a solid job of it but they can extend it and still do better.

Rich Eisen has raised his profile in recent years with the addition of Thursday Night Football on NFL Network. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Rich Eisen has raised his profile in recent years with the addition of Thursday Night Football on NFL Network. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

What is more important to you during a game: Your Twitter stream or your TV screen?

Bush: While I’m at work and have no access to cable or satellite TV, my Twitter stream is my savior and the most important tool I have for accessing any information about a game. But when I’m at home, I prefer my 39-inch LED HDTV screen to a phone or computer screen any day.

Goodwin: TV screen. Admittedly, I constantly check my Twitter stream during the game, but you get so much more from actually watching the game—even if the guys and gals calling it are a tad annoying.

Kirkpatrick: I’d say Twitter. I follow a huge number of football fans and reporters, so I find it extremely interesting to see how other people view and react to a particular call or play, rather than just what I see with my own eyes.

Krasnoo: It'll always be my TV screen. I love using Twitter and interacting during games, but there is no substitute to seeing the action firsthand, as opposed to seeing how other people reacted to it. I like to make my own judgments first, and then weigh in on others' opinions.

My Twitter stream is my savior and the most important tool I have for accessing any information about a game.

Maiman: The TV screen is definitely more important to me. Although Twitter can easily give you updates and let you know what is going on, nothing beats actually watching the action unfold. Twitter is something that I go to on a commercial break or if the game gets boring late in the third quarter.

Pryor: My Twitter feed is definitely the most important thing to me. I like reading a variety of reactions to the different plays, but then again, most everyone on my feed has similar reactions to big plays. It's just nice to know that 600 of my closest friends are having the same reaction to a play that I'm having. It's also great to keep up with injury updates from the sidelines or be able to easily go back and check on a play from earlier in the game. 

Tsuji: I've never really thought about this before, and yet, as strange as this sounds, I'd have to say my Twitter feed. With my feed, I can have the score updates constantly scrolling alongside the perspectives of hundreds of other people watching. It's more engaging and interesting than screaming at the television screen. If I'm watching the game with a group of friends, I'd say the TV, but in terms of watching on my own, definitely Twitter.

Yohannes: My television screen is more important for me. Twitter provides all the updates and info that I want along with jokes but my TV screen is where everything is assembled and understood on the field. You can stay updated about a game through just Twitter, but it doesn’t teach you visually the same about the actual game. You learn more about the game itself and how something happened by watching it through your screen and that’s what I look for.  I pay close attention to details.

When will we see a woman call NFL play by play?

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Bush:  Soon. But I think it’ll be a long time before she is completely accepted as an equal to other male play-by-play announcers by male sports journalists and fans.

Goodwin: Hopefully next weekend. But, really, it’s a matter of when the NFL will be ready for it. I imagine most viewers will welcome her with open arms. But the network that does it should do it because she’s ready for it, as opposed to just trying to break a barrier.

Kirkpatrick: I want to say very soon. I find it appalling that this is even a question in 2013, and there is absolutely no reason why a woman could not handle such a task. But sports journalism, especially broadcast, is a vicious profession for women. Women are objectified and scrutinized at an exponentially higher level in sports journalism than they are in average society. I could certainly see a woman doing play-by-play sometime in the near future, but whether she would be able to do so without major criticism is a different issue entirely.

Krasnoo: There have been more and more female play-by-play announcers for nearly every sport, including college football, so I think we're getting close. Unfortunately, the NFL is the final frontier, more or less, in that it's always had this rigid masculine stereotype. Given the recent debate on how violent the sport is becoming, it is getting tougher to break down. I would imagine that in the next five years or so, ESPN’s Pam Ward and Beth Mowins would be candidates to get a shot at a professional football game.

Maiman: This could really not come soon enough, but I am going to go with five years. I just hope one day when I am watching football with my kids, hearing a female voice will not be considered strange or a phenomena to them. As history has proven, societal norms do change and I think this is one that will happen in the near future. 

Pryor: That's a good question. I'd like to say it will happen in the next five years, or at the very least, the very near future. But most men have a definite advantage in calling football because they can play the sport in real life and spend a lot of time playing football-related video games. Maybe it's just me, but I don't like to spend hours playing Madden or NCAA Live, and sometimes I feel that puts me at a disadvantage understanding football. Men are able to learn specific plays and other intricacies of the sport that can only come from playing it. That's not to say that a woman will never call play by play, but it will definitely require a lot of work to get there. I hope someone does make it in the next few years, because there is definitely the talent out there to call an NFL game. I just think whoever is calling it must have expansive football knowledge with a near air-tight call because she will have to win over a tough crowd.

Tsuji: I have an answer I'd like to say, and I have a different answer that I know is true. I'm just going to say that it will take time—lots and lots and lots of time.

Yohannes: I hope we see it soon but I’ll say about eight years at the earliest. This question is ironic to me because I did an independent study on women in sports broadcasting and this was a question I left for my audience to think about. I think most fans don’t want it to happen but I think it should occur soon. 

Jon Gruden (right) has been a star on the NFL broadcast scene ever since arriving as a member of the media at the 2009 NFL Draft, when Mark Sanchez was taken fifth overall by the Jets. (James Devaney/Getty Images) Jon Gruden (right) has been a star on the NFL broadcast scene ever since arriving as a member of the media at the 2009 NFL Draft, when Mark Sanchez was taken fifth overall by the Jets. (James Devaney/Getty Images)

Who is the best broadcaster in the NFL (pregame or game broadcast) and why?

Bush: I think Rich Eisen is the best because although he is not very opinionated, he is able to contribute to any analytic conversation involving football.  He can play a mediator role or contributor at any time.  He also is a great game-highlight host because he’s very lively and witty with his spontaneous comments and player nicknames. 

Goodwin: Tough one. I can still remember Pat Summerall’s voice from way back when I was younger. He’ll always be a favorite. But I’d say the best is Bob Costas. Very articulate, smart and just an incredible writer. His halftime essays during SNF last season were great.

Kirkpatrick: Probably Jon Gruden. But in all honesty, half the time I tune out the broadcasters and only pay attention to the game itself. I generally don’t associate specific broadcasters with any particular qualities, positive or negative.

Krasnoo: For play-by-play, I've always liked Brad Nessler and Ian Eagle. They both command your attention but are not overbearing and let the game breathe. They pull it off with such simplicity. For color, I love Cris Collinsworth. He makes astute comments with such a call-it-like-I-see-it mentality, but does so in a conversational manner that really connects with the audience.

Maiman: Jon Gruden is a stud. He's also questionably insane with his rooms dedicated to the sole purpose of watching tapes, but it makes him great so who am I to judge. He is honest, fair and is always pointing out something new to me. I appreciate that.

Pryor: Because Sundays are my biggest work days at the Daily Tar Heel, I'm usually watching the game on my iPad or laptop while in the office. It's pretty distracting to everyone around me when I have the broadcast blaring, so I have the game on mute on one screen while I have my Twitter feed pulled up on another. Instead of having the perspective of a three-person team, I can get the perspective of all 600 people on my feed, which admittedly, isn't always a good thing.

Tsuji: I know he's retired and quite a few people have told me they didn't like him, but the best NFL broadcaster is John Madden. There's also a kind of funny story with that. There was a point when I was in middle school and I had no idea how to follow football. I didn't know the positions or the point breakdown—it was bad. Then I bought a copy of Madden for the PS3, and that is how I learned the rules and the plays. So essentially, Madden's voice is why I have a spot in my heart for pro football.

Yohannes: Al Michaels. He’s the perfect voice for football and is the best broadcaster for primetime in the NFL. His tone and enthusiasm is off the charts in my mind. The man is a living legend and it will be a sad day in sports when he puts down the microphone for good.

What issue do you want the football networks to cover more?

Goodwin: Too many opinions. Show me facts. Show me film work. If someone talked about the NFL like [ESPN’s] Kirk Herbstreit does college football, we’d all have died and gone to heaven.

Kirkpatrick: I’d love to see greater awareness about concussions. The average sports fan doesn’t understand the significance of brain injuries. He or she will say things like, “Why can’t they just tough it out?” when in reality, the “toughing it out” is what makes brain injuries considerably worse. This could involve bringing in a neurologist to explain the repercussions of playing through head injuries. I think that people are starting to become more aware of these repercussions but it should be even more emphasized than it is now.

Krasnoo: I would say the concussion/player safety issue, but I believe that most networks are actually doing a fairly good job in saying what the NFL won't about the detrimental, long-term side effects that the game has on players.

I would like more networks to cover the human aspect of these players and celebrate their good will off the field.

Maiman: I believe the networks do a good job covering the NFL but I would like to see some more human interest stories. HBO’s Hard Knocks is one of my favorite shows and I love getting insight of who players are outside of football. In addition, I would like to see more coverage on fan experience. I believe college football does a great job of that and it would be beneficial to see more of that in regards to the NFL. 

Pryor: I'd like to know more about what the players are doing off the field—and not just when they're getting in trouble. So often the only time we hear about NFL players' off-the-field antics is when illegal activities are involved. I think it's important not to lose sight of the fact that these players are capable of doing more things than putting on a show on the football field. I like stories like J.J. Watt and his relationship with the Berry family or Greg Olsen's heartbreaking story about his infant son born with a heart defect. I would like more networks to cover the human aspect of these players and celebrate their good will off the field when there is cause to do so. 

Tsuji: Steroids and concussions can never be covered too much. (Perhaps I'm speaking too soon).

Yohannes: I want to see networks cover the lives of retired football players who are struggling with their health because of the sport. This might be a strange answer but I want to know more in-depth about what former players are going through—medical bills, disabilities, and just their lives in general after the NFL. I think covering how they need help and bringing it more national attention on Sunday before games would help people realize how big of a problem it is today.

Who do you consider your best NFL follow on Twitter and why?

Bush: Adam Schefter would probably have to be my best NFL follow on Twitter because of his professionalism and his ability to report breaking news on the most current NFL topics.

Adam Schefter has cultivated an audience of nearly 2.5 million followers on Twitter. (Jeff Schear/Getty Images) Adam Schefter has cultivated an audience of nearly 2.5 million followers on Twitter. (Jeff Schear/Getty Images)

Goodwin: The Chiefs fan in me is inclined to say ESPN’s Adam Teicher. He’s been my Chiefs guy for as long as I can remember and knows everything there is to know about K.C. But for overall NFL stuff, I like CBS’s Jason La Canfora—a good combination of facts, analysis and commentary. I’m also a fan of Adam Schefter. I swear he has everybody’s phone number.

Kirkpatrick: I don’t think I can pick just one. Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times is quick and detailed with Seahawks news. Brian Nemhauser provides the best Seahawks analysis I’ve seen. And I have to throw in Doug Farrar for his fantastic sense of humor.

Krasnoo: I'm a big fan of Drew Brees as a player and also online. He often posts photos and updates about his family and children, and I think it adds a human element to someone who's known primarily for his actions as an athlete. I really enjoy seeing the more personal side to people.

Maiman: Adam Schefter is my favorite person to follow on Twitter by far. For any breaking news, Twitter has recently become the first outlet I go to and there is no one better than Schefter. As an aspiring sports writer, I like following Lindsay Jones of USA Today to see how she uses Twitter as a journalist.

Pryor: I think Adam Schefter is my best NFL follow because he's the one usually breaking most of the news. My favorite part about being a journalist is having the ability to break news and know things the second that they happen. Schefter has proven, at least recently, that he's one of the best at doing just that.

Tsuji: Gregg Doyel puts up good content. Ian Rapoport from the NFL Network is also a solid follow. Collectively, I follow almost 300 writers and during certain games they'll all focus on the same thing—it's brilliant when that happens. I know the news already, so what I appreciate is wittiness and creative angles.

Yohannes: I’d say Adam Caplan. He provides the perfect mix of stats and knowledge of the game and he breaks news. I love learning about the game from him beyond just Twitter. It’s great that he’s a contributor to NFL Insiders on ESPN as well. Besides, who doesn’t like Seinfeld? Honorable mention: Trey Wingo and Chris B. Brown.

For more on these aspiring journalists, click their name: Adriana Bush, Cody Goodwin, Sarah Kirkpatrick, Ryan Krasnoo, Beth Maiman, Brooke Pryor, Alysha Tsuji, Aron Yohannes

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