As I drove through downtown Seattle, I noticed the Seahawks banners and the "12th" man placards -- as well as the 12th man flag flying atop the Space Needle. Of course, every bar was decked out in Seahawk cheer. It reminded me what a powerful community driver sports can be -- at least offline.
But what about online? Why, after all these years and the recent onslaught of social digital media, have we no killer app to point to as the lightning rod that brings fans together online with sports as the catalyst?
Like most mysteries, this one has two schools of thought: one that says it's only a matter of time before the digital version of the sports bar appears for fans, and the other that argues sports community can't be recreated through online tools.
Allow me to argue both sides.
The Web will create the virtual, 24/7 sports bar, and mobile devices will be the driver. An ultimate online experience will emerge that brings me all the content about my team, the ability to connect with fellow fans via check-ins around live events -- whether they be personal friends or not -- and share my fandom through Facebook, Twitter and any other social sites that matter.
It won't be enough for me to follow my team through the Web, I will need to find my fellow fans in our own stadium section on the Internet. And advertisers will come along for the ride, sponsoring my tweets and Foursquare check-ins touting that I am watching the Giants game from my couch or local tavern.
So where is this fan utopia today? For years, sports has been held up as the perfect content vertical around which to create engaged online social communities. From the early days of chat rooms that emulated sports talk radio (without the emotion) to the stampede of team-based Facebook apps that all fail to grab my long-term loyalty, for some reason the sports fan doesn't find the Web a suitable replacement for the in-stadium or barstool high-five.
Maybe there's a consumer behavior dynamic at play here. Could there be something unique to the "vibe of the crowd" that physical proximity to other fans brings out that is impossible to replicate via a Web experience? There's also the dynamic that my teams only play at most a few hours of live game action a week, such that the majority of my daily sports consumption will be me trolling solo for bits of wisdom that help me win my fantasy league or look smart in the office -- as opposed to jumping into real-time fan experiences around games.
I'm not ready to give up on the virtual sports bar idea -- heck, there are just too many digitally savvy sports fans out there. But to crack the code we'll need to dig deeper than chat rooms and check-ins. We'll have to give fans a true online venue where they can get everything they need about their teams, interact with fans they get to know over time, and perhaps a destination that feels a bit like a place where you could imagine a little beer getting splashed on them as they peck away on their smartphones.