Sport has an unparalleled ability to bring people together, whether that’s friends inviting you over to watch a game, attending a match in-person with family or uniting an entire nation when a home country is playing. During the pandemic, technology played a pivotal role in ensuring the social nature of live sports wasn’t lost while teams played behind closed doors and when the number of in-stadium fans was limited. Now, fans have returned to the stadiums, and they want the same immersive, interactive experience, regardless of if they’re streaming the match at home or cheering from the stands. Broadcasters must now rise to the challenge and redefine live sports to combine the best elements of technology and the in-stadium experience.
However, for this new era of live sports to become a reality, broadcasters need real-time streaming technology to support and create new experiences that take fans’ match-day experience to the next level and increase viewer engagement. Advancements in streaming technologies mean it is no longer acceptable for broadcasters to deliver streams experiencing delays and buffering. Technology that provides sub-second latency (ie, time behind live of under one second) for live streaming is the foundation of interactive global online experiences that were previously not possible. Broadcasters, rights owners and sports teams and leagues must have real-time streaming capabilities in place if they want to deliver more compelling live sports experiences in the stadium and to people’s homes.
Once real-time streaming capabilities are in place, broadcasters can focus on introducing more interactive features. Since the pandemic started, there’s been an enormous appetite from live sports fans for features that support the social nature of live sports, and its importance cannot be underestimated. We watch live sports with other people in many different forms - from cheering together in the stands to joining real-time social media conversations about the latest goal or penalty. During the pandemic when live sports were played behind doors, and so many viewers were separated from loved ones, it was essential broadcasters introduced live streaming features that empowered fans to nurture these social bonds. Consequently, innovations such as co-watching experiences for at-home fans empowered viewers to celebrate their team’s win and commiserate losses together in a virtual environment.
Additional interactive features such as live betting, in-game trivia, and personal camera angles for viewers watching their favourite teams were also successful during the pandemic. For viewers, these features added a new layer of interactivity and immersion that wasn’t previously possible. Sports fans can now bet on who will score the next goal or choose the camera angle they would like to view from their mobile or laptop. These features benefit broadcasters because they make their service more compelling and reduce the likelihood of customers switching to a rival, making their service more attractive to advertisers. Additionally, sports teams and leagues can recoup some of their in-stadium revenue losses with features such as live betting and advertising revenue because they can offer advertisers more integrated ad experiences, while the virtually unlimited distribution opportunity of streaming means they can reach an extremely targeted and engaged audience.
Now fans have started to return to stadiums, broadcasters, sports leagues, and teams need to use streaming technology to enhance the in-stadium experience. A great example of this is the 2021 Super Bowl LV which introduced in-stadium 5G solutions for fans who attended in-person in Tampa, delivering immersive and interactive viewing experiences. During the match, fans could use the NFL Mobile app to engage with seven different camera angles in the stadium and five angles at home and project AR overlays of the NFL’s Next Gen Stats for players. Additionally, Yahoo’s Watch Together, a free co-viewing experience in the Yahoo Sports mobile app, offered fans the ability to co-watch Super Bowl LV with friends and family on their phones.
The pandemic accelerated several trends in live sports streaming, which has created a demand for hybrid live sports experiences. Technology has empowered sports fans to continue watching their favourite teams with loved ones, even when they’re physically separated, take control of the viewing experience, and engage with the match in new and exciting ways. Broadcasters, sports leagues, and teams wanting to keep pace with live sports fans’ expectations must invest in technologies such as real-time streaming, edge computing, which have the added benefit of creating additional revenue streams. The new era of live sports promises to be the most exciting one yet. It will bring the best elements of technology and the in-stadium match day experience to reimagine how fans watch and interact with their favourite players and teams.