I Cannot Tell A Lie...
Let me start off by saying that I eat, breathe and sleep CrossFit and CrossFit related activities. I also endure ten Islanders games a year at the Nassau Coliseum, so I have a pretty high threshold for pain when it comes to live sporting events. When I heard that the new professional fitness league GRID was coming to Madison Square Garden I was hoping for the best but was prepared for the worst.
The politically correct thing to say after attending the first GRID match between the LA Reign and the New York Rhinos is that the event was awesome and the league is primed to overtake Hockey as America's fourth sport. Like Galileo before the inquisition though I have to be truthful about what I saw. This was a rough two hours to sit through. While there were a few high points and some laughable low points that made the event worthwhile, for the most part the first ever GRID match was a bit of a let down.
I was an amateur baseball player until two years ago so I will never take any shots at athletes who strap on the gear (fake Under Armour Nanos?) and get after it. Led by Annie Thorisdottir and Mathew Fraser, the Rhinos and Reign both have great competitors who appear to be passionate and engaged. At times they even managed to bring the crowd to their feet with awesome displays of physicality. These included an amazing handstand walk, forty unbroken chest to bar pullups and pretty much anything that Annie Thorisdottir did. Despite some of the events shortcomings, I was happy to see the hometown Rhinos pull out a victory over Los Angeles.
The event took place at Madison Square Garden. That's right, MSG - home to the Knicks, Rangers and some of the greatest boxing matches of all time. As an avid hockey fan I can't help but get chills every time I walk in there. It was a pretty cool experience seeing The Garden floor covered by something other than ice or hard wood. We also got a chance to walk on the Garden floor after the match was over - definitely a different experience looking up and seeing that enormous scoreboard overhead.
The Not So Good
The match was broken into eleven separate events with the winning team getting two points, the losing team getting one point and zero points awarded for a failure to finish. The team with the most points at the end was declared the winner. That's pretty much where my understanding of the competition ended. The events were fast but jumbled so you couldn't always tell who was in the lead. There were also several challenge flags thrown with either a delayed or unintelligible explanation of why they were needed. I've graduated from some solid schools and played organized sports for my entire life and for the most part I had no idea what was going on. At times it seemed like they were making the rules up as they went along. Also, the scoreboard was confusing because they had the colors of the teams and the location on the board in relation to real life flipped so it was hard to tell which team was winning.
One thing that got me a bit ticked off was the inclusion of a burpee ring touch with the ring set at TEN FEET in the last event. The Rhinos had a really tall dude who could jump super high and The Reign didn't so this event wasn't even close. Is this a league that tests fitness or a league that tests height?
Fun Fact - It's called GRID because the competition floor is a grid. Actually that's just a guess. Whatever.
I don't even know where to start with this one. My biggest complaint was that this event was at the greatest arena in the greatest city on earth with a seating capacity of approximately 18,000 and it was pretty much empty. From the naked eye I would guess that only a few thousand seats were filled. Maybe the official attendance numbers will prove me wrong, but there were entire sections in the 100 level with no spectators. Having an event in a pretty much empty arena made it look cheap and unimportant. I'm not sure why the GRID organizers didn't pick a smaller venue and pack it to the gills like the CrossFit Games organizers do for the CrossFit Games Finals.
EDIT: John W. Mustafa (head referee for GRID) left us a note on our facebook page. Official attendance for the event was 4,015.
The On Court Announcing
I won't name names or post a picture, but the female announcer was clearly in over her head. From comically over-articulated descriptions of "elements", to an inaccurate call of the winner of an event to rambling on court interviews this was a struggle from the beginning. In fact, I think the announcing was such a distraction that it may have clouded my entire view of the event. During one interview where she asked a thoroughly confused coach about rope climbs that had happened a half hour earlier I actually pulled my shirt up over my face. This is one where a description doesn't do it justice. You just had to be there.
This is where the night turned a bit absurd. A bed company sponsoring the event actually had fitness themed beds set up on the floor of the arena with a big display that blocked the view of some seats in section 101. I hate to admit it, but this is proof that you can slap a kettlebell on a piece of advertising and get CrossFit (GRID?) enthusiasts to pay 40% more for it. They even showed several commercials for the bed with oiled up athletes lying in them up on the scoreboard. You really need to shower after a workout before going to bed or you'll get some bad bacne. Don't listen to the fitness themed bed commercials. Very weird.
Go Shorty, It's Your Birthday
Did I forget to mention that the first GRID competition was on my birthday? Happy Birthday to me! Although the event wasn't what I was hoping for, it didn't ruin my birthday night. I got to hang out in Madison Square Garden and enjoy some impressive athletics and unintentional comedy with my girlfriend and great friends from my box. I mean, you can't complain that much when you get to see Annie Thorisdottir and Mathew Fraser in action.
For those of you who loved the inaugural GRID competition and think I'm a hater you have my apologies. To borrow a line from my baseball past "I have to call them I like I see them." The GRID organizers have some great athletes, a lot of buzz and a devoted fan base. If they want to make sure that this sport comes back for a second season they'll need to simplify the format, fix the announcing issues and find a way to pull non CrossFitters into their venues. It's a daunting task but I really do hope they can pull it off and commend them for having the courage to try something new. All in all I would give this first effort a "C" if you forced me to put a grade on it.
Did you attend the competition? Am I being too critical or pulling my punches and giving the organizers a pass? Let us know in the comments. Also, be on the lookout for Ali's upcoming GRID review in WOD Talk and kudos to LR for handling WOD Talk's social media during the event.