Just as television changed the way families in the 1950s interacted with sport, the Internet has given fans yet another way to experience sport. The Internet gives sport fans virtual access to sport in real time and on demand and allows them to create personal, specific methods of interaction. By 2009, three out of four Americans had home access to the Internet, while 63% of those now have broadband Internet connections at home, a 15% increase from the previous year (PewInternet.org 2009).
The business model for television has been to schedule programs and events at certain times and expect a mass audience to view them. However, the advances in technology in the last 10 years allow people to record any program and replay it at their convenience using TiVo or similar technology. Of course, people can also skip the advertisements if they wish, fracturing the business model that has been in place for over 50 years.
The plethora of cable channels, specialized sport networks, and sport packages has also contributed to a diffusion of the television audience. For those who want to watch sports all day, there are channels and programs available 24/7. Some of us use the Internet to supplement televised sport and newspaper accounts, but for the majority of younger folks, the Internet has become the primary source for news generally and sports specifically. Social media such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and blogs have opened up other possibilities for sport news and discussion. Beyond simply reporting the news, social networking sites have the ability to link sport fans with each other and with professional athletes to share ideas, discussions, opinions, and photos with lightning speed around the world. The Internet can also present a wide variety of programming by video streaming in real time so that people can watch their alma mater play a football game in another time zone or follow their daughter’s college volleyball game.
Major League Baseball (MLB) established its Advanced Media (MLBAM) site in 2000, and the result has been an entity that generated $380 million in 2007 and continues to grow at about 30% a year. MLB.com now boasts up to 8 million unique visitors per day during the season and offers team news, merchandise, and ticket sales (Jacobson 2007).
For the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball tournament, CBS Sports and the NCAA offered an “on-demand” website; on the first day of the 2010 tournament, the website had the largest single day of traffic for a live sport event on the Internet with 3.4 million hours of live video and audio streaming consumed by 3 million unique website visitors. One of the "hit features" of the website seemed to be the "boss button." If your boss at work is nearing your desk, you simply hit the button. On the first day, the button was hit an astounding 1.7 million times. Of course, the challenge for the future for networks is to correctly balance coverage between the three types of screens—television, computer, and mobile phones (Osbourne 2010).
If you search for "sports" or "athletes" on YouTube, you’ll bring up more than 884,000 photos and 31,700 videos, including sport blooper videos, various commercials and athlete interviews, videos of women in sport, and profiles of athletes at every level of competition.
We visit the websites of favorite teams, check for scores, listen to games in progress, order tickets, browse for stories, read sport blogs, or enter chat rooms to discuss the latest event results. We can track the progress of sport events anywhere in the world. Stories by sports writers are published on the Internet so that we have access to perspectives from sport newsrooms around the country.
Even sport events that are only “pretend” have cornered a significant share of the marketplace on the Internet. According to a survey from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA), an industry organization that represents more than 110 companies, an estimated 27 million American adults play fantasy sports, translating into revenue of nearly a billion dollars per year. About 85% of gamers play fantasy football and 40% play fantasy baseball. The typical player is male, between the ages of 18 and 49 with above-average income and education, a marketer’s dream. The average cost to the player per year is about $150.00 for a subscription to play. Fantasy sports are not regulated by gambling rules since the outcome of games has been judged to be based more on skill or knowledge of participants than on chance (Ankeny 2009).
The rise of the Internet is likely one of the causes for the declining circulation of major newspapers. Newspaper circulation has been slowly falling since the 1980s, but recently that descent seems to be accelerating. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (Bloomberg 2009), average weekday circulation for U.S. newspapers fell 7.1% during the six-month period from October 2008 to March 2009 compared to a 3.6% drop in the previous year. Among the top 20 selling newspapers, only the Wall Street Journal posted an increase, of 0.6%, in the Audit Bureau’s report, while all other papers posted decreases. Even USA Today, the nation’s largest newspaper, posted a loss of 7.5%, and The New York Times posted a loss of 3.6%. One of the key reasons given in the report for the decline is the increasing consumer interest in getting news from the Internet. In fact, some newspaper executives are buoyed by the expanded audience they are reaching by combining their print and Internet readers together. In spite of that optimistic view, the key problem is that most newspapers do not charge for their online editions, and advertising for online editions is difficult to sell. USA Today is one of the first newspapers to offer subscriptions to readers for its online edition, which replicates the print version.
As technology improves and access to the Internet increases, websites will fight to win consumers. Media corporations will enter the fray and try to entice consumers by offering exclusive data and entertainment on their sites. Eventually, Internet access may allow us to design our own sport entertainment by giving us access to novel event presentations with unique camera angles, favorite announcers, instant replay on demand, and player or coach interviews. The interactive nature of such experiences will draw us closer to the action and make us more involved than the average spectator.