All it took for Lydia Murphy-Stephans to start trying to solve one of the biggest problems facing the sports industry was a plate of hot wings.
Watching an NBA Finals game in 2018, she left her living room to prep snacks in the kitchen — and embarked on a task she says should have been much simpler: trying to stream the game on his iPad.
“The game was on ABC, so I clicked on the ABC app and it was black. So I went to Google and searched for ‘Watch NBA Finals’. My iPad had 200 million hits. I went to the Watch ESPN app and opened it but – this was 2018 – the connectivity wasn’t what it is today. My provider is Comcast Xfinity, and I had to leave the app. ‘ESPN app and go to Xfinity to authenticate myself, to get permission,” Murphy-Stephans recalls. “It took me eight minutes.” When she finally got through, she realized that the game that was in progress in the living room was at least a minute ahead of what she was broadcasting on her tablet.
Wednesday, the former head of programming for ABC Sports and president of Pac-12 Networks, is trying to make the process of finding sports easier for anyone who’s ever felt nervous when trying to figure out which outlet linear or streaming service suggests a specific game and then navigate through the details to get there. His company, SportsBubble, is launching the WatchSports app, which helps users find pro and college sports and esports sessions any time of the day. The service is available now on the Apple App Store, searchable under “WatchSports”, and it should be available sooner on WatchSports.app and on Google Play for Android.
By entering into new rights deals that put some games on traditional TV and others on streaming sites, “we’ve created this very complex situation,” says the entrepreneur. “It’s getting harder and harder for fans to easily tune in to what they wanted to watch, whether it’s free or behind a paywall.”
A new set of rights deals have shattered some of sport’s biggest seasons, with traditional media companies foregoing some traditional league play due to soaring costs and digital gamers wet their beaks over leftovers . Consider Major League Baseball, which now has national games available on ESPN, Fox Sports and Turner Sports, with a Sunday morning series launched on NBCU’s Peacock and a Friday night package streaming on Apple TV+. NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” has moved to Amazon’s Prime Video. Local games can also be hard to come by, between regional sports networks and a few new twists, like Amazon picking up a set of Yankees games that once aired around New York City. Sprinkle in esports, which are more easily found in new tech places like Twitch or YouTube, and the project becomes even more daunting.
The hodgepodge of games and shows points to a growing demand for so-called “discovery engines” that help consumers navigate a maze of options and locations, and also suggest alternative programming choices . “The sport is getting into it,” says Chris Bevilacqua, the founder of CSTV, who is now a sports media player and an adviser to SportsBubble.
Sports isn’t the only area of entertainment where the complexity of access has begun to affect the ease of enjoyment. The hunt for a film can also become a quest similar to that undertaken in “The Lord of the Rings”. Most streaming services are isolated from their rivals, although Amazon’s Fire interface gives users the ability to search for any title and then click their way to the service that offers it, all while offering to pay a fee or take out a subscription.
The Watch Sports application aims to eliminate some difficulties of research. Users can review rosters for college, professional, and esports and a display of scheduled matches can connect fans to the platform the game is taking place on. SportsBubble’s premier partners include DAZN, Pac-12 Conference and Networks, National Women’s Soccer League, Ladies Professional Golf Association, Athletes Unlimited, US Speed Skating and the Premier Hockey Federation.
“This app is not only a new way for fans to easily find and access live sports, but will be another great partnership for DAZN to continue growing its subscriber base,” said Joe Markowski. , Executive Vice President of DAZN Group.
The WatchSports will soon offer a “SportsPassport” feature allowing its users to customize their preferences, set up notifications for game alerts and receive special offers. Sports Passport will also enable in-app authentication so users don’t have to exit the process to log in elsewhere. Pay-per-view event purchases and sports betting logins will also be possible.
To generate revenue, Watch Sports will collect a “referral fee” from certain subscription sports when a new user signs up, Murphy-Stephans says. The “passport” level will also come with a small fee.
Access to sports is something Murphy-Stephans has pushed for most of his career. The former Olympic speed skater and coach found a job at ABC Sports, where she became the unit’s first female vice president and eventually oversaw its venerable “Wide World of Sports” showcase. She would eventually move on to senior roles at Oxygen and MSG Network before embarking on a six-year run at Pac-12.
Some early skeptics asked Murphy-Stephans why sports fans just couldn’t use Google to find their favorite event, and his response was, “How does it work for you?” She has met with executives from every major sports league and major sports media operation, she says, and expects to do more with many of them in the coming months.
“I’m sure I’m not the first person to have had this idea,” Murphy-Stephans says. “But I have the resources and the knowledge to deal with it.”