Borrowed Time: MLS All-Star Weekend with the TAG Heuer Connected Watch


TAG Heuer, under the stewardship of CEO Jean-Claude Biver, is a brand used to making headlines, in both the watch-centric and mainstream press. Consider the brand’s high-profile partnership with New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, its controversial release of a $16,000 tourbillon at this year’s Baselworld, its highly touted launch of the Connected Watch, and its new role as official timekeeper for Major League Soccer (MLS) and other U.S. soccer organizations.

The brand has, in fact, already integrated these last two big announcements: as Biver revealed at the press conference for its U.S. soccer sponsorship, MLS officials will, as of this season, exclusively wear TAG Heuer Connected Watches during games. Thus, when TAG Heuer invited me to attend this year’s MLS All-Star Game in San Jose, it seemed fitting that I should take the opportunity to spend a few days with the Connected Watch myself and put it through its paces on a busy, activity-filled three-day trip. What follows is essentially my MLS All-Star Diary.

TAG Heuer Connected Watch MLS All-Star ticket

Tuesday afternoon:

The TAG Heuer Connected Watch, with charger, arrives at my New York office via messenger. The first step, as with pretty much all smartwatches, is to download an app to my smartphone to synch it with the watch. After a quick, fruitless search of the Apple app store yields no results for “TAG Heuer Connected”, I remember that the watch is powered by Android Wear technology, and thus must download the Android Wear app. A quick search, a quick download, and I’m set. The watch’s dial shows signs of life.

Knowing I have a short window in which to familiarize myself with the watch’s various functions, I immediately attach the charger to the back of the watch and plug it into an outlet. Helpfully, the watch’s dial promptly lights up with the percentage of power remaining, so I have a good idea of how long I’ll need to get it charged up to full power. (TAG Heuer says the watch runs a full day on a 100% charge, and I found this to be fairly accurate.) When the dial reads “100%” I remove the watch from the charger, strap its sporty, perforated rubber strap to my wrist and begin playing. I recall that there are three analog-style dial options — one of the main elements that makes this watch distinct from the Apple Watch and its brethren — and choose the classic three-register Carrera chronograph dial in black. After a short trial-and-error period of tapping, sweeping, and pushing the crown, I discover how to start, stop, and reset the chronograph function with a few taps to the watch’s touch-screen dial. Curious, I sweep over to the GMT dial and am initially frustrated in my attempts to similarly re-set the digital GMT hand by tapping. I sweep back to my chronograph dial and file this away to figure out later.

Wednesday morning:

As my flight from New York’s JFK airport to San Francisco begins taxiing on the runway, and I heed the usual announcements from the flight crew to put all smartphones into airplane mode, I do a quick scroll through the “Settings” menu and find that, yes, the watch also has an airplane mode. Just to make sure all the bases are covered, I toggle the airplane mode “on” for the duration of the flight.

Wednesday afternoon:

Upon touching down at SFO, I take both watch and phone out of airplane mode and initially expect the watch’s dial to instantly switch to the local time. No dice: since it’s synched to my iPhone via Bluetooth, I first have to change the time zone on that device first. Once that’s done, the watch’s hands move swiftly to West Coast time. A simple, mechanical watch only requires a few manual turns of the crown to reset the time, of course, but then again, you’d have to reset your smartphone anyway, so you wouldn’t really be saving any steps.

My fellow media guests and I are shuttled from the airport to our digs for the next few days, the luxurious Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay. I check in at the front desk in the main hotel of this oceanfront resort, then catch a quick ride over to the guest house on the property’s grounds where I’m staying. I make a note to walk back to the main building, for TAG Heuer’s cocktail reception and dinner at the hotel’s Navio restaurant, later on that evening, both to get some much-needed exercise and to use the chronograph to time how long I’ll need to go back and forth over the next day or so.

TAG Heuer Connected Watch - wrist - Half Moon Bay

Thursday morning:

The watch’s alarm function rouses me from jet-lagged slumber and I take it from the nightstand, where it has been charging overnight, strap it back on and scroll to the weather app, which is now, of course, synched up to the one on my phone. A glance at the dial gives me my first lesson in Northern California’s notoriously wide-ranging microclimates. It’s just 57º F, at least 20º cooler than when I landed in San Fran the day before and at least 30º cooler than the heat-wave-plagued New York City that I left about 24 hours ago. Finding myself wishing I’d packed a light jacket for this trip — and marveling at the irony that I have essentially flown from New York to California in late July for colder temps rather than warmer ones — I walk over to the main building for breakfast.

TAG Heuer Connected Watch - wrist - weather
A check of the weather app first thing in the morning prepares me for a chilly walk on the way to breakfast.

During breakfast, as a I continue scrolling through the watch’s functionalities, I decide to bring up the fitness app, which counts your steps and sets a daily default goal of 10,000. Noting that yesterday’s tally fell far short of that number — to be fair, I was sitting on an airplane for much of the afternoon — I make it one of my goals during this review period to hit that number at least once. I decide my best way to achieve that is to take a long morning walk on one of the Half Moon Bay resort’s dedicated trails, which wind through the property’s famous golf course and offer breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Toward the end of my scenic stroll, I notice the watch vibrating on my wrist alerting me to a text from the TAG Heuer representative coordinating my group’s activities, informing me that the Ritz-Carlton’s spa staff has managed to squeeze me in for a massage treatment that I’d requested the previous day. I pick up the pace and head back to the hotel to prepare. Checking the step count as I reach my room, I see I’ve already exceeded yesterday’s total. So far, so good.

TAG Heuer Connected Watch - wrist - coastline
The fitness app tracks my steps as I walk the scenic trail along the Pacific Coast (below).
Pacific Coast - Half Moon Bay

Thursday, early afternoon:

After the massage, I stretch my loosened shoulder and back muscles and reattach the watch to my now oil-scented forearm. Another vibration and another text from a TAG Heuer rep, reminding me of the group lunch on the resort’s Ocean Lawn. I arrive to a welcoming glass of Champagne as my fellow media guests, along with TAG retailers and brand representatives — including brand president Kilian Müller, who has arrived to host the day’s festivities and to attend the MLS All-Star Game — mingle while the buffet lunch stations are set up.

It is around this time that I realize that I have spent so much time delving into the capabilities of the Connected Watch that I haven’t done my homework on the sporting event around which this trip revolves. Remembering that the watch’s voice-activated Google search function, I step away from the conversing crowd, bring up the Google app, raise my wrist to my face, and, prompted by the dial, speak slowly into the watch, “Who is playing in the MLS All-Star Game?” I am duly impressed when Google transcribes the query perfectly and responds with a news story that gives me the basics I’ll need to enjoy tonight’s match, which is different than most major sports’ all-star contests in that it pits all of the MLS All-Stars, together on one team, against a European squad, England’s popular Arsenal. The pride-of-America vs. pride-of-Europe angle should make for a more competitive match than most such contests, which in other American sports tend to be glorified exhibition games.

After lunch, our gang piles into a shuttle bus for the hour-plus ride southeast and inland to San Jose’s Avaya Stadium, home of the MLS San Jose Earthquakes and host of this year’s All-Star Game, the first for TAG Heuer as partner and official timer. Another check of the watch’s weather app, which is now synched to San Jose, and another reminder of those crazy microclimates: 95 degrees, a rather amazing temperature swing from the chilly morning in Half Moon Bay.

Thursday, late afternoon:

TAG is hosting its “#don’tcrackunderpressure challenge” at its sponsor area outside the stadium, in which fans of all ages vie for the very prize I’m currently wearing on my wrist, a TAG Heuer Connected Watch, by kicking as many soccer balls as possible into a mostly blocked-off net within one minute; goals on the ground are worth a point, goals in the high corners are worth three, and the highest point total wins the watch. Müller, who’s hosting the event, makes an impressive showing himself, and San Jose Earthquakes forward Tommy Thompson also makes an appearance to mingle with fans.

TAG Heuer Killian Muller - MLS All-Star
TAG Heuer brand president Killian Müller takes some practice kicks at the #don’tcrackunderpressure” fan event
Killian Muller & Tommy Thompson
Müller with Earthquakes forward Tommy Thompson

 

The MLS All-Star Game kicks off at 4:30 PM Pacific Time and I am reminded that I had still been meaning to switch my digital watch face over to the GMT dial, if only to keep track of the time back east so I’ll know when it’s getting too late to call home. Fortunately, Müller is kind enough to help me out here, showing me the pull-down menu that I missed before that allows the wearer to re-set the GMT hand (as an added, user-friendly feature, the GMT dial displays the 24-hour second time zone digitally as well as with the analog hand). I make my call home at halftime, with the match tied 1-1 — as I had hoped, the competitive juices are flowing moreso than at most All-Star Games, from both the players and fans; there is actually a large contingent of very vocal Arsenal boosters here, along with the expected fans of the hometown Earthquakes, who are represented by forward Chris Wondolowski and goalkeeper David Bingham.

TAG Heuer Connected Watch - wrist - stadium
Counting down to game time

 

MLS All Stars 2016
The view of the field from TAG Heuer’s Luxury Suite at Avaya Stadium

With Arsenal up 2-1 late in the second half, I have the perfect occasion to employ another of the Connected Watch’s heretofore unused functions: the digital countdown timer. As the game clock on the big scoreboard ticks upward toward 90 minutes, or the match’s “full time,” the officials announce that there will be two minutes of “stoppage time.” This is one of those soccer rules that I have always found somewhat perplexing: whereas most American sports stop their game clocks temporarily when there is an injury to a player, a substitution, et cetera, soccer simply leaves the clock running and instead adds extra time to the end of the match to make up for the time lost through these “stoppages.” Unfortunately, for some reason, the stadium scoreboard does not display these extra minutes on the clock, which to my mind, are equivalent to the overtime minutes in an NHL game, to use the closest American sports analogy. Thus, wanting to know exactly how much time the MLS All-Stars had to tie the game, I set the timer for two minutes and start the countdown, which ends, unfortunately, with the MLS team unable to mount a comeback and falling to Arsenal, 2-1. (I find myself wondering if the refs are using their Connected Watches to keep track of stoppage time this way as well.)

Thursday evening:

Post-game cocktails and late snacks at the Half Moon Bay’s Library Bar as the long day winds down and guests prepare for their flights home the following morning. The watch tingles on my wrist and reminds me to check in online for my JetBlue flight back to New York. I make the arrangements via my phone and right before turning in for the night check my step count on the fitness app. I’ve fallen just 52 steps shy of the 10,000-step goal. One more trip back and forth from guest house to main house would’ve easily put me over the top, I realize. Of all the things the Connected Watch can do that a mechanical watch cannot, this is the function that I figure I would utilize most often were I to own one.

TAG Heuer Connected Watch - wrist - steps
TAG Heuer Connected Watch – wrist – steps

Friday morning:

Breakfast at Navio restaurant is interrupted by another wrist buzz, alerting me to a text from the TAG Heuer travel team that my New York flight is now delayed two hours. In the subsequent hours the travel team and I exchange texts to ensure that my car service waiting back at JFK is aware of the changes. One of the knocks on smartwatches is that there isn’t much you can do with them that you can’t already do with your smartphone. However, I must admit, one can get used to the convenience of leaving one’s phone tucked away and awaiting wrist alerts to texts rather than constantly reaching for the phone to check. Shortly before boarding the delayed flight, I get the confirmation that all is well with the car service back in New York. I put phone and watch back into airplane mode as the flight takes off.

Friday afternoon:

Onboard the flight, I scroll through the DirectTV channel guide on my seatback TV screen and find a two-hour block of “Seinfeld” reruns starting an hour from now. Thinking “Why not?”, I memorize the station and set the watch’s alarm to remind me of the start time. It’s not exactly as momentous a task as timing the final minutes of the MLS All-Star Game, but it does help the delayed flight go by more quickly and pleasantly.

Friday evening:

I pick up the luggage at JFK and find my driver. In the car, I shift the smartphone, and hence the watch’s dial, back to East Coast Time and New York weather. I will have a few more days to enjoy playing with the Connected Watch before shipping it back to my gracious hosts at TAG Heuer, but now both the watch and I are in need of a good, long, recharge. I close my eyes and make sure all alarms are turned off. There’s always tomorrow to try again for those 10,000 steps.

Leave a Reply