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Sports Ups Digital Connectivity With Fans

3 Feb, 2016 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Professional and college sports continue to embrace digital technology as a means of better connecting with fans, and more importantly, advertisers.

British satellite TV provider Sky Feb. 3 announced a £300,000 investment in mobile fan engagement and marketing company InCrowdSports. The funding in the UK-based company follows a series of Sky partnerships with technology companies in the United States (i.e. Roku) aimed at accelerating digital media distribution to consumers.

Indeed, Roku manufactures the streaming device for Sky’s Now TV platform.

InCrowd specializes in developing mobile apps that offer sports fans real-time content, match analysis and interactive games while attending or watching live events such as soccer and rugby. The app also affords professional sports leagues and teams a direct way to engage with their fans.  

Using proprietary technology, the InCrowd app enables phones to share all available connectivity, rather than compete for it. Any information requested by an app user without a signal can be provided by the network, while the more phones that join the network, the better the solution works.

“This is the latest in a series of investments in pioneering technology companies, which we know bring real benefits to customers,” Emma Lloyd, director of corporate development and strategic investments at Sky, said in a statement.

Such an app wouldn’t necessarily fly at major sports events in the U.S., since most venues have become wired to the Internet. At this Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif., fans in attendance at Levi Stadium can have their mobile devices seamlessly connected to the facility’s high-speed wireless network, which, of course, will subject them to NFL marketing as well as stadium services.

Meanwhile, ESPN, pay-TV’s top-rated sports network, reportedly inked a deal with Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd., to begin streaming licensed U.S. sports with Mandarin commentary, in addition to editorial coverage. Events include the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (a.k.a. “March Madness”) and X Games, among others.

“This agreement will help us serve millions of Chinese fans and bring our coverage of basketball, international soccer and other sports to them like never before,” Russell Wolff, EVP of ESPN International, said in the statement, as reported by Bloomberg.

The move marks another step by The Walt Disney Co. (ESPN’s corporate parent) to distribute content over the Internet — outside of the U.S. While Disney steadfastly maintains an allegiance to the domestic pay-TV ecosystem, the company last year bowed its first over-the-top video service (“DisneyLife”) in the United Kingdom.

CEO Bob Iger has said there are no plans to take ESPN direct to consumers, despite admitting it has the technology to do so. ESPN has also been losing subscribers — about 7 million over the past two years. Losses that have impacted the bottom line and led to staff layoffs.

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