Online Sports

By William Bakker | 05.31.04 | Comment?

I’m not a fan of Baseball, but I’m jealous of the people that are. On MLB.com, fans can watch or listen to games live, watch highlights, access stats and more. I’ve always considered sports to be perfect for the Internet, for reasons Wired.com lays out:

Baseball is a natural fit with the Internet because of the sheer number of games each season, and because of the sport’s long history, devoted fans and rich statistics, analysts said. Games are played every day and no two are alike. The Internet can also be a boon for the faraway baseball fan. For a Milwaukee Brewers fan living in San Francisco, for example, paying to hear Bob Uecker call the game is an attractive option, especially when local television and radio stations rarely carry the games.

Being a Dutchman living in Vancouver, Canada makes watching my favorite sports difficult. It’s a Hockey, (American) Football, Basketball, Baseball, WWF and NASCAR sports culture here. I’ve come to like Hockey (there’s no escape), but getting my fix of Soccer, Tour de France and F1 is getting better all the time.

On UEFA.com, you can watch Champions League games about an hour after a game is over. I’m very pleased with the service but the design of the website makes it almost impossible to start watching a game without knowing the score. Watching a full game isn’t much fun when you already know the result. Another problem with the delay is that watching sports is very much a social experience. Even when I’m 8000KM away from my friends and family in Amsterdam, I can still have that experience by communicating with them via Instant Messenger. This is so important that I end up listening to the radio and only watch the game if my team won.

I also watch F1 races. They’re all broadcasted live on TV here. Most races are in Europe or Asia so I used to tape them as they’re on in the middle of the night here. But on F1.com, you can access live stats during the race now. This is great stuff. You can see track positions, lap times and more. This only works when watching the race live of course. The added value is so cool that I stopped taping the race and get up to watch the race on TV and computer.

I hope that big events such as the Olympics and World Cup Soccer will also find a way to make it feasible to use the Internet. These events currently rely heavily on revenue from TV broadcast rights. And the IOC and FIFA do anything to protect this revenue. During the last Olympics, it was really bad. As a Dutchman, I like speed skating (buy me a beer and I’ll explain why). During the Olympics, there are always multiple events on at the same time. Because of the strict IOC rules, I couldn’t even listen to the races on the radio because the Dutch broadcaster wasn’t allowed to do that. I don’t think many people around the world are interested in a speed skating broadcast in Dutch.

Online collaboration and communication tools are getting better all the time. And broadband is becoming mainstream so people will find a way to be able to watch sport live online. It’s easy enough these days to plug a TV signal into a computer and broadcast the TV signal online. Next time I’m visiting the homeland I’ll hook my dad up with the tool that will allow me to watch anything I like at any time. The “restrict and censor” approach isn’t going to work anymore in this day and age.

The 2010 Olympics will be held here in Vancouver. I expect that by that time any event will be available online, live, in any language, one way or the other. If the IOC and broadcasters realize the inevitability, they can turn this into a nice business. But it wouldn

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