Technological progress grows at different rates depending on the industry, and few industries have gained as much growth in the last several years as sports entertainment. With companies like ESPN leading the way in HD and then 3D television, the sports industry has pushed the rest of the entertainment business to improve and innovate.
There are a variety of ways to watch, listen, and follow your sports team these days. Things are almost to the point where a simply having a cable TV service isn’t enough to really get the full experience. We’re going to take a look at a number of services and gadgets that will both enhance your sports viewing experience and provide more flexibility in how and where you watch your sports.
Sports related services are a microcosm of the technology industry as a whole. There are some free services, some subscription-based and some that are only available with a subscription to another service. We’ll take a look at some of the services that are available from different providers, but be aware that these services are subject to change, and blackout restrictions often apply.
The national pastime is also one of the most difficult to follow on the professional level due to the sheer number of games in a season and the wide range of times in which the games are played. Fortunately Major League Baseball has a number of different services that will allow you to keep up with your favorite team or fantasy players. MLB.tv is baseball’s streaming video service, and allows you to watch both live game broadcasts and full game archives. Premium and mobile services are also available for MLB.tv at different price points. The Premium subscription will allow you to view both home and away broadcasts, and offers live DVR-type controls as well as the ability to simultaneously watch multiple games using split-screen or picture-in-picture.
We’re rapidly approaching the start of the NFL season, though whether the season is played as scheduled remains to be seen. Regardless of what happens between the owners and the player’s union, the NFL has a couple of different services that will allow you to keep up with your favorite team. Though the NFL doesn’t stream game video live in the U.S., NFL Rewind will let you view games on-demand and commercial-free after the fact. NFL Audio Pass is a live service, allowing you to get play-by-play announcements in real-time with commentary from home, away, national, and even Spanish language broadcasts. If you happen to live outside the U.S. or Mexico, NFL Game Pass allows you to watch live HD video broadcasts.
Right now we’re sandwiched between one of the most exciting NBA seasons in recent memory and a potentially delayed and shortened 2011-2012 season. Once Lebron and Kobe get back on the court, the NBA will have you covered with their NBA League Pass services. Though the details of specific services are up in the air during the offseason, typically the NBA offers both live audio and video streams of their games. Visit the NBA League Pass home page for more details and to sign up for notifications as new information is released.
Thankfully the NHL is not currently going through a labor dispute, but it’s still the offseason. When the teams get back on the ice the NHL has several levels of service for their Gamecenter product. The baseline Gamecenter product allows you to watch postgame highlight videos and track the scores. Gamecenter Premium adds the ability to listen to live broadcasts and watch in-game highlights. NHL Gamecenter Live provides live and archived game video, as well as access to over 800 classic NHL games.
Smart phones are a great way to follow sports events when you are away from the TV, and mobile providers are using sports-related services as a way to entice new customers. A perfect example is Sprint, who has partnerships with both the NFL and NASCAR. Through these partnerships Sprint customers get exclusive applications and access to live audio, video, and statistics. Other cellular providers offer similar features but availability is sometimes limited on a phone-by-phone basis. Check with your provider to see what may be available to you.
We mentioned it at the top of the article, but ESPN is one of the most technologically advanced companies in the entertainment industry. In addition to their TV services ESPN offers live streaming of their various channels through ESPN Networks, based on partnerships with traditional television providers. ESPN also broadcasts much of their content through ESPN3.com. Access to ESPN3 is determined by your internet provider and their partnership with ESPN.
In addition to streaming video ESPN is a great source of audio commentary both through ESPNRadio and the ESPN PodCenter, which provides a huge number of podcasts covering all different sports and leagues. ESPN Insider gives users premium-level access to ESPN content and comes bundled with a subscription to ESPN the Magazine.
Sports fans have been buying new gear to complement their fandom for years. Binoculars, FM radio headphones, portable Televisions, and satellite radios have all made the rounds as the latest and greatest gizmo. Times change though, and technology waits for waits for no man.
As set-top boxes go, the Boxee Box has to be one of the most intriguing. Boxee itself is an offshoot of XBMC (Xbox Media Center) and is available for Windows, Linux, and OS X. The Boxee Box hardware is a joint venture between Boxee and Dlink, and features one of the most distinctive profiles you will ever see. For the sports fan the Boxee Box supports MLB.TV, bringing the experience to your living room and allowing you to watch the full complement of games on your big screen. Hockey fans get both NHL GameCenter Live and NHL Vault, which gives you access to classic games. The Boxee Box can be found at a number of online retailers in the neighborhood of $200.
Though Roku hardware isn’t nearly as edgy as the Boxee, The Roku XDS offers similar functionality for a lower price. Like the Boxee Roku integrates with NHL GameCenter Live and the NHL Vault. NBA fans can get their game on with Roku, watching League Pass games live. Even UFC fans get some love from Roku, getting live and on-demand match video and more. The Roku XDS can be purchased from Roku or other electronics dealers for $99.99.
We all know of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 as one of the premiere gaming systems on the planet, behind the PC of course. But if you have an Xbox Live Gold account and a qualifying ISP your Xbox has access to all the sports video that ESPN3 has to offer. ESPN on the Xbox also fully supports Kinect, meaning you can control the entire experience with your hands and your voice. Kinect also facilitates a social watching experience, allowing your Xbox Live avatar to interact with those of your friends while watching your games.
SAMSUNG EPIG 4G
Though the Epic 4G isn’t the only Android device that supports Sprint’s exclusive applications, with the 4” SuperAMOLED screen and 4G connectivity it’s certainly one of our favorites. The Epic 4G gives you access to Sprint Football Live and the associated news, statistics, video, and insider information that every sports fan craves. Fantasy Football die-hards will get their money’s worth with the wealth of information available through Sprint Football Live.
Racing fans won’t know how they lived without NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile. Live radio broadcasts, live in-car audio for the various drivers, and more statistics and data than you will know what to do with are at your fingertips, always available on your mobile phone.
If neither Football nor Racing are your thing, Sprint doesn’t stop there. Sprint TV offers ESPN MobileTV, SPEED, and NBC Sports on your mobile phone. The best part is that on Sprint all of the previously mentioned apps are free with a data plan. As an Android phone the Epic 4G has access to thousands of apps in the Android Market. There are a host of sports-related apps from ESPN, Major League Baseball, Yahoo, and countless others.
A Slingbox is a device that “place-shifts” your TV signal, or allows you to watch your TV signal from somewhere else. The Slingbox itself is a device that connects to your home network and your TV connection and currently comes in two models, the Slingbox Solo and the Slingbox Pro-HD. The hardware talks to a service that allows you to watch a live stream in your web browser or within a smart phone app. Best of all the device is smart enough to communicate with your satellite, cable, DVR, or other set-top box. Simply configure the device once and you will be able to view all of your TV channels while on the go.
APPLE IPAD 2
Apple’s iPad devices certainly have their limitations, but there is a place for them in the sports fan’s bag of tricks. Even for simple web browsing there is a lot of value to having such a lightweight device as a companion while watching games on the weekend. Scores, statistics, and fantasy trades are a couple of taps away with an iPad.
The real benefit to using an iPad instead of an Android tablet or one of the many competitors cropping up these days is simply a matter of apps. Almost all of the usual suspects in the sports world have built apps for the iPad, and most of them have made good use of the larger screen. Most are free, though there are a few that will set you back a few dollars.
ESPN makes use of its various services by offering multiple iPad apps. ScoreCenter XL is ESPN’s standard app for tracking scores, news, and statistics and allows you to log in to your ESPN.com account in order to remember your favorite leagues or teams. WatchESPN allows you to watch live ESPN streams on your iPad (though we may have found a bug that disabled audio through the internal speaker. The issue appears to be related to the iPad's mute switch being configured as a screen orientation lock). Many of the sports leagues themselves even offer viewing of their streaming video services through their iPad apps, though regional blackout rules still apply.
Your favorite sports magazines are available on your iPad through ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated apps. Podcasts offer another wealth of free content that spans all niches. Fantasy sports lovers will find a massive array of apps that support their favorite leagues and services.
Technology enhances every facet of our daily lives, and sports entertainment is a perfect example of an area where this is true. Regardless of what sports you follow there are a plethora of ways to enjoy your favorite team. The key is to know where to look for services and gadgets that will give you access to more games, or provide increased flexibility to follow your games while on the go.
One difficulty for sports fans is the college sports. College football for example has no single league to fall back to, and games may not be scheduled for a time or specific media outlet until a week or two before the game. Fans are required to take this on a game-by-game basis to determine the best way to follow a particular team. Also different conferences such as the SEC may have their own method of delivering games on-demand after the fact. The key is to educate yourself on the various outlets that are available to you for the specific league or teams for which you are most interested.
We know this isn’t an exhaustive list of every sports-related technology out there, and would love to hear what you use to get your game on. Let us know in the comment section what sites, services, or gadgets enhance your life as a sports fan.