In fact, research by Genesco Sports Enterprises has found that 76% of US sports fans are in favor of watch-party-style events following the Covid-19 pandemic.
As with any gathering, however, it takes time and effort to plan a successful watch party. So we’ve rounded up our top 10 essential ingredients to ensure you and your guests enjoy the big game.
1. A Firm Guest List
When you’re planning a party, it’s important to determine how many people you’ll invite and send out the invites as early as possible. Not only will this help you to finalize numbers and ensure you have adequate food and drink supplies, it enables you to plan for any special requirements your guests may have.
As you’re drawing up your guest list, try to be realistic about the space available in your home. If your living room is on the cozy side, you might not squeeze 50 guests in for your watch party.
If you suspect your party may get noisy, it’s a good idea to warn your neighbors that you’ll be having people over. Doing so could help you avoid any disputes or complaints during the party. Another solution, of course, would be to invite your neighbors along.
2. A Subscription to Cable TV or a Streaming Service to Watch Live Sports
Whichever game you're planning to watch, it’s essential to ensure you have the right sports streaming service or cable subscription to access the broadcast.
Coverage for the upcoming NBA playoffs will be split between ESPN, ABC, TNT, and NBA TV. If you’re paying for a cable TV subscription, it’s likely that you already have ESPN, ABC, and TNT. However, while these channels are pretty standard with most cable subscriptions, your cable provider may not offer all of them.
Similarly, NBA TV is usually only available in separate sports packages that cost extra. You’ll need to check with your cable provider to ensure you have all the channels you need to watch the games.
If you don’t have a cable subscription, or if your cable provider doesn’t offer all four channels that are broadcasting the games, you can access them through streaming services such as DIRECTV Stream, Hulu + Live TV, SlingTV, or YouTube TV. These services often offer trial periods for anywhere from five to 14 days and give you access to dozens of different channels. You can get a TNT free trial, for example, by signing up for a free trial with YouTube TV.
However, you’ll need to have a strong internet connection and a device to stream the games on, such as an Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Google TV, or Roku.
3. Sports-Themed Decorations
While decorations aren’t essential for a watch party, adding a little character to your home could help get your guests in the mood. Even if a tight budget means you need to rely on DIY decorations, the possibilities are endless.
Some tried-and-tested options include table decorations, mini pennants, and balloons. If you’re feeling more creative, you could make a mock scoreboard for your guests to fill in or put up life-size cut-outs of your favorite players and allow your guests to take selfies.
And if you have guests supporting different teams, you could help ease potential rivalries by putting up decorations in a mixture of both teams’ colors.
4. A Test of Your Viewing Equipment
The last thing you want during a big game is for your equipment to fail 10 minutes into the action. A couple of days before your guests are due to arrive, thoroughly test your TV, video, and audio equipment. This way, you’ll have time to address any issues and call in the tech experts if necessary.
Important pre-game checks include:
Adjusting your TV’s brightness levels
Checking your internet bandwidth if you’re streaming the game
Making sure your TV can be heard from different areas of the room
Turning on motion smoothing (an in-built video processing feature that can make the action seem less jerky)
5. A Plan for Special Dietary Requirements
It goes without saying that snacks are a key ingredient of any watch party. And while favorites such as burgers, ribs, and dogs are likely to be a staple of your game-day menu, remember to check whether any of your guests have any allergies, intolerances, or special dietary requirements.
Ensuring you have catered for all tastes will help ensure everyone feels welcome in your home. You could even consider setting up a special table for vegetarians or healthy eaters. Also, remember that many brands of chips and dips offer dairy- and gluten-free alternatives.
6. Enough Beer, Wine, and Sodas
For many sports fans, enjoying a cold beer or chilled glass of wine goes hand in hand with watching a big game, which may be especially true if there’s a victory to celebrate. To be sure there’s enough alcohol and that all tastes are catered for, consider buying supplies a few weeks before the big day.
If you want to add a sense of occasion, consider hiring a bartender who can mix up some of the more exotic cocktails.
When you’re planning your drinks menu, factor in guests who don’t drink alcohol, and remember to get an ample supply of sodas, juices, and non-alcoholic wines, beers, and spirits. It also makes sense to select a designated driver who can help make sure everyone stays safe after the party.
And one of the most important tips for any party: make sure you have enough ice.
7. A Breakout Room for Socializing
At any watch party, you’re bound to have both casual sports fans and die-hard enthusiasts among your guests. While this can provide a good social mix, it could also mean that your guests will be paying varying levels of attention to the game. Some will be glued to the screen, while others will be dipping in and out of the coverage.
Consider dedicating a separate room in your house to mingling, where those who are less devoted to the game can feel free to chat without ruining key moments of the action. If it’s a warm day, you might find that creating some space outside is the best option.
8. A Well-Planned Seating Area
With some games running to more than three hours, your guests will likely spend much of the party sitting down. Make sure you have enough couches and chairs for your guests—as well as any unexpected visitors who might arrive on the day. When you’re arranging your seating area, it’s also a good idea to ensure that the TV is visible from all parts of the room.
And if you’re concerned about Covid-19, you could set your chairs at least six feet apart, with only those from the same household sharing couches and other communal seating.
9. Entertainment for the Children
If you’ve invited a decent number of friends and family, chances are some of your guests will bring along their children. And no matter how much we love our little ones, they can be a distraction when you’re trying to concentrate on a key play.
Make sure you have a strategy for keeping the kids entertained while the adults are busy. You could set up games and snacks in a separate area of the house or even hire a babysitter to keep an eye on the kids during the action. If all else fails, consider setting up a rota for this (and future) watch parties, in which parents take turns being the designated babysitter.
10. An Option for Virtual Guests
One of the biggest shifts to come from the Covid-19 pandemic has been the growth of online gatherings, and sporting events are no exception. When you’re planning your watch party, you might want to consider a digital solution for guests who are unable to attend.
Although it may not be the same as attending in-person, there are several apps that enable you to chat with friends and family about the action. Teleparty (formerly known as Netflix Party), for example, is a free browser extension for Opera, Edge, and Chrome. It provides you with a sharable link that synchronizes video playback and adds chats to Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Hulu, and HBO Max.
Alternatively, Sling TV subscribers can create a watch party in which they can watch live TV, including sports events, while chatting to up to three other viewers. In the case of the playoffs, long-distance guests could also sign up for the TNT live stream free trial and then chat over a platform such as Zoom.
While a watch party can be a great way to support your team and spend time with friends and family, there is often considerable organization behind these events. Luckily, you can greatly increase your chances of a successful gathering by following the tips discussed in this article—whether that’s finding out how to watch TNT for free on the best streaming service for live sports or making special plans for your gluten-intolerant guests.
Once you’ve got your sports streaming service sorted, your decorations up, and your food prepared, you and your guests can relax and enjoy the day.