Thursday, August 07, 2014

Chris Allen's Guide to Watching Sports by DVR

I'm a bit of an expert at watching sports efficiently on DVR delay, so I thought I'd write up a little guide.

What's this about?

Almost all of the sports I watch anymore, I don't watch live. Instead, I record the games I'm interested in and watch them later, on my schedule. Ultimately, this allows me to spend more time with my family, and watch more sporting events than I would if I watched everything live.

Time-shifting regular television shows is much more common than it was a decade ago, but most people still watch sports live. But if you ask me, it doesn't have to be that way. Here's how I do it.

Step 1: Avoid spoilers

This was a lot easier before the days of social media. Used to be, all you had to do was keep away from certain sports channels and websites. But now, to avoid spoilers for some sporting events, you have to disconnect yourself completely. If you're the type who likes to refresh Twitter every 10 minutes, this can be difficult. Sometimes I'll go an entire weekend without checking Twitter or Facebook, on the off chance that somebody posted something about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers game on Friday night that I haven't had a chance to watch yet.

For major sporting events - and this includes most every college football or NFL game, really - I've found that you also have to avoid radio, and, just to be safe, most social interaction. This is why avoiding the result of an NFL game - any NFL game - for more than a day is mostly impossible, unless you just don't leave the house, that is. (There does become a point where it's not worth the trouble.) It's not just football, though; for example, if I haven't finished watching the UNC-Duke game before heading to church the next morning, I'm taking a big risk. (At least, around here, I am.)

Avoiding spoilers is much easier to do with sporting events that aren't likely to come up in "water cooler" discussion, but you still have to be careful when it comes to your various electronic devices. In particular, you have to watch out for that pesky "Bottom Line" that most sports networks feature nowadays. The Bottom Line generally requires that you watch sporting events in chronological order, unless you know that a particular broadcast won't show a Bottom Line. For instance, they occasionally show live NFL scores during a NASCAR race on ESPN, but they won't show NASCAR results during an NFL game on CBS or FOX. This means that if I want to watch both, I have to watch the NFL first.

Sometimes, avoiding spoilers can be extremely difficult, especially for high profile events. But with practice and experience, you'll get a feel for where and when you're likely to stumble across them, and for which games. I have years of experience with this, and if you ask me, it's worth the effort. Watching a sporting event unfold without knowing what happens beforehand is what it's all about, whether you're watching it live or not.

Step 2: Record more games than you plan on watching

If you think you'll have time to watch two games start-to-finish, record four games. You can always delete the games you don't end up watching, and you don't have to watch every game from beginning to end. There is no obligation to watch every single thing you save to your DVR. (Sometimes it feels that way to me, though. If I end up deleting all 10 episodes of Halt and Catch Fire without ever watching them, I'll consider that a failure.)

I especially recommend recording multiple games for college football. Let's say you're a Florida State fan, and they're playing NC State at 3:30. Record the game? Obviously.. But, also record one or two other games at the same time (if you're able to given the limitations of your DVR equipment), just in case the game ends up being a dud. If Florida State jumps out to a 35-0 1st quarter lead or something ridiculous like that, it's nice to have the option to bail on that game and switch to a more interesting one from the 2nd quarter on.

(By the way, if there is one sport that is still best to watch live, it's college football on Saturdays. The games take forever, sure, but there are just so many games on at once, and the nature of college football is that you never know which games are going to be the most memorable ones. For instance, I never would have recommended recording the Florida-Georgia Southern game.)

The NCAA Tournament is another good time to record more games than you plan on watching. I try to record every single one if possible, because you never know where the upsets and buzzer beaters will happen. Or, you could just watch live, I guess, if you happen to have no job, no family, and unlimited free time.

Step 2A: Don't forget to record an extra hour at the end!

College basketball games are given a two hour window on television. But how often does a college basketball game actually end in under two hours? Almost never. If you only record those two hours, you'll miss the end of pretty much every college basketball game.

My rules for extra recording time are as follows:
- Generally, recording one extra hour will be good enough.
- Record 1½ extra hours for basketball, baseball, and college football (especially if the game only has a near impossible to meet 3-hour broadcast window).
- For playoff hockey, record 3 extra hours.
- For soccer, unless it's a tournament where extra time is a possibility, the vast majority of games will end within their 2-hour broadcast window. But I always add an extra 30 minutes for soccer to safeguard against some fluke delay. For tournament games, I add an extra hour, and that's usually enough, even if it goes to penalties.
- Keep an eye on the weather as best you can (while avoiding spoilers at the same time - tricky!), and add additional time to the end of the recording if it looks like the game might be delayed by weather. This is harder to keep up with for NASCAR than it is for any other sport, especially if the end of a long-delayed race gets moved to a different channel (which can happen).

Step 3: During the game, spend time with your family

Not only is family time important and rewarding, but your 3-year-old daughter isn't going to blurt out the score of the Washington Nationals game that you're recording.

Step 4: Watch the game

Once the children are in bed, it's time to hit "Play"! But don't look at the TV screen the second you turn the TV on. Wait until you have the recordings list on-screen. This is because the final score of the game you intend to watch from the beginning could be the first thing that pops up on-screen when you turn your TV on, especially if it's tuned to a sports channel. Or, maybe you're recording the maximum number of games right now, in which case one of those games will pop up on-screen when you turn the receiver on. Don't look!

Now before I get into what you do once you actually start watching the game, here's a little trick for those of you who have DirecTV. You know the 30 second fast-forward button on your remote? By default, you press it once, and it fast-forwards 30 seconds, although the fast-forwarding itself can take a couple of seconds on its own. (This is called "30 second slip".) You can actually change the behavior of the 30 second button so that the moment you press it, it jumps ahead 30 seconds instantaneously. (This behavior is called "30 second skip".) Here is how to set up the 30 second skip.

I use the 30 second skip a lot when I watch sports, and it's key to being able to watch sports efficiently. There's more to it than just skipping through commercials, although that's a big part of it. For example, let's start with baseball:


For each commercial break, skip ahead 2.5 minutes. (Or, press the 30 second skip button 5 times.) You may miss the first pitch of the next half-inning, but usually, nothing happens on that first pitch anyway.* Sometimes, if the pitcher is taking an especially long time to warm up, you can skip an additional 30 seconds. For some national broadcasts, you can safely skip 3 minutes between innings.

After each at-bat is completed: skip ahead 30 seconds. Again, you may miss the first pitch of the next at-bat, but more often than not you won't, especially if there are runners on base. (It always takes the next batter longer to get into the batters box when there are runners on base, for some reason.)

Conferences on the mound: Use manual fast-forwarding.

Between pitches: I really wish I had a 15 second skip button, because if I did, I would absolutely use that between each and every pitch. But with a 30-second button, you can't really do much to speed up the action between pitches.

Game length: Following these practices, I can watch a 3-hour game in about 1.5 hours. Those 30-second skips between at-bats really add up!

(* - Disclaimer: Occasionally, fast-forwarding as liberally as I do, I miss something. Every press of the 30 second button is a risk. But they're all calculated risks, and I personally don't need to see every single action during the game. Especially a baseball game.)


For a sport that reportedly only contains 11 minutes of actual game action in a 3-hour window, watching a football game efficiently is actually harder than it would seem.

For each commercial break, skip ahead:
- 2 minutes for the NFL*
- 2.5 minutes for college football
- 3.5 minutes for college football at the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters
(* - Sometimes CBS will squeeze in a single 30-second commercial during a team timeout late in the game, even though it's not a full media timeout. So when a team timeout triggers a commercial on CBS, skip ahead 1 minute at first; if you're still in commercial after that, that means it's a full commercial break, so skip ahead 1 additional minute.)

Skip ahead 30 seconds after each of the following (unless any of the following result in a commercial break, in which case, see above):
- A kickoff or punt
- A penalty flag (unless you like watching referees announce penalties)
- A touchdown (unless you like watching dumb celebrations)
- A turnover, including a missed field goal
- A team timeout (often times you can get away with a 1 minute skip here, but it's usually too close to call for me)
- A failed 3rd down resulting in a clear punting situation (you may miss the punt itself, but you likely won't miss the return; if the punt is blocked or faked, you may miss that, but this is another one of those 'calculated risks')

Skip ahead 1 minute between a PAT/successful FG/safety and the ensuing kickoff (if no commercial).

Do manual fast-forward for injuries and replay challenges.

Got all that? Even with all that skipping, it still takes me between 1:45 and 2 hours to watch a 3-hour football game.


For each commercial break, skip ahead:
- 2 minutes for local NBA broadcasts (maybe more between quarters?)
- 2.5 minutes for national NBA broadcasts (maybe more between quarters?)
- 2.5 minutes for most college basketball
- 3 minutes for the NCAA tournament*
(* - Just like with the NFL, CBS also likes using single 30-second commercials during team timeouts that aren't full media timeouts. Same for NCAA tournament games on other networks such as TBS.)

For each team timeout, skip ahead 1 minute. For some team timeouts near the end of the game, you can safely skip ahead another 30 seconds on top of that if they're still in the huddle after 1 minute.

I also skip ahead 30 seconds when somebody is awarded two free throws, because I don't need to sit through every single free throw. When somebody fouls out of the game, you can skip ahead 1 minute, at least with college.

By the way, it's useful to know when commercial breaks are coming during a basketball game. Here's a primer:
- College: Excluding team timeouts, the first stoppage with less than 16, 12, 8, and 4 minutes left in each half is a commercial break. (When you hear announcers talking about the "under 16 timeout", for example, that's what they're talking about.) The first team timeout of the second half is a full commercial break. In the NCAA tournament, the first team timeout of the first half also becomes a full commercial break.
- NBA: The first stoppage with less than 6 and 3 minutes left in each quarter becomes a commercial break. Also, the first stoppage with less than 9 minutes left in the 2nd and 4th quarters only, is also a commercial break. But, if a team takes a timeout prior to a scheduled media timeout, then often times the team timeout will then become a full commercial break in place of the media timeout that was coming up.

Following these guidelines, I can watch a college basketball game in 1 hour, and an NBA game in 75 minutes. Can't beat that!


Pretty simple here.

For each commercial break, skip ahead 2 minutes. Commercial breaks happen at the first stoppage with less than 14, 10, and 6 minutes left in each period, except after a goal, after an icing, or during a power play. All games - local broadcasts, national broadcasts, even the Stanley Cup Final - have the same lengths of commercial breaks. Playoff overtime periods do not have commercials, but the first stoppage with less than 10 minutes left in a playoff overtime period results in a break that is just as long as a commercial break, so you can skip 2 minutes for that.

After each stoppage of play, skip ahead 30 seconds.'ll often miss the faceoffs, but you usually (not always) won't miss any goals. Again, this is a calculated risk, because sometimes players will score a couple seconds after a faceoff, especially if it's a faceoff in the offensive zone. If this is too risky for you, you could choose to skip 30 seconds only prior to faceoffs in the neutral zone (much lower risk of missing a goal), or only after a penalty is called (which is pretty safe, since faceoffs almost always take 30+ seconds to happen after a penalty). I've found that faceoffs following icing often happen more quickly than other faceoffs since only one team is allowed to change lines, so skipping ahead after an icing is often the most risky. Also, I also won't skip ahead after a goal so that I can see the replay.

If I'm really liberal with my fast-forwarding and skip ahead 30 seconds after every faceoff, I can watch an entire NHL game in about 1 hour, usually without missing any goals. If you only skip the commercials and intermissions, it's more like 1.5 hours - still not bad, but not as nice as 1 hour.


Soccer doesn't have commercial breaks, but I have learned where I can skip ahead during games to provide a nominal benefit without missing any action.

Skip ahead 30 seconds prior to each of the following:
- A goal kick (usually the goalkeeper takes a while to gather the ball and kick, and then it takes a while for one team to get possession and attack)
- A free kick in the attacking third (free kicks elsewhere on the field are often taken quickly, but when you're close to the goal, everyone's gotta line up just right before the kick)
- A substitution
- A penalty (usually the offending team spends at least 30 seconds complaining to the referee about it)

Corner kicks are sometimes taken in less than 30 seconds and can lead directly to goals, so I don't skip ahead prior to a corner kick.

For injuries, manual fast-forward is appropriate.

This way, I can watch a soccer game in about 75 minutes, as opposed to 95 minutes (including stoppage time) if the only fast-forwarding I do is at halftime. That doesn't sound like much, but given how much World Cup soccer I watched, those minutes added up.

Auto racing

For racing, I do manual fast-forward only, through commercial breaks and caution flags (except pit stops and the occasional crash replay). Commercial breaks during races don't seem to have a set length, in part because if something happens on-track during the commercial, the broadcast may rejoin the action immediately. Caution flags definitely don't have a set length. I skip through all commercial breaks, even breaks featuring a "side-by-side" box on-screen.

Aside from that, the only skipping I'll do is during long green flag runs where not much is happening. If I'm getting really impatient, I'll just skip ahead to the next caution flag.

In all, I can watch a 3 hour race in between 1.5 and 2 hours, depending on how patient I am with the middle parts of the race.


I haven't figured out how to watch golf efficiently. It's hard because the broadcast jumps around to different golfers without warning, so if you want to watch all of the shots that get aired on television, you can't really skip ahead at all (except during commercials). And golf can take a long, long time.

Instead, the best I can do if I'm worried about efficiency is focus on a single group, and watch only those two golfers' shots, and fast-forward through everyone else. Only then can I hope to watch 18 holes in under 2.5 hours, and even then you're missing a lot, because what if somebody in a different group is making a run at the leaders? So, I don't have any DVR advice to offer regarding golf.

That's the end. Happy sports watching!


Timothy Allen said...

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itzcoolz said...

Awesome guide! I love watching sports by DVR too! I'd really appreciate if you could help spread the word about an iPhone app i just made called Score DVR ( It allows you to check scores from other games without ruining the score of your game. It also allows you to check the in-game time without ruining the score.

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