TORONTO — Though the country is buzzing with excitement over the Toronto Raptors’ spot in the NBA Finals, watching the game isn’t as easy as turning on the television for some young Torontonians.
Some said access to live sports has gotten trickier in recent years as the number of millennials who subscribe to cable — or even own TVs — plummets. Instead of watching the Raptors play the Golden State Warriors from the comfort of their homes, fans are flocking to bars and restaurants, or to the “Jurassic Park” fanzone outside of Scotiabank Arena.
“The process of trying to watch the game is pretty overwhelming these days,” said 25-year-old Raptors fan Raman Punj. “But at the same time, I see the city being united...the celebrating is a great thing.”
Fans started lining up to get a spot in Jurassic Park as early as Thursday morning for Game 1, and the area hit its capacity of 6,000 before the 9 p.m. tipoff, forcing cops to shut down nearby streets.
In response to increasing attention, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Raptors, approved outdoor viewing spaces for NBA Finals games in cities across the country. West of Toronto, Peel police said about 20,000 people gathered at Celebration Square in Mississauga, Ont., to watch the game, which saw the Raptors defeat the Warriors 118-109.
But large crowds, which can get rowdy as the night goes on, aren’t for everyone.
Punj said while he loves the excitement of Raptors fans, being in a packed audience to watch the game outdoors isn’t for him. And when Punj comes home from his job, he’s exhausted, but he can’t just plop down on his couch and watch the game on his television, because he’s among the scores of young people who don’t have cable.
“I can’t afford cable, and I don’t really need it,” he said.
Laurel Walzak, an associate professor who specializes in media at Ryerson University, said that while younger audiences are less likely to have cable and own TVs, this doesn’t mean fewer youths are watching the Raptors.
Instead, they opt to watch sports on illegal streaming services.
“This consumer group are less likely to own cable and TVs and so it is up to the broadcasters, the NBA and the team franchisees to meet their consumption mode of viewing via many in different platforms,” Walzak said in an email.
Punj, who has been a Raptors fan for about five years, said he has watched basketball games on livestreams posted on Reddit, but noted that most links bring him to sketchy websites with distracting pop-up ads. He said that some streaming sites do work, but finding a good quality stream takes longer than he’d like, cutting into game time.
For the past few games, he’s opted to watch from bars or restaurants. But he finds himself spending more money than he’d like on food and drinks so he can secure his table.
“For me and my friends, the Raptors in the finals means you’re going to be spending more and more money,” Punj said.
He said for Sunday’s Game 2, he’s spent days planning how he’ll watch the game, calling dozens of establishments in the city in search of reservations, but they’re all booked up.
A manager for a Boston Pizza located near the Scotiabank Arena said the restaurant was packed with more than 500 customers on Thursday, and has been bombarded with calls for reservations for Game 2.
Twenty-two-year-old Brandon Buechler said the craziness has even turned him off from trying to watch the games and less inclined to call himself a fan. For now, he calls himself a “casual Raptors fan.”
He said skyrocketing ticket prices in particular shut out a part of the team’s devoted fanbase who are no longer able to afford to see them play at Scotiabank Arena.
“It’s ridiculous. That’s just making it inaccessible for most people,” he said.