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Pro Sports Leagues Still Trying to Figure Out Periscope, Meerkat

Leagues will soon have to decide how to deal with fans livestreaming from the stadium.

Shutterstock / Paolo Bona

Livestreaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat have been around for just two months, and they’re already generating quite a hiccup within the world of professional sports.

Over the weekend, dozens of Periscope users broadcasted the uber-hyped Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight online — a fight that Showtime and HBO were charging people nearly $100 to see. It was the app’s first major collision with copyright laws, and it got people wondering: How are professional sports leagues going to deal with this new technology when stadiums are full of people broadcasting their own version of an event?

Some leagues have already weighed in — at least temporarily. Major League Baseball is cool with it. The National Hockey League is not. Other pro sports leagues are now on the clock to figure out how to deal with this new way of sharing.

“It’s not whether or not it’s an issue, it’s just here,” said Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers. York talked about tech on a panel Wednesday at the VentureScape conference in San Francisco with other Bay Area sports executives. “[It’s] something we need to figure out how to take advantage of, and not let it take advantage of us.”

It has already been a rough go for livestreaming and pro sports. In addition to the fight, during which 66 different streams were reported (Twitter was able to take down 30), a PGA Tour reporter had her press credential snatched when she used Periscope to broadcast practice rounds ahead of the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship last week in San Francisco.

With fans, the issues will likely be different given they don’t have the kind of behind-the-scenes access reporters typically do. (Although on the PGA Tour, fans can also watch practice rounds, so this issue may come up again.) People already share photos and videos from their seats to places like Facebook, Instagram, Vine and Twitter. Broadcasting from Periscope isn’t much different.

And as my colleague Peter Kafka pointed out earlier this week, the viewer experience for watching an actual game over one of these services doesn’t rival what the major coverage providers offer. Anyone who wants to watch an entire three-hour baseball game from another fan’s phone isn’t the kind of baseball fan who’s paying for anyway.

Nonetheless, these leagues will need to figure out how to handle fans who livestream content. Networks like ESPN, NBC and TNT pay billions of dollars for the rights to broadcast professional sporting events. Harmless or not, fans are broadcasting very valuable content.

“You have all these rights deals that are locked in that [generate] legal issues,” Larry Baer, CEO of the San Francisco Giants, said at the conference. “You have the national rights deals, and the local rights deals tucked under those, and then you have these other maverick independent sources of content. You could go after people legally, I suppose, but that’s not necessarily going to stop it from happening.”

Livestreaming is also just one new way that fans may consume sporting events. Joe Lacob, majority owner of the Golden State Warriors and a strategic adviser at VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, suggested that virtual reality will soon give people a court-side seat from their living room.

Added York: “The way you watch games a decade from now is going to be very very very different than what you have today.”

Of course, that doesn’t answer the question about how to handle livestreaming right now. That may be because there is no answer.

“So how does it get folded in?” Baer asked. “I don’t think any of the leagues have that figured out yet.”

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