SBJ/20100830/This Week's News

Smartphones next target for FanVision

FanVision, the mobile technology venture owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, is actively developing versions of its service that will work on smartphones.

Known until recently as Kangaroo TV, the firm thus far has operated at various football, golf, tennis and auto racing events using a dedicated wireless device that provides replays, alternate video angles, real-time statistics, radio broadcasts, fantasy football content and other information with a high degree of user control.

This fall, the company is getting a major boost under Ross’ leadership; he acquired the business late last year. Each NFL club was offered 5,000 free units to distribute to fans in hopes of better exposing the product throughout the league. Twelve teams, including Arizona, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and the New York Jets, have accepted the offer. In addition, both the University of Miami and the University of Michigan have aligned with FanVision for football use starting this fall.

The company, however, is well aware that some fans are and will always be loath to carry yet another portable device, so efforts are under way to migrate the technology to cellular phones.

Because FanVision uses its own, dedicated band of wireless spectrum, it can avoid cellular and Wi-Fi networks that frequently clog under heavy use, such as what occurs in concentrated locations like a football stadium. What FanVision is attempting to do is create ways to have cell phones access that dedicated spectrum, such as through the installation of a special chip in smartphones.

The Jets are among the 12 NFL
teams offering FanVision units.

Completion is still likely two to three years away and will require the cooperation of wireless carriers and device manufacturers. But what FanVision essentially is doing is planning for the division of its business model — just as it is starting to reach an entirely new level of prominence under Ross’ ownership.

“The handheld unit is probably always going to be the ‘Cadillac solution,’ but on a core level, we want to be the ideal sports companion to the fan, and that means being accessible by [cell] phone as well,” said Robert Mimeault, FanVision president and CEO.

Conceptually, FanVision is comparing its unit to a dedicated e-reader, such as Amazon’s Kindle. While there are plenty of other digital readers — both in terms of hardware (such as the iPad) and apps for mobile and laptop purposes — the Kindle is considered among the best in class for serious readers who specifically want to read digital books.

Test efforts to create a wireless app version of FanVision using cellular and Wi-Fi networks have already occurred, but thus far, those offerings have had notable delays on the video content compared with the near-immediate replays available using the current units.

The rollout of FanVision comes as the NFL is working hard to improve fans’ in-stadium experience, something under increasing threat from in-home amenities such as high-definition televisions and the continued advancement of the NFL Sunday Ticket out-of-market package. The current FanVision units, about the size and weight of a Nintendo DS, will also offer the NFL RedZone channel and live video of other select NFL games.

Each NFL team that took Ross up on his offer was given a wide amount of latitude to distribute the 5,000 free units as it saw fit, as well as with the programming on the devices so as to implement its own content — whether that be dedicated cameras locked on a particular star player or team-produced postgame shows. Many of the participating clubs will also sell additional units to fans at $200 each.

While team reaction to FanVision, even among the participating clubs, remains somewhat guarded, there is optimism.

“Given that Stephen Ross is obviously part of the league and knew well what our needs were, and given that we have a lot of flexibility in how we program this, it made it really hard not to say yes to this,” said Thad Sheely, Jets executive vice president for stadium development and finance.

Staff writer Daniel Kaplan contributed to this report.

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