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Hard core sports fans are a special group of people. They are committed to their teams, they want to know all about the players and they’re ready to pay for the information. Surprisingly enough, a real hard core sports fan looking for cool wireless services has to look hard.

Tickets to the game: 40 dollars
Hot dogs, nachos and soda: 20 dollars
Brand new hat: 25 dollars
Dry cleaning of the shirt because you got some cheese on it: 30 dollars.
Missing the winning goal because of above: priceless

But that’s not the end of the story anymore:
Getting instant replay on your mobile phone: 5 dollars.

If I had got a nickel every time I heard somebody say, “I missed it! Replay, please!” at a game, I wouldn’t be writing these stories for money. Now, back in the 1980s the comment was still funny, since practically none of the arenas had the multi-million dollar jumbotrons they have now.

And now, with wireless technology, that remark won’t even get anybody’s attention for two reasons: one, it’s not funny, so why encourage the guy, and two, everybody’s too busy downloading their own instant replays.

Sports is something that people bond with. No wonder sports was considered one of the major wireless attractions as well. However, as the wireless boom faded, sports services have also been put on the backburner. Of the 19 British Premier League soccer teams that have had wireless services, five are now “currently unavailable” and only the Tottenham Hotspurs’ service includes sending images. The rest offer SMS alerts, logos, and ringtones.

It seems that the sports fans can keep on dreaming about the replays, and need to keep their eyes on the scoreboard. However, there are a bunch of new services for the insatiable sports fans.

In Finland, hockey fans can get real-time information on their own mobile phones about events and scores of the Finnish Elite League games. The service sends reports of all significant events in other games: goals scored and assists credited as well as penalties assessed. This way, a fan sitting at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki can stay updated on what is going on at the other games played the same day. If there’s a particular player he would like to get more information on, he can download the player’s card, with the latest stats and a color image.

These services work on all mobile phones with WAP browsers.

SMS alerts, getting the latest statistics, scores, ringtones or images are commonplace. In Finland, at the end of the game, the fans can send an SMS to a special number and vote for the MVP of the game. And, perhaps, book tickets to the next game.

Unlike in 2001, today there is no hype. The services mentioned above are not, in lack of a better word”, “cool.” Sending an SMS to vote for the MVP is not a big deal. (sports and telecoms is a great match, the two share the love of acronyms, too). Which is probably why people are actually doing it.

The services are not cool, but unlike in 2001, they work. Every day. Which is why more teams are finally looking at it as a new way to create real revenue.

Darrell Hancock at Feed Me Sports, a Canadian company specializing in wireless web services in the sports industry, mentions several ways to make money on sports: ticket sales, trivia games and office pools, for example.

In 2003, Feed Me Sports helped the Vancouver Canucks put together a pilot project for the annual player draft where the executives of the Canucks got SMS alerts every time their team had picked a player.

By signing up for Feed Me Sports’s system at www.faninteraction.com, the sports fans will be able to participate in trivia contests for prizes, receive scoring updates, download wallpapers and ringtones of his favorite athletes and view streaming video from their mobile phone.
The company has set up networks with top athletes, such as NBA basketball player Carmelo Anthony, to be able to offer its clients exclusive services, such as guaranteed six hours a month viewing of a Carmelo Anthony Web cam, or comments after the game.

The fans can fill their accounts on the Feed Me Sports Web site to be able to use their services.

Sports fans and money are easily departed. According to some studies, a family of four leaves an average of about 300 dollars at the arena. 150 dollars go to the tickets and the same amount on souvenirs, so voting for the MVP, getting the latest stats and the word from the locker room won’t add much to the bill.

But sports fans want more. They – we – want images, we’d like them moving and preferably right now.

In Thailand, Hutchison is bringing British Premier League near-live video clips to their subscribers. They are a part of a package including a TV show, and quizzes on the Web. But not even there does the wireless technology actually enhance the sporting event experience.

The first wave may not come through the regular mobile technology. Several sports teams are equipping their arenas with Wi-Fi. For example, British soccer teams, Reading FC and Nottingham Forest FC created Wi-Fi hotspots, giving fans a chance to download latest news, stats, and images.

The Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, the largest soccer arena in the world, has had WiFi since April, 2001. The network provides wireless connectivity between the stadiums 160 ticket offices scattered throughout the arena. It also connects to the central administration department, delivering real-time information about ticket sales. The arena’s profits increased by 20 percent due to elimination of illegal ticket supplies and sales in and around the stadium.

NHL hockey fans got video highlights at the 2001 Stanley Cup playoffs using Virage video content on IEEE 802.11b allowing users to search and stream video clips in real-time using handheld PDAs.

The San Jose Sharks NHL team also has WiFi in its arena and several other teams are following.

However, with the number of mobile phones with WAP, UMTS or MMS rising, the phone can, again, become the preferred method of getting to the information. Feed Me Sports is convinced of that. ”With MMS services, we’re 30 days away from turning this into reality,” says Hancock.

According to Hancock, most of the mobile phones sold in the US are phones with built-in cameras, and the capability to receive moving images. “They are coming through big time in the US,” he says, “and with streaming video, this thing is going to go through the roof.”

Feed Me Sports, and others like it, are getting ready for the day when we all have mobile phones that can send and receive images. The service concepts are thought through, and ready to be implemented.

”Pretty soon, what we’re going to do is give the fans a chance to, for example, view a special Carmelo Anthony cam. We will guarantee the people who sign up, say, six hours of Webcam time. They can also view the highlights on their phone, or get alerts when Anthony comments the game, during the game and minutes after the buzzer,” he says.

How long “pretty soon” is, remains to be seen.

What would it mean to sports?
In several sports, the in-arena network won’t show any replays involving penalties, fouls or – in the case of soccer – bookings so that the spectators in the stands wouldn’t get any fuel in their war against referees.
That’s why when a hockey player is taken down, the scoreboard shows those slightly-amusing cartoons or, simply, advertising.
With thousands of people with their own small screens, and a chance to get an instant replay, the referees would really become endangered species whenever there’d be a call the majority of the spectators wouldn’t agree with.
The fact that spectators get to, for example, vote for the best player is a natural step in the development where sports has become entertainment. Audience’s opinions of who the best player is reflect more often the celebrity status of the players. A visiting team star hardly ever gets the MVP award in the Finnish Elite League hockey games.
But that’s just the way things are, people say. Do you really think Tom Cruise is the best actor in the world – or simply the best star?

Please remain seated
In May, 2003, New Age Media Concepts unveiled the “New Age Technology System” for sports venues. With the New Age Technology System (NATS), a sports fan will have in front of him a touch screen unit with which he can order fan products, tickets, and participate in loyalty programs. He’ll be able to see instant replays and check emails without ever leaving his seat.

The system helps team and stadium owners generate additional revenue through the advertising on the system and the increased sales. A fan in a stadium with his family can order food from where they are sitting rather than getting up and standing on a long line and missing the action.

“We offer both the sports fan and the sports team and stadium owners benefits. Sports fans get a more interactive experience when they are at the game and they are more likely to come back again while the team and stadium owners enjoy the benefits of additional revenues from higher sales and additional advertising revenue,” says Tony Nichols, New Age Media Concepts.

Published in On, April 2004

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