Let's watch game together ... on cell phones

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Who's the hottest young player in sports? Why, it's the cell phone.

From the National Basketball Association to the Women's Tennis Association to Nascar, marketers are using mobile technology to burnish their brand image and even provide some additional entertainment for stadium audiences. The fit is a natural one. Sports fans are perceived as likely early adopters for cell-phone uses such as sports score updates; marketers have thousands of captive fans in stadiums during games.

"Sports is the killer application for wireless hardware and service providers," says Brenda Spooneman, senior VP-interactive services for the NBA, who finds herself in the center of the action for connecting these fans to the league. And conversely, wireless is a killer app for sports leagues, franchises and athletes.

"There are 170 million wireless users, and we know to reach those people we need those devices," she says. The NBA has been a leader in the wireless arena, using text messaging and balloting over wireless devices, developing wireless games, and signing up to provide content on Verizon Wireless' VCAST service.

"Mobile media engage people in interactive dialogue, which is building value for a brand," says Jack Philbin, president of Vibes Media, an Evanston, Ill., text-messaging marketing company. "No other media can engage people one-on-one at an event."

One of Vibes' projects has been working with Major League Baseball's Chicago White Sox during games by flashing text messages on the scoreboard at U.S. Cellular Field. Questions posed to fans ranged from serious managerial decision-making, such as whether to attempt to steal a base, to trivia questions like asking who was the best looking player.

During this year's National Football League postseason, including the Super Bowl, top brewers Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing and Coors Brewing Co. launched text-messaging sweepstakes promotions to lure young adults, for whom mobile is becoming an indispensable medium. Coors plans to include a text-messaging element in all its promotions this year.

As part of a six-year, $88 million deal with the WTA Tour, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications took the common marketing step of adding its name to the tour. It's also working on ways to let fans communicate by phone with players and officials.

At Nascar, Nextel's sponsorship of a major racing series includes a $9.99-a-month "pit command" service that lets fans dial into conversations between the drivers and their pit crews. "In baseball, you can't get on the mound or in football you can't get inside the huddle," notes Mike Mooney, director-corporate communications at Nextel.