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Tech Puts a New Spin on ‘March Madness’

The NCAA basketball tournament has a rich history of bringing alumni and current students together to root on their cherished alma mater. The way fans are consuming this content, however, has drastically changed since the event started in 1939.

Kent Steffen, CSG

Kent Steffen, CSG

With more people turning to streaming options for all types of content, it’s no surprise that March Madness Live, the event’s own streaming platform, increased 28% last year, setting a new record for live sports viewing. But even with this recent increase in streaming, data from CSG reveals that at the end of the day, cable is still the bedrock of live sports viewing, with 71% of global consumers still enjoying sports via their cable subscription.

Personalizing for the Dedicated Fandom

While live sports fans want an enhanced, personalized experience from both their cable and streaming providers, 64% of users don’t want to pay a premium price for it. Especially during fruitful viewing occasions like March Madness, customers want to view and engage with multiple games at the same time on the best screen that is available. Many prefer the TV, but just as often, they rely on their mobile device to ensure they don’t miss any three-point buzzer beaters.

The willingness to watch on any device is not surprising, as 59% of fans are committed to the full game experience. The unwavering dedication is great news for sports leagues and service providers who can capitalize on this passion to provide additional offerings including stats or selectable camera angles in customers’ sports packages. The offerings will up-level the fan experience no matter if they are on the couch or sitting on a bus.

A Community Without the Cost

Anyone who has tuned in to a sporting event today has witnessed the spirited community aspect, whether at a stadium, on a bar stool or in their living room — fans everywhere can be found with phones in hand, checking in on other games, player stats and so on. In an always-connected atmosphere, users are not missing a shot or play when they have access to multiple platforms and can engage with other March Madness fans while they watch. New, advanced technologies, along with social media have created a community that fans can log on to at any hour to keep up with concurrent games (41%) and find relevant stats (40%).

Digital innovation in the ways we watch sports is providing more than just personalized packages for consumers. New technologies and services are creating a contextual viewing “community” for fans, without having to leave their homes. One major way we see this network of people connect is through second screens, including social media platforms like Facebook, before, during and after the game. By strategically taking advantage of the real-time stats being collected and delivered to the fans, service providers can bring people together for the love of the game.

The Future of Courtside Seats

Fans can expect an even more fully-integrated sports community in the near future, as we are starting to see increased adoption of new technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Some providers have started to test this out — for example, last year, Verizon rolled out a VR stream of the Super Bowl across its 5G network to a small, select group. But we should be careful not to jump the gun, as it is still early in the of the VR/AR revolution.

The previously mentioned CSG survey found that the majority (69%) of today’s consumers aren’t yet ready to be thrown into a virtual, stadium-like experience from their couch. As the technology advances, however, so will public perception – in fact, nearly half (44 percent) of Generation Zers and millennials noted that they are interested in exploring what VR/AR have to offer as a way to get the courtside experience at home.

If that willingness to adopt the technology holds true, content providers will likely look for ways to give fans the “in-stadium” experience as a way to expand — and monetize — their sports viewing offerings. AR/VR has a unique opportunity to diffuse the unappealing parts of the in-person sports experience (cost, travel and crowds), all while providing the same thrill and interaction. The tipping point of deployment will be when the AR/VR experience can add significant value over the traditional viewing experience. When this “upgrade” is in place, VR/AR will likely become more mainstream for sports viewing.

Consumers have a deep connection to the traditional ways they watch their favorite teams, but they also see the value in leveraging modern tools to further enrich that experience. It creates a road map for broadcasters and providers to follow to ensure fans are engaged, revenue streams are modernized and content delivery is innovative. From the innovations we are seeing in how we watch sports and how big data is enhancing that experience, it’s clear that this digital disruption in the industry is only beginning.

Whether we’re enjoying sports on the couch, on our phones or through a pair of VR glasses, digital technologies have made an impact with consumers and providers alike. With no sign of slowing down, the future of sports is full of opportunities for fans to be able to further connect and immerse themselves with the sports and teams they love.

Kent Steffen is president of OTT at CSG, a Greenwood Village, Colorado-based technology firm.