Chris McCoy is a man with a vision, and his company, YourSports.com, might just be an idea whose time has come. Its slogan, “No such thing as an away game”, sums up its mission to bring sports coverage of any event to anyone who wants watch sports online.
Interest On The Sidelines
If you type “watch sports online” into Google Trends, you’ll see that at some points in 2009 the term got six times the search traffic as it did in 2006. Can it be a surprise that there is an explosion of online interest in one of our most popular cultural pastimes, as Internet usage becomes infused into all we do?
In much of the United States, high school sports, little league, swim meets and hundreds of other organized activities for kids and grownups are every bit as important to many people as professional sports. Yet, to date this vast collective interest has gone largely unaddressed by traditional TV networks and even local outlets, who could never hope to recoup the investment they might make in broadcasting these games. The interest in local events is real, but the numbers are prohibitively low.
At the same time, the Net now has basically the same reach as television, and connection speeds have vastly improved streaming video quality. Sites like Hulu, YouTube and dozens of others are taking on qualities of traditional broadcast networks, except that viewers have a much wider range of choices as to content. ‘Narrowcasting’ is here, and the picture quality is good and improving. Unsurprisingly, viewer adoption has exploded; mouse clicks are even simpler than using my TV remote if I’m already in front of my computer. Often it costs something, but I pay for cable TV that doesn’t always cater to my viewing preferences, and very rarely in the area of something like local sports.
You can be sure that attempts are made to stream local sporting events online, but the expense and technical know-how required to do this make it unattractive for most small-scale sports leagues or organizations. It’s unclear if a larger network like ESPN360 will have the local touch to make it work, and its coverage of sports online, while well-executed, is by no means universal or truly localized.
What McCoy believes he has done with YourSports.com is to have figured out a way to show local second- and third-tier sports online that otherwise would be seen only by people who attend the games in person. YourSports.com provides a set of tools that help people who would like to stream local sports to fans, and importantly, to generate revenue from it.
The mechanism by which McCoy proposes to move local sports viewership into the 21st century is called crowdfunding. It’s no more complicated than people coming together at a PTA meeting or organizing a local high school fundraiser. YourSports.com functions as a turnkey solution to enable anyone to have infrastructure by which they can show local sporting events online, assuming there are enough people interested in becoming spectators to pay a nominal fee. YourSports.com will split the proceeds with the organizations that produce the content, which should be huge draw for cash-strapped sports programs. An important stipulation is that if not enough money is raised to show a game online via this novel pre-payment method, the pledged money is returned.
To illustrate the power of crowdfunding, YourSports.com provides a way for fans to come together to purchase rights from TV networks so that anyone can organize to “unlock” famous games from the archives of TV networks. In November 2009 there was a successful viewing party in Palo Alto, California to watch Stanford’s 1972 Rose Bowl win over Michigan. $3000 in ticket sales unlocked the classic bowl game from the archives of NBC. After the event, unlocked games are available for viewing on the YourSports.com site for a nominal fee.
Clearly, just as crowdfunding can help local sports organizations financially, an easy way to monetize interest in local sports online could be hugely attractive for local newspapers. Newspapers have had to follow their readers online, but new ideas for generating revenue are needed, and quickly, while there is still brand loyalty. The YourSports.com infrastructure enables insertion of events right into newspaper websites. The local paper in Anytown, USA now has an way to transform online readers into online local sports viewers. That transition is seamless–embedded video is one of the most compelling aspects of the net experience today. The broadcasts can include the paper’s branded imprint. It seems that as soon as Chris McCoy can show a few success stories along these lines, local papers nationwide will have all the proof of concept that they need.
It will be difficult to compete with local papers in local sports streaming. But moving forward, it’s easy to envision any Internet publisher who is able to organize/promote fan interest broadcasting or rebroadcasting games on their site, possibly with some sort of subscription or one-time payment model. Third-party affiliate publishers might be a huge growth catalyst if the model proves to be a success and if YourSports.com provides enough incentive to them.
Huge long-term benefits, to fans and YourSports.com would be derived from having archives of local sporting events, analogous to the crowdfunded big-time college games. In 20 years one could gather high school friends to relive the homecoming game from their senior year, even if everyone lives in different cities.
If You Build It They Will Come
The last 50 years saw a symbiosis between national sports leagues and television, which created fans out of people who sometimes had little geographical affiliation with the teams for which they cheered, watching players who were rarely from the cities in which they played. Obviously this was a hugely successful model, for players, owners and fans.
By encouraging a new kind of local sports and local media partnership, YourSports.com has built a way to address the latent interest that exists in towns and cities across the United States. Control remains in the hands of the local participants.
Local sports fans are searching, intent on watching sports online, and interest is increasing. The internet as a delivery method has given us new questions as to how to make viable businesses around the promise it holds, while vast amounts of interest in local spectator sports sits unsatisfied. With YourSports.com, everyone may have found an answer.
(This review was unpaid.)