A few years ago, Xfinity threw up the gates on their full screen, booze-soaked wonderland in the center of the Sports Complex. It was to be the center of food and entertainment in the sports district, which it immediately became, due its direct competition being several parking lots, varying in size.
So to this day, XFINITY Live! is where fans flock to see their Philly sports teams perform in HD, and have their commercial breaks muted by "Low Rider" or "Sweet Home Alabama" or some other song they've heard in a bar several hundred times.
Right across the street from the Wells Fargo Center, a curious study presented itself today: Which experience is the superior one? Watching a game in person? Or doing it in the pulsating electronic carnival of Philadelphia sports?
Cincinnati and Creighton tipped off, and the place was filled with first quarter enthusiasm. Still early! Anything could happen! There's not a really bad seat in the house, so witnessing the first half was a simple affair. There's purity in it - there is the game, happening right in front of us.
If you're enough of a fan, concessions, music, constant distractions during game breaks, are a second thought. The question is, if they were made readily available and ghastly expensive, would you suddenly start wanting them more?
The crowd at XFINITY Live! is made up of hundreds of people, but in time, it seems to act as one, amorphous being. You take a step out of your spot, only to step back moments later and realize that the mob has filled it up for you. Then, stuck in the Lost Zone, you inevitably wind up in someone's way as they carry a teetering beer tower or a sad drunk friend.
If there is a space void of human life, it is instantly filled. Short breaks occur during delays, like a kid at the door demanding that his Montana drivers license with his cousin's picture on it is a real ID. That's when you're forced to strike.
But that's just during big events, though; the space is huge, and its legions of people are a testament to what it offers: Huge screens, so that only part of your eyeballs need be focused or unobscured to keep you fully informed, and no entry fees, like the cost of a ticket to March Madness.
I spotted an opening at a prime leaning spot, only to discover its space was available because someone had just dumped a beer on it. I couldn't help but remember how dry that seat in the WFC had been. Though there hadn't been any beer (NCAA event wouldn't allow it).
They had the sound on for La Salle - Kansas State, and quickly, you realize how a game without sound is hindered - and helped - but it's the inability to sit in a crowded room that makes it uncomfortable. Apparently, since he's sitting, that guy in the throwback Eagles jersey with "EAGLES 4EVER" on the back got here early.
And then they'll have the bartenders start dancing on the bar to "Bang the Drum All Day" and you kind of forget that you were here to watch a basketball game.
It feels more like XFINITY Live! is just a Gymboree for adults, and the background noise is sports; were all of these things to exist in a room together without a college basketball game, or even a TV for background noise, we'd all be sitting in a room, bumping into servers and renting $300 tables in the middle of the day. It would be the anti-dive bar; all of the same objectives of their patrons, but tons of people and copious natural lighting.
The appeal lies in the amenities we've come to associate with sports - cheap beer, huge prices, mechanical bulls - not the sports themselves. So as far as a desire to watch the game, the game itself may be the best place to be.
Which sounds so obvious now that I say it.