Fans turn to Web for sports coverage

March Madness on Demand allows fans to stream live video and audio.

Fans turn to Web for sports coverage

Michael Rietmulder

The Division I NCAA MenâÄôs Basketball Championship tournament is one of the most watched sporting events in the country, and while the tournamentâÄôs television audiences have regularly exceeded 100 million viewers in recent years, millions more are now watching via the Internet. The NCAA and CBSSports.com have offered a Web-based product called NCAA March Madness on Demand, which has allowed fans to stream live video and audio of the tournamentâÄôs games on the Internet since 2003. The number of MMOD users has grown from 20,000 in 2005 to 8.3 million in 2010. The 2010 figure represents an increase of nearly 800,000 users from last year. âÄúThis yearâÄôs growth of March Madness on Demand reflects the excitement on the court,âÄù said Greg Shaheen, NCAA senior vice president for basketball and business strategies. âÄúNCAA basketball fans want access to the championship on more platforms, and weâÄôre thrilled with the continued increase in MMODâÄôs numbers.âÄù The increased audience size has meant a surge in advertising revenue as well. According to data provided by CBS Sports, MMOD generated $4 million from advertisers in 2006, and revenue ballooned to $32 million a year ago. The largest yearly increase came in 2008 when MMOD dropped its registration requirements. Advertising revenue increased that year by $13 million from the previous year. The University of Minnesota athletics department offers a similar product for Gophers athletics. Department spokesman Garry Bowman oversees the subscription-based service known as Gold Zone, which allows users to stream video and audio coverage of Gophers sports. Bowman said the number of Gold Zone subscribers is approximately 1,000, though that number fluctuates somewhat, as many subscriptions are sold on a monthly basis. âÄúI think itâÄôs a service thatâÄôs pretty much mandatory,âÄù Bowman said. âÄúI think it has come to the point now where that kind of stuff is expected, so we try to fulfill those demands as best we can.âÄù Bowman said the athletics department receives 20 percent of the revenue Gold Zone subscriptions generate, with 80 percent going to Jump TV, an organization contracted to provide the framework and infrastructure for the Web site. One feature of MMOD that Gold Zone does not have is an application for mobile devices. The NCAA and CBSSports.com began selling MMOD applications in 2009 with hopes of tapping into the 85 million iPhone and iPod Touch users worldwide. Though data on the number of MMOD applications sold was unavailable, CBSSports.com spokesman Alex Riethmiller said it was the No. 1 free and paid sports application at the iTunes store during this yearâÄôs tournament. The Gold Zone, which is available exclusively on Gophersports.com, can offer live and archived video and audio only for events not broadcast by the Big Ten Network. âÄúContent is the first challenge because of our conference contracts with the Big Ten Network,âÄù Bowman said. âÄúBecause theyâÄôre starting to stream more and more, that leaves less inventory for us to stream.âÄù The Big Ten Network largely televises high-profile sports like football and menâÄôs basketball. Bowman said technological advancements have enabled fans to follow their favorite teams in ways they couldnâÄôt previously. âÄúConsidering where we were just a handful of years ago, where you really didnâÄôt even have access to any of this kind of stuff … to now be able to log on from anywhere in the world and watch a gymnastics meet or a womenâÄôs basketball game is pretty good.âÄù