"We'll continue to innovate, as we have in the past decade, and we'll be ready to give sports fans the information that they want when they want it," John Kosner, senior vice president of ESPN New Media.
Fans in the near future will be able to tailor the news on their entire ESPN.com home page according to their specific interests. Late last year, ESPN.com unveiled cartoons featuring Bill Simmons, aka "The Sports Guy," but Kosner says new technology could give way to longer-form pieces of original programming, perhaps including unique shows.
The next decade also is expected to be challenging for broadcast rights holders. Obtaining the television rights for a particular league's games doesn't necessarily mean the particular media company has the rights to the product in every application. ESPN, for example, currently broadcasts Sunday Night Football, but ESPN.com does not have the rights to offer video highlights of NFL games on the Web.
"As complex as the rights situation is now, technology is going to make this area even more complex as more devices are created and more applications are realized," said Jack Williams, who teaches sports law and the business of sports at Georgia State University's College of Law.
"The large networks could lose some power and control," said Jim Santomier, Sacred Heart's director of sports management program. "Colleges, which previously weren't willing to pay the cost, will be able to stream games that are not currently being broadcast to their Web sites at virtually no charge in great quality."
Santomier said technology would even let a school such as Connecticut cut off streaming video to fans within a 25-mile radius of its Storrs campus, causing a blackout of sorts.
But even today, many properties have identical rights. For example, local radio broadcasters carry rights to the local team's games. Those exact broadcasts then appear on XM Satellite radio as well as on MLB.com.
"There's a lot of hyperventilating about having the right to show every video highlight online," Kosner said. "But fans know when they can't get something, they often can find what they want to see on their television."
Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and HDNet co-founder, is cautiously optimistic about how technology will enhance the fan experience. Cuban said he believes that if the Supreme Court sides with MGM in the music piracy case MGM v. Grokster, "then advancement in digital technology, those which will have the biggest impact on sports, is over."
MGM alleges that people have used Grokster's sharing software to pirate copyrighted music. Grokster, which Cuban is helping to fund in its legal battles, contends the company is not liable for illegal uses. If MGM wins, "the cost of trying to make sure that the music industry will never be able to find some infringing application will be so high as to make innovation impossible," Cuban said. If MGM prevails, Cuban said he'll feel less comfortable with allowing phones with video capacity into the arena or computers that could take advantage of American Airlines Center's wireless access.