Stand Up and Cheer, but Hit 'Pause' First

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NEVER mind that the Brooklyn Nets are circling the Milwaukee Bucks down on the floor of the new Barclays Center.

In a suite overlooking the home-side backboard, Chip Foley is watching the basketball game via live video feeds on his iPhone and iPad.

Mr. Foley is the director of building technology at the Forest City Ratner Companies, the real estate firm that developed the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn and is a minority owner of the Nets. Last month, the center introduced the latest thing in virtual spectatorship: an app that streams three different high-definition video feeds for stadium visitors who want to use their smartphones and tablets to follow the game they have come to see in person.

The goal, arena executives say, is to reproduce the multiscreen experience that many fans have already adopted in the man caves of their dens or living rooms. Fans like Mr. Foley, for instance, whose home setup for events like the Super Bowl includes a 60-inch, flat-screen TV augmented by two laptops (one to follow the coaches, another for the overhead view), not to mention the iPad on which he monitors game-related Twitter posts. To compete with couch multitasking, Barclays Center has installed a high-density Wi-Fi network and multicast video technology from Cisco Systems, called StadiumVision Mobile, intended to power similarly speedy video streaming, tweeting and photo-sharing for fans at Nets games.

From instant replay technology to microphones that transmit players' and coaches' live comments, broadcasters have spent decades developing techniques to make fans at home feel as if they are part of the game. Now, some arenas like Barclays are adding a complementary strategy: "You are trying to replicate that experience you would have on your couch," Mr. Foley says. Fans at Nets games, for example, can activate instant replays on the mobile feeds they are watching, a pause-and-rewind technique that mimics a remote control.

Live spectator sports involve a kind of communion -- otherwise, why bother leaving the house? -- that personal devices have the potential to dilute. Still, the professional sports industry may just be playing catch-up with screen-centric consumers.

After all, many fans already prefer watching magnified views on a Jumbotron to the miniature-seeming live play somewhere down below them. Likewise, some football fans now tailgate next to college bowls, bringing their own satellite dishes and TVs so they can watch the game from the parking lot instead of the stadium, says John Nauright, a professor of sports studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

And it's not just sports. Many colleges now promote online courses over in-person lectures.

OVER the last several years, Cisco has tapped into this trend of audiences accustomed more to simulcast than to live spectacle; it has outfitted more than 100 arenas in 20 countries with its networks. One product, StadiumVision, is a video distribution system that allows the display of customized digital signs and videos on hundreds of monitors throughout an arena; the installation cost varies, depending on the site and the number of monitors, but it can cost several million dollars per stadium.

Sitting in the suite in the Barclays Center, Michael Caponigro, Cisco's leader of global solutions marketing for sports and entertainment, says the idea is to keep fans continuously connected to the game via video monitors whether they are sitting in skyboxes, wandering concourses or standing in line at concession booths. Teams, sponsors and advertisers use the same video monitors to blanket stadiums with digital marketing.

The advanced system that Cisco installed in the Barclays Center extends that idea of continuous connectivity to individual seats, Mr. Caponigro says. It will also allow teams and brands to tailor mobile marketing to specific fans.

"We have placed two big bets with our customers, with video and mobility at the intersection of sport," he says. Above and below the suite in the darkened stadium, smartphones glow and flicker out like fireflies. "We believe this is the new frontier of fan experience," he adds.

To try out the new feeds, Mr. Foley, the director of building technology, clicks on the main video stream for the game on his iPad app, watching as Joe Johnson, the Nets shooting guard, disentangles himself from the pack, leaps, shoots and scores. During that play, Mr. Foley simultaneously watches on his iPhone a second, live video stream called the Slam Cam -- a camera positioned directly behind the basket; a ball rockets into close-up view, hovers for a moment and then sinks through the net. A third device, an iPod Touch, displays a rawer video stream, from a hand-held sideline camera following the Bucks as they dribble back down the court.

One advantage to these feeds is that they allow fans sitting in nosebleed seats on the upper concourse to watch the game -- on their own small screens, at least -- from the same perspective as fans in more expensive courtside seats. It's too soon to tell, however, whether ubiquitous digital monitors and video feeds are a great equalizer or a fragmenter of fans.

Individualized instant replays and other feeds challenge the ethos of spectator sports as "a shared moment of leisure," an event at which a crowd becomes a community, as A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former baseball commissioner and Yale president who died in 1989, once put it.

Or, as Professor Nauright of George Mason says of the prevalence of mobile devices and other screens at games: "It does begin to chip away at the collective nature of fandom. What concerns me with society as a whole is that we are removing ourselves from public engagement."

Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T., adds that video and mobile screens compel our attention because we've come to believe that devices give us more authoritative, more curated information than the random live views in front of us. Yet this gadgetry also distances us from one another.

"That is the problem. We are giving up the shared experience," says Professor Turkle, author of "Alone Together," a book that examines the effect of digital devices on behavior. "You can't turn to the person in the next seat and say, 'Did you see that play?' because his screen is showing something different."

At the Barclays Center, that condition prevails until the last seconds of the fourth quarter, with Milwaukee ahead, 105-102. Suddenly, Johnson nabs a pass and sinks a three-pointer, tying the score and sending the game into overtime. Now, the crowd stands up, chanting in unison: "Instant replay! Instant replay!"

For a few minutes, most of us in the stands seem to holster our smartphones and concentrate on the event itself, holding our collective breath while we will the Nets to win. No video feed can compete with the live feat of Johnson flicking the ball off his endless arms into a oblique arc, ending in the winning bucket.

"Did you see that?" strangers are asking their seat neighbors. "Johnson did it again! Did you see that?"

But the in-the-flesh conversations last only a moment. Then the phones re-emerge and people turn to sharing their relief and disbelief with their remote friends and followers.

E-mail: slipstream@nytimes.com. Twitter: @natashanyt

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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