Friday, June 07, 2019

Ask the Sports Nerd: Bob Sturm answers your questions on archiving classic games, European travel and more

I have been covering sports for quite a while and have done so for The Athletic since the start of 2018. I’ve written 225 stories for this fine publication, making this past time to get real with each other. I have a confession to make:
I am a sports nerd.
I have never denied it, of course, but I also don’t go around telling people; it might scare them off. I follow sports, I love sports and, yes, as pathetic as it may sound, I definitely live sports.
For that reason, perhaps I am equipped to take you down some roads you might have questions and concerns about. I am 46 years into this journey, and sports has been my No. 1 interest the entire way. I assume it will always be that way. I have no regrets, but also no other real areas of expertise in my life, to be fair. If you need someone to fix your car or repair a sink, get someone else. But if you just need a sports nerd to help you navigate these choppy sports-waters, I am your guy.
Now that we have established this, let’s tackle some topics, as well as a few concerns.
Today is Mike Modano’s 49th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the 1999 Dallas Stars Stanley Cup. This was an important time for me in moving to this big city and taking a sports job at the age of 26 in a big city that lacked hockey media. It wasn’t why I was hired at The Ticket, but loving the game and working at a radio station which lacked hockey people during a Stanley Cup run absolutely helped me establish a foothold.
The memories were amazing and as a young man in a new city, I can’t imagine anything better about how my run in Dallas began. And since this weekend represents 20 years since that awesome team won it all, I am doing what a proper sports nerd might do: Reviewing the series as it happens (since none of my current teams are involved in the NBA or NHL Finals).
In confessing this recently, I was hit with a number of requests on how someone was to accomplish this quest of re-watching the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, so let’s start right there. Now, I will tell you right now that I recorded all of these when the games were played. But, assuming that won’t work out, allow me to point you to the games on Youtube.
Game 1 – 1999 Stanley Cup Finals:
Game 2 – 1999 Stanley Cup Finals
Game 3- 1999 Stanley Cup Finals
Game 4 – 1999 Stanley Cup Finals
Game 5 – 1999 Stanley Cup Finals
Game 6 – 1999 Stanley Cup Finals
Or, if you would like to take 15 hours and just use one to watch the Championship video for the 1999 Dallas Stars, you can take this shorter journey:
The time investment is immense, and the quality is fitting of video recorded 20 years ago on a VHS tape, before high-definition television. Enjoy, or take a hard pass.
And, now, to your questions!

Hey Bob,
I could be mistaken, but I was pretty sure you’ve been converting your old game tapes to digital. I was wondering if you could give me some insight into your setup or send me a link that helped you get started. When I was researching it there were so many different methods/setups that I thought I may have better luck asking the expert. I’ve got about 20 years of OU games I was wanting to digitize. 
Thanks! Nathan Olivarez
Sure, Nathan. This is a passion project that started when my parents bought a family VCR in 1986. Then, at the age of 14, I thought I needed to not only watch sports, but to then record it so I could (never) watch it again at my leisure. I started recording sports for future reference that day, and I still do so now. As you can imagine, that means I have thousands of sporting events recorded, annoying my wife in all sorts of formats. We started in VHS, then quickly converted the games to DVD when those became available and now finally, I think, to a digital .mp4 format which can be saved on any number of external hard drives and won’t lose quality to the decay of time and dust.
To turn your VHS or DVDs into a digital file that you can then keep on a memory stick or external hard drive, you will need to follow this process. First, they need to be converted to .mp4 format, which I do with my MacBook and a piece of hardware/software called “El Gato Video Capture” which links your VCR/DVD player to your computer (there is also one called Eye TV that does the same thing for HD games you have recorded on your modern day DVR for more recent events). I am sure there are a number of competitors that do the same thing, but I am not some tech nerd, just a sports nerd that figures it out on the fly.
Anyway, you convert your game from the VHS or DVD to your .mp4 and then edit it with an application called MPEG Streamclip to cut out anything you don’t want, before labeling it with obsessive detail and placing it on an external hard drive. (I back mine up just in case.) The initial capture must be done in real time, and therefore a four-hour game takes four hours to dump on to a laptop (which is annoying if you want to use the laptop for anything else during this duration) so I usually try to do it while I am sleeping. I have become quite proficient at this, as my collection is absolutely ridiculous in size and out of control.
What do I do with these games after this painstaking process? Usually nothing. But if I ever want to watch Super Bowl 22 again, it is a few clicks away. The big pay-off here is that 10 boxes of VHS tapes can fit on one external hard drive about the size of a small book. And that makes the wife happier, which is what life is all about.
Hey Bob – 
Saw on Twitter that you got tix to White Hart Lane for a match in April. I know you’ve mentioned before, vaguely I think, how you get tickets for EPL matches.
I have always wanted to go to a match or 2 and will be over there next year….do you mind telling me your hook-up? If its a friend of yours, then I understand if you don’t….if it’s thru a broker or some other method, then I would appreciate your guidance. 
Thanks and enjoy your trip, can’t wait to hear about it as long as Dan will let you!
P1 Phil
I get asked this question all the time and thought it might be helpful to be able to just direct people here in the future. The English Premier League is the best football (soccer) in the world, and one of my favorite things to nerd out on. I have attended 22 different English matches over the years in my eight journeys to the UK and can’t wait to go again. Journey No. 8 in April gave me a chance to witness my beloved Liverpool taking down Chelsea in person, just six weeks before they were crowned Champions of Europe. I got to witness about the coolest goal I have ever seen live from a player I consider one of my favorites ever:

Mo Salah kicked the ball directly at me. I am sure of it. If the corner of the net doesn’t stop the ball it would have hit me in the face. It was glorious. In fact, I accidentally was recording on my phone at the moment — to merely capture singing for the radio show — and as you can see, things got delirious when it all happened.

  • The bigger the match, the more trouble you will have securing tickets. If you just want to see a good match over there, I can tell you about an infinite number of great places where you can pretty easily get tickets. But if you insist on seeing Chelsea hosting Arsenal or Manchester United hosting Manchester City, prepare for high prices.
  • I recommend the smaller grounds. Most mid-table teams have a better stadium setting anyway. I have been to Old Trafford, and it is not that great. Same with Arsenal’s new stadium. (The old place — Highbury — was the best.) Go to Crystal Palace, Everton, QPR, Fulham, or Watford. Awesome scenes. It’s not that difficult to get in most matches, but so much fun. I realize if you are a Tottenham fan you will want to see their home scene, but most 60,000-seat stadiums will let you down.
  • Beware of counterfeit tickets. Scammers fool plenty of people there. Do not be the guy who is planning the time of his life only to get to the gate and to be turned away.
  • Plan to spend some money. Low end isn’t bad ($40-60), but high-end can certainly get up there a bit (I have paid $300 for a match). The thing is, I go once every 24-36 months, so if you want to see something awesome, you have to bite the bullet sometimes.
  • I have made connections over the years so there are occasions where I am able to get tickets the easy way, but in April I did have to buy them just like anyone else to see Tottenham’s new stadium and it was pretty pricey, considering a less-than-great opponent. (Sorry, Huddersfield.) But here is the big secret on how to make sure your tickets are legit, you will get in, and you will do what you wanted to do: book a hotel that has a concierge. It’s pretty easy to figure that part out and, yes, it will be a bit more pricey, but save your money. Once you have booked your room, call the concierge and tell him the match you need to see. He will go to work for you. He will also charge you a little on his end, no doubt, but he is going to be obligated to make you a happy man, and you will not have to worry about the tickets being authentic. He will find tickets and they won’t be terribly cheap, but you will have secured your match. Again, that will probably cost $200 or more per ticket, assuming you want to see a big match. If you don’t care about the stakes, pick a smaller situation, and you might be able to get tickets at face value through the club.

Ok, enough of my reminiscing, let’s talk about you making your life-long memory over there.
A few things to remember:
I have never not had fun. It is safe, enjoyable and you can gamble inside the stadium in the UK, which helps those who get bored watching soccer. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking you can cheer for the road team amongst the home supporters; they don’t do that over there.

(Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Is there a sport that you tried to get into, but just couldn’t? Also, you mentioned on the radio that the UFC had a chance to be that “next big sport” but went awry – what are your thoughts on where they went wrong? 
I would say that the answer is generally “no.” I suppose I have faded from some sports like NASCAR and boxing over the years, but if I tried something, got to know the topic matter, and really gave it my attention, I generally enjoyed it. It isn’t the game, I suppose. It is the human competition that I enjoy so much.
Where did UFC take a wrong turn? Well, I guess it is debatable about whether they did or not, but my answer would be that they got too excited about crossing over to the masses when Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor (and to a lesser extent Brock Lesnar) captured the attention of the mainstream media. I think they lost their path a bit at that moment and started making short-sighted decisions based on cash grabs. Speaking of cash grabs, I think they have really hurt their product by going to a primarily streaming platform that seems to largely take their product more out of sight, out of mind. As a huge UFC guy, I have found myself less engaged over the first five months of their new relationship.

Tomorrow's Friday Riffing is an experimental edition called "Ask the Sports Nerd". So far, I have questions on , how to get EPL tickets, and what is the worst rule in the NFL. You have a few hours to join them before I get writing.
@SportsSturm I now have paid subscriptions to ESPN+, Bleacher Report Live, and NBCSN just to watch all the Arsenal, EPL, and UEFA games I want. Is this the way of the future? Will I have to pay a la carte subscriptions to watch MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA too someday?

I now have paid subscriptions to ESPN+, Bleacher Report Live, and NBCSN just to watch all the Arsenal, EPL, and UEFA games I want. Is this the way of the future? Will I have to pay a la carte subscriptions to watch MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA too someday?
I do not have a good handle on this at all. I also have subscribed to all three of those services for my Liverpool matches and have no issue doing so because the product is fairly priced and worthy of the expense. Is this the next paradigm for all of our sports, though? I simply do not know the answer to that one. What we do know is that these sports have to be proactive to stay with the times and to maximize their revenue possibilities. We also know the traditional networks are not going to stay static. I don’t love all the advances by any stretch, but my satellite bill is astronomical and includes many channels I never watch. So if I have to pay a la carte in the future and save money in the process, let’s do it.
I hope this left turn was a reasonably enjoyable Friday read, and if so, maybe Ask the Sports Nerd will return down the road.
Either way, expect a return to your normal Cowboys programming by early next week.  Happy weekend.