The WNBA’s Washington Mystics are breaking new ground in the mobile sports space this year, becoming the first professional team in the U.S. to stream its games live for free in-market through a mobile app.
The app is the brain child of Kiswe Mobile, a company founded by former AOL Vice President of Development and Partnerships Jimmy Lynn, ex-Alcatel-Lucent wireless division President Wim Sweldens and President of Bell Labs at Alcatel-Lucent Jeong Kim, who is also a part-owner of Monumental Sports, the group that owns the Washington Capitals, Wizards and Mystics.
It rolled out with a soft launch for the Mystics home opener in early May and contains three main features: multiple camera angles that allow fans to pick their own shots, instant replay and an in-game box score. Kiswe is about to unveil an archive feature that will let fans view old games.
“Throughout Monumental Sports and the Mystics organization—-marketing, fans, sponsors, everyone has given us a positive reaction,” says Lynn. “It really takes me back to AOL in the mid to late 90s. I’d call a sports executive to explain how the Internet can provide value and the interest was 100%...I feel we’re there with mobile.”
Among those who appear supportive are Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, the regional sports network that carries Mystics games. According to Sports Business Daily, the local RSN does not pay a rights fee to broadcast Mystics games and WNBA ratings being what they are, executives don’t appear worried that a streaming app will eat into the TV audience.
“That’s why a team like the Mystics can go out and do this, there’s no contractual issues,” says Manish Tripathi, a professor of marketing at Emory University and co-author of the school’s sports marketing analytics blog. “Any of the major leagues, there’s hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to have that content.”
Tripathi still believes mobile streaming will be a strong driver of fan engagement for major sports leagues in the years to come, though he doesn’t think these apps will be produced by individual teams.
“There’s a lot of potential for streaming this kind of content. You’ll see it done more by the ESPN’s, NBC’s, CBS’s of the world, but for the leagues it’s still a content rights issue.”
Making the case that mobile can be a significant viewing option for big-ticket sporting events, ESPN reported record numbers in digital eyeballs during last week’s USA/Germany World Cup match with 1.7 million concurrent online views at its peak through the WatchESPN service.
“We want to be complementary, not replacing TV,” says Lynn. “For the team, we want to provide a deeper engagement for the fan base.”
Kiswe Mobile believes live streaming games will have advertising potential, with which Tripathi agrees.
“It’s a great way to gather collective consumer information,” says Tripathi, noting that the Mystics can gather valuable information about any fan who downloads their app. “Where are people watching it from? How much do they watch?” This form of data collection allows for targeted advertising and lots of new revenue streams.
While the major sports leagues may have little interest in live-streaming games for free, Lynn says the model could have wide-reaching potential for emerging sports leagues, small college athletic programs and global distribution.
“Because this is all cloud-based, we have global distribution,” he says. “I think we can help emerging sports or tier-two sports.”
Tripathi believes mobile streaming will accelerate in the coming years, especially in the stadium. While the NFL seems unlikely to allow fans to stream games for free, things like ticket giveaways, wagering on plays and apps telling fans where the shortest bathroom lines in the stadium are all seem likely to become more prevalent in short order.
While Lynn says the business model is, excuse the mixed metaphor, “still in the first inning,” it’s clear his team sees it as ripe for growth. “It’s been a terrific start with the Mystics,” Lynn says.
Image courtesy of the Washington Mystics via Facebook