Many happy with AFN sports lineup
Landing a Pacific-based assignment is just the ticket for a sports junkie.
The American Forces Network broadcasts an array of NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR events throughout the year — and plenty of NCAA football, basketball and baseball games. Certified fanatics also get all four majors in tennis and golf, championship boxing and horse racing’s Triple Crown.
The schedule is rounded out with every Ultimate Fighting Championship and WWE pay-per-view, as well as UFC Fight Night events, weekly episodes of “WWE Raw” and “WWE Smackdown” and UFC’s reality show, The Ultimate Fighter.
AFN Xtra even showcases the World Series of Poker.
Makes you wonder why a sports nut would ever head back to the United States, where there are NFL blackout rules in each TV market and expensive pay-per-view packages on cable systems.
In comparison, sports nuts seem to have it all overseas, though it wasn’t always the case.
AFN didn’t gain the ability to insert live sporting events into the broadcast until SATNET came along in 1982, said Kyle Hammitt, director of media for AFN Tokyo at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
“We did air live sporting events prior to that, but typically it was only one college or pro football game a week during the season,” he said. “We also would get the Super Bowl, World Series, NCAA Basketball Championship games, one-time special events that had peak interest. In those days, radio was the primary means of distributing live sports events.”
Today, AFN carries about 20,000 hours of sports each year, according to Larry Sichter, chief of affiliate relations at the network’s broadcast center in Riverside, Calif.
But catching live games in the Pacific, particularly on weekends, can be tricky if you’re 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
“My wife and I are huge Ohio State fans, so we wake up early on Sunday mornings to watch the game,” said Army Lt. Col. Loren Darmofal, the financial management officer for U.S. Forces Japan at Yokota. “With the time difference, I miss watching the pro football games on Monday but am able to catch the highlights and replays at night. Watching college football games in ‘real time’ is much more exciting than taping it and watching it later.”
He also watches a lot of college basketball and says he’s satisfied with the variety of sports AFN provides, though disappointed Yokota’s cable provider, Allied Telesis, recently dropped the Fox College Sports channels.
Sports fans in South Korea say they’re also mostly pleased with viewing options.
While AFN may not show every game, many viewers find ways to adapt.
Pfc. Kiel Haberland, 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry regiment, said he doesn’t mind seeing Monday Night Football on Tuesday or getting up at 2 a.m. to watch college football.
“It doesn’t seem like you’re so far from home if you can catch some American football,” he said.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Taylor said AFN shows plenty of sports, but not always the games he’d like to see.
“I’m an Oklahoma Sooners fan,” he said. “I’ll do anything to watch a game.”
He’s even tried streaming games from the Internet, but so far the services he’s tried won’t stream to South Korea.
Others, however, say they’ve had no problems watching games through Yahoo Sports.
Craig Bennett, a civilian working at the U.S. Embassy, watches baseball and football. He sometimes gets up as early as 2 a.m. to watch a game. Other times, he streams games on his computer through MLB.com.
Like other die-hard fans, he isn’t bothered by the time difference.
“You know how it is. You get on the Internet and see the scores, you don’t want to watch the games after that,” he said.
On Okinawa, Sgt. Beau Reed and Cpl. Jason Smith, both Marines, said AFN doesn’t offer enough sports.
“I don’t think it’s ever enough,” Reed said.
The reason why, they contend, is simple.
“They can have a bunch of games on, but if it’s not the one you want to watch, it doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “They only pick certain ones to show.”
Reed said he doesn’t stay up late or change his schedule to watch sports.
“Nothing gets in the way of my sleep,” he said, grinning.
Smith, a die-hard University of Oklahoma fan, said he’ll be awake in the wee hours if football is the reward.
He said that when he was growing up, most of the Sooners fans he knew turned out to tailgate on game days. Watching the games gives him a taste of home, he said.
“Over here, it’s a real treat for me.”
Stars and Stripes reporters Dave Ornauer, Jimmy Norris and Will Morris contributed to this story.