Sparx Flies as Teams Try to Keep Fans Engaged

Jags at Home
The Jacksonville Jaguars are using Sparx technology to power their “Jags at Home” platform. (Image credit: Sparx)

With sports happening in mostly empty stadiums, teams and TV networks are turning to Sparx Technology to connect with fans and retain sponsors. 

Sparx Technology is the new name being used by iPowow, which created interactive, ad-supported second-screen applications for local stations during newscasts, for Fox Sports during football games and for ABC during the Oscars. 

“In addition to voting and polling as a platform, we got into predictive gaming,” said Al Thorgeirson, who became CEO of iPowow a year and a half ago and rebranded the company. 

Sparx recently launched a product called Stream Hub, which is getting traction by helping organizations replace live events and interactions with virtual activities. 

“This new product opened up a whole new world to us,” Sparx head of global sales Kevin Annison said. 

Sparx has been working with teams in each of the four major sports leagues. One example of what Sparx can do is Jags at Home, created for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. 

“They were looking for a product that would allow them to keep their in-stadium sponsor activation with few or no fans in the stadium,” Annison said. “We had to figure out a way that we could allow people to interact and engage from home and have a little bit of fun along the way.” 

With Jags at Home, fans can join online while watching the team play on TV. The team has online talent commenting on the game between plays, in real time, and encouraging viewers to participate in games where they try to predict what will happen on the field. The application has a leader board, so fans can compete. Each quarter winners are crowned and awarded cash and prizes. 

Jags at Home also makes real-time stats available, lets fans chat with one another and has a module for sponsors. 

Anderson said the experience is designed to be similar to what fans would see and hear on the Jumbotron if they were in the stadium. 

Jud Lewis-Mahon, executive producer at Sparx, said tens of thousands of Jaguar fans have been interacting via the app and that average tune-in time has been about an hour and a half. “Once people get there, they stay and it’s pretty sticky,” Lewis-Mahon said. 

The NFL team has been promoting Jags at Home via digital and social channels. The team sells and keeps the advertising revenue.

Sparx’s technology was used by ESPN — The Walt Disney Co. is one of its biggest clients — to power a second-screen experience during the Raiders-Saints NFL Monday Night Football megacast on Sept. 17. 

Al Thorgeirson

Sparx CEO Al Thorgeirson (Image credit: Sparx)

The Orlando Magic employed Sparx while the NBA team was locked in the Walt Disney World bubble after restarting its season. The team used social media to encourage fans to download the app and win prizes with predictive and trivia games during pregame, in-game and half-time contests. The application helped the Magic collect valuable data while engaging with fans. 

During the hockey season and playoffs, the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks ran a similar program with Toyota as the key sponsor. 

Sparx also worked with NESN in Boston, rolling out predictive game content during Red Sox MLB telecasts. On-air graphics promoted the interactive activities, which were talked about by on-air talent. 

With legalized sports gambiling becoming more widespread, the company sees a future where its app and predictive games could be used to promote providers like FanDuel, Draft Kings or MGM Bet and connect fans to sports books. 

Sparx also recently struck a deal with the Mountain West Conference in college sports and expects to begin interactivities for Fresno State in late October. 

As with other forms of technology, COVID-19 has had an impact on adoption of Sparx technology. 

“The pandemic has been awful but it really accelerated people’s buy in and the need to get more involved in the digital world, so it’s fast-forwarded everything,” said Colin Hornett, chief creative officer at Sparx. 

“The amazing thing about our platform is it works if there’s people in-venue or not, because we’ve actually cut our teeth on live TV,” said Hornett. 

“Once everyone comes back, all of our technology can move to in-venue. That’s what the Orlando Magic are talking about,” Annison added. 

Events Move to Stream Hub

Stream Hub is also being used by charities to create engaging fundraising events, including for Coach Art and the Hospital for Special Surgery. During the event, videos play and viewers can participate in silent auctions and make donations. Features have been added to make events private through a registration and password process, and to display a “thermometer” to show how close the event is to reaching goals. 

“The evolution of Sparx over the years has been dynamic and client-centric. The response to marketplace changes and challenges, not the least of which is COVID-related, has propelled our diverse growth,” added Rich Goldfarb, a former Fox executive who is now on the company’s advisory board. 

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.