Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 23 No. 28
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Digital stadiums: Winning the game with technology

Livestreaming has become the mainstream strategy for sports media, and because organizations have taken that leap, a new world of opportunities now exists. With the advance of software solutions for online and mobile consumption, sports media is poised to unify fragmented engagement channels, and in doing so own how their fans engage with sports content.

Fragmented engagement has been almost a given in sports media today. With options like live TV, cable subscriptions, social platforms, betting platforms, fantasy leagues and video games, sports fans have an increasing, ever-evolving range of ways to express themselves, their love of a team or player, or even frustration with a game. Each of these pieces has its place in the lives of sports fans, making their experience richer. But because of all of these options, sports leagues and networks ultimately lose fans’ attention as well as their conversations with other media companies. 

Less attention = fewer dollars. But it doesn’t have to be this way, which is a good thing for both fans and sports media.

Imagine how different the experience could be with a comprehensive sports streaming platform. For example, what if you could have watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup, played your favorite national teams on the free content update in FIFA19, chatted about the game with your friends or other fans, posted a meme about a match, or bet on the tournament’s outcome all at one destination?  

The boundaries of traditional sports fandom — and stadiums — are disappearing as technology provides a seamless experience.
Photo: getty images

A number of software companies are emerging to address the specific needs of sports media and essentially make scenarios like this possible. Software in this space is becoming an industry unto itself. For example, BAMTech, an industry leader, has greatly advanced streaming technology. Bet.Works integrates a sports betting platform into applications. Fanisko helps organizations gamify and layer AR onto their sports apps, and HeroSports automates content delivery.

In the past, any one of these integrations would require sports media companies to employ an army of developers to build each of these separate products. Now, software development kits (commonly called SDKs) help companies integrate these new engagement channels into their own applications very quickly and easily. No additional headcount required. Another useful associated technology, an API, helps manage and support server traffic from the engagement channel at scale. APIs also allow sports media companies to customize the channel to their needs. In short, because of SDKs and APIs, it’s never been easier to bring new, integrated experiences to fans — and to deliver those experiences very, very quickly. SDKs and APIs are necessary to integrate engagement software into livestreaming apps, and they are the keys to the future.

So how can these technologies change the sports media landscape? Leagues like the big four in the U.S. — the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL — and European football leagues such as the English Premier League, La Liga, and Bundesliga lead the race to engage their fans by integrating new software into their livestreaming apps. Because they own their own sports content (and essentially the fans that are dependent on it), and because they only recently invested in distribution through livestreaming, they are not burdened by TV’s legacy. The combination of audience plus content and a drive to retain each will push this type of innovation forward.

To satisfy fans all over the world, leagues will adopt more APIs and software integrations into their livestreaming applications. In doing so, they can create digital equivalents of the sports stadium, where global fans can interact live almost like fans do in the stadium on game day. They can place a friendly wager or watch and talk over each play with fans watching from Atlanta to Alaska to Europe and Africa. It could be a totally different type of experience than anything we have seen thus far.

It has long been said that the beauty of sport is its capacity to bring people of all walks of life together for a shared experience. Sports are the great unifier. And the modern digital sports stadium now has the capacity to truly remove all boundaries. Think about how engaging that would be!

These digital stadiums represent a huge opportunity for sports organizations to do something special. By capitalizing on the advancements in technology as well as increasingly tech-savvy audiences who want access to sports content on demand, a globalized sports culture finally can emerge fully — and it will be extraordinary.

John Kim is co-founder and CEO of SendBird, which helps developers integrate chat functionality to apps.

Questions about OPED guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at jkyler@sportsbusinessjournal.com