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Jason Gurwin

Jason Gurwin

Posted: July 19, 2010 12:10 PM

Live Sports 2.0: The Digital Revolution

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So you go to the arena and you're sitting in the nose bleed seats, there's a drunk guy sitting next to you who won't stop shouting expletives or blowing into his vuvuzela, and its only the first quarter. Just wait until you have to spend 25 minutes in line to use the bathroom to dispose of the $8 soda you bought. It's no wonder that people prefer to stay home and watch the game on their 65" HDTV than drop a week's worth of salary to bring their family to cheer on their favorite team.

The biggest difficulty with creating a great in-venue experience is that there is no control over whether your team wins or loses. As a marketer for a sports team, your job is to ensure that you have a great time no matter if your team is shutout or wins a "nail biter." In the past, that meant cheerleaders, video clips on the jumbotron, and random giveaways. Today, there are some pretty innovative pieces of technology that can make the live experience that much better.

One of coolest new pieces of live venue technology is a system called Kangaroo TV. It bridges the gap between what's great about watching sports at home, the access to information, and what's great about going to the event, the energy of the venue.

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the final round of the US Open at Pebble Beach. Unless you have a rooting interest, live golf is up there with the "National Paint Drying Championship." You miss 90% of the action and your view is often obstructed. Then comes Kangaroo TV. With just a deposit on the device, the handheld 3G-based system provided access to live video of the NBC's US Open broadcast, as well as additional video feeds including featured pairings, holes, and even the blimp cam. In addition, you could follow the leaderboard or dig into player stats or scorecards.

Golf is just the beginning. This technology will be available starting this fall at Miami Dolphins games. It will give you access to the NFL RedZone channel as well as broadcasts to other NFL games.

This isn't the first handheld device to merge the live event with the digital world. In 2007, the Nintendo Fan Network was launched at Safeco Field in Seattle that allowed Nintendo DS users to access baseball content (stats, scores, video etc.), chat with other fans, and even order concessions directly from the device.

The question is - why require proprietary hardware like KangarooTV or a gaming system like Nintendo DS when nearly every tech savvy sports fan has a smartphone? Back in 2004, AT&T Park became the first WiFi-equipped sports venue. They also launched an online platform called "Giants Digital Dugout" that provides WiFi video replays, game content, and venue maps.

The iPhone app development community has even begun to take on the problem. At Rupp Arena at the University of Kentucky, an iPhone application called "FanGo" has allowed fans to order food directly from their seats. DirecTV even has an iPhone app called NFL Sunday Ticket To-Go that allows NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers to watch any NFL game directly from their iPhone, Android, or Blackberry device.

This is just the beginning. There is a huge opportunity here to innovate on the live game experience. Imagine sitting at a baseball game with the live video stream on your iPad and being able to tap on a player to pull up their virtual trading card. Imagine being able to view the twitter stream of all those tweeting about the game. Imagine after a loss getting the option to purchase a discounted ticket to another game as a special bonus for attending the game.

With 3DTV no longer a pipe dream, sports teams will have to find new ways to draw fans to their venues - especially when they're not winning. I don't have a solution for the exorbitant costs of going to a sporting event, but there is tremendous room to create a more dynamic live experience. However, the solution is not a fragmented set of technologies. The one that will win is the one that creates the ultimate fan experience in one application on the user's own hardware. And if it also includes a feature so you never need to wait on line at the bathroom, I think you just might have hit the jackpot.