According to a recent Turnkey Sports poll, 39 percent of sports executives believe fans obtain their sports news from television. Approximately 30 percent believe fans obtain their news from newspapers, and another 30 percent believe they get it from the Internet.
But, only 6 percent of sports executives predict fans will obtain their sports information from newspapers in five years and 19 percent said they believe it'll be from television. Half of the sports executives polled predict that fans will receive their news from the Internet, while 25 percent envision fans' getting their news from a wireless device.
"It's not that the mobile phone is replacing television; television is still remaining king," said Michael Payne, special advisor to Formula One chairman and CEO Bernie Ecclestone. "But in terms of driving audience, driving eyeballs, the place to be is on mobile phones and we're seeing that throughout most of the European and Asian markets today. If you are not in that space, you've lost the fan."
With that in mind, ESPN will launch ESPN Mobile, the first national U.S. wireless phone service targeted to sports fans, in the coming year. The phone will feature one-click access to ESPN and ESPN.com content, including streaming audio and video clips.
The virtues of wireless have been most evident in NASCAR. Through the most expensive sponsorship in sports, the organization has teamed with Nextel/Sprint, which provides fans with phones that act as on-site track scanners, with real-time race data coming straight into the phone.
"We're seeing wireless as the predominant technology platform that delivers to our fans who have an insatiable appetite for news and information," NASCAR chairman Brian France said. In the next 10 years, the voice of that diehard fan is expected to grow substantially through new technology and an increased effort from media outlets like ESPN.com to interact with their readers.
"For ESPN's first 25 years, it was often a one-way street with fans they just watched," said John Papanek, senior vice president and editorial director of ESPN New Media. "But now we're at a point where the fan will be much more involved. Not all sports fans have an opportunity to come visit Bristol, Conn., but over the next decade, through ESPN.com, our readers are going to be able to virtually experience what it's like to be at the national intellectual sports capital of the world."
ESPN.com's SportsNation, the meeting place for sports fans, will be significantly enhanced by technology over the next couple of years. By 2006, Forrester Research Group predicts that nearly five million U.S. households will have voice-over-Internet protocol, which essentially turns your computer into a phone and enables conversations to take place through an Internet connection.
Papanek envisions the day when Yankees and Red Sox fans will be in ESPN.com chat rooms watching another classic game on their computers. As these fans chat, characters who look like them mouth their opinions in real time as the fans talk into headsets. Papanek says fans potentially would then be able to rank the other fans, with the most vocal, passionate and knowledgeable fans for each team then serving as "team fan representatives."