Reports surfaced last month revealing how Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and his team are considering a new digital video service that would stream games, even issuing a study to learn how fans watch games and what they want in a dedicated streaming service.
Ballmer on Wednesday revealed what that product might look like.
The former Microsoft CEO spoke at the inaugural GeekWire Sports Tech Summit on Wednesday, talking about one of his favorite topics: the intersection of sports and technology.
The Clippers’ broadcast agreement with Fox Sports ended June 30 and the team is exploring options for the upcoming NBA season. Breaking off digital rights from a typical TV contract to offer a team-run streaming service would be unprecedented in the sports world.
However, the Clippers aren’t the only team or company thinking about how to serve a growing number of “cord-cutting” fans — particularly younger ones — that don’t subscribe to cable. For example, The Information reported last week that ESPN wants to offer a standalone streaming package for live sports.
Ballmer said there would be two ways to roll out a streaming service. One option is to “take the existing experience and stream it.”
“In a contract situation, if we aren’t going to get paid as much as we want to get paid by the RSNs (Regional Sports Networks), then we can do that and that’s a great thing,” he said. “But the real objective isn’t just to take the existing experience and stream it.”
Ballmer, who acquired the Clippers for a record $2 billion in 2014, explained that “the real opportunity is to, if you will, augment reality as people are watching the game.”
“Can you put yourself in the position of Blake Griffin?,” he said. “What does the game in question look like in real time from his perspective? Can you sit on the shoulders of Chris Paul or DeAndre Jordan or even someone who plays for the other team? Can we allow you to do that?”
Ballmer noted that the team is working with a startup called Second Spectrum that utilizes data analytics and machine learning to help provide more information about the game. Ballmer, the 21st-richest person in America, said that fans could potentially use this technology to examine plays with more depth and see how they were defended and how likely they are to be successful.
“That is possible over the next several years,” he said.
Ballmer said it’s all about letting fans customize their experience, using stats that they want to know, camera angles they’d like to watch from, and more.
He also talked about setting the right price for a streaming-like service. There could be different tiers and fans could pay more for a premium experience, he said.
That led Ballmer to proclaim that there “is no capitalism working right now in sports.”
How we watch our favorite teams compete on TV hasn’t changed too much, technologically-speaking, in the past few decades. Sure, there are better TVs and better cameras, but the experience has remain largely the same.
Blame the lack of capitalism in sports, said Ballmer.
“Teams sign these rights agreements that go for a long period of time and nobody has any incentive to work hard,” he explained. “The team has no incentive because the money will be the same in any event. The broadcaster has a long-term contract with the cable company; they have no incentive to work harder. The cable company is basically taking a bundle of stuff and sticking it out there for the fan.”
Ballmer said applying capitalism to the fan viewing experience — perhaps selling subscriptions as part of the streaming service — would force teams and broadcast companies focus on new and innovative opportunities.
“Just the very fact of that capitalism will make us, and maybe other teams and sports, work harder over time,” he added.
Ballmer noted that his team has “no animosity” toward regional sports networks.
“But we’re not going to let our partnership get in the way of us retaining the rights we need to create a different kind of experience,” he said.
Ballmer’s comments on streaming start at 5:55 in the video below.