Madison Square Garden may have just tapped into the ultimate fan fantasy -- a way to watch a game, drink, watch TV, drink some more, and buy cool stuff you don't need without moving a muscle. Before this season's Knicks and Rangers openers, the Garden picked 557 seats in its club sections and plush suites to test its new Garden Fanlink: computer touch screens, located on seat backs, that offer live game-video feeds from eight camera angles. Touch the replay button to catch that crucial steal you missed. Touch another button to access bios and statistics of every player in the league. Press here to order burgers and a beer -- and pay for it with the handy credit-card swiper hitched to the screen. All you need is a catheter, and you'll never have to leave your seat again.
The Garden is spending an undisclosed sum to install Fanlink on the back of every club seat in the arena by next season. Down the road, the Garden plans a link-up with a virtual mall of sports paraphernalia, so fans will be able to order tickets to other games, or bid on a game-winning puck in a benefit auction. By then, perhaps, the game itself will have become just a platform for more and more purchases. After umpteen beers and a thrilling fourth quarter, you might decide to buy everyone in your section a round. Or a car.
Fanlink's real potential may lie beyond the world of sports: at last, a chance to see Billy Joel's bald spot or a Knicks City Dancer's derrière. And naturally, the gadget's ad synergy is a done deal -- in a Garden blooming with poster space, these video screens supply new prime real estate, positioned to upstage the game completely. Not that true fans will notice, of course . . . until the Visa bill comes.