For leagues and broadcasters, live streaming was typically an alternative platform to television during the game, allowing fans to view sport directly from their computer or tablet. However, apps such as Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat could provide them with not just new challenges, tackling individual broadcasters from directly in the stadium, but also new opportunities. Yet for fans, this is another tool that allows them to get closer to the action than ever before.
Some leagues, such as MLB, NFL and NBA, have policies that prevent the live streaming of in-game action, meaning that it is against their policy to allow anyone to broadcast live game action with a smartphone app, and the owners of the app must remove any illegally broadcasted footage. Furthermore, fans of the Premier League were warned prior to the 2014-15 season that posting footage to Vine is illegal, as was sharing them on websites or Twitter, meaning that any fans doing so were breaking copyright laws.
Monitoring this is a question that is yet to be fully answered. Streaming apps are still in their infant stages and the ultimate success of monetizing these apps will play a primary role in their future. If individuals are able to profit from streaming action, from interviews to in-venue, then the likelihood is that leagues will clamp down on their usage. Clubs such as Manchester United have already banned the use of tablets inside their stadium, and policing this could become more of an issue if non-rights holders are able to make a profit.
Live streaming, of course, is not a new technology and freely accessible social media live streams will not likely change the foundations of the money-spinning world of sports broadcasting. In the long term, they may even provide more competition for broadcast contracts or even a split between television and streaming rights. Yahoo’s streaming of the Jacksonville Jaguars-Buffalo Bills game at Wembley Stadium in October exceeded all expectations – and promises to sponsors – as the 33.6 million streams far exceeded the 3.5 million that the company guaranteed to advertisers, which undoubtedly thrilled the NFL.
Streaming apps also represent a new opportunity for leagues and teams to grow the popularity of their brand, providing another tool to engage with their fanbase, as well as offering the potential to attract new fans to the team and sport. The Seattle Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League was the first professional sports club to live-stream an entire game on the Periscope app when they broadcasted a preseason contest in March 2015. Such a strategy is beginning to be embraced by leagues and broadcasters to reach more fans and gain more traction on social media, as things like interviews can also be broadcasted from their own page on the streaming application.
Snapchat took the approach to forge media rights deals with sports leagues and broadcast networks so that it can feature live sports in its Live Story feature, following a similar feature for the World Cup. Described as “the SportsCenter of cultural moments,” the starting point to feature footage was the NCAA Final Four. The NFL began producing weekly videos for Snapchat at the start of this season. Snapchat has also partnered with STATS to allow Snapchatters to add real-time score updates to their photo and video Snaps to better express the excitement of the game with their Snapchat community on its Geofilter product.
Sports fans are hungry for real-time content, and if leagues and teams can balance streaming apps with existing broadcast contracts correctly, this provides them with an opportunity to both interact with tech-savvy fans and reach a new audience worldwide. This could lead to improving fan experience and engagement both inside and outside the stadium, as the ability to reach fans from all over the globe could provide them with another platform to monetize their product.