The general consensus is that technology has changed sport for the better.
Hawk-Eye’s goal-line technology, for example, was used at last year’s FIFA World Cup, with the hope that its installation would eradicate the dubious refereeing decisions which marred the 2010 tournament. For players - both amateur and professional - technology has allowed for more sophisticated training methods, with data collection giving coaches the opportunity to pinpoint where a specific player’s weaknesses lie.
Technology has also changed the way we watch sport. Although people still enjoy getting together for big matches - thousands of people congregated in London’s Hyde Park to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup final between Germany and Argentina - there are now a number of ways for spectators to keep up-to-date with their favourite teams.
While major sports institutions like Sky and ESPN rely on new technology to improve their broadcasts, problems have arisen too. Illegal streaming services - which are widely available online and used by many to watch live broadcasts - cost the sports broadcasting industry millions each year. In the UK, 45,000 streams have been detected, most of which show matches from the English Premier League. Regardless of whether you think they should exist, there’s no doubt that they’ve had an impact on the way we watch sports.
Uploading a stream is straightforward. An article in the Guardian stated that it was possible to get a stream up and running with rudimentary IT skills and a cheap Windows laptop. Prolific uploaders, many of whom run multiple sites, make money from advertisements, creating lucrative businesses from themselves in the process. While it’s not impossible to get caught - a man was recently arrested in Manchester for leading a number of streaming operations - most can rely on a degree of anonymity, especially if they’re only uploading a few matches per week.
The emergence of these sites, however, must be put into perspective. Sky and ESPN are billion dollar businesses which lose millions, not billions, from streaming sites. Technology has allowed Sky’s SkyGo and ESPN’s ‘ESPN Player’ to develop as platforms, where users can watch both highlights and live matches on their mobile and tablets. SkyGo - which also includes programmes outside of sport - recently hit 5 million subscribers, bringing in millions in revenue with it. Sky and ESPN are just two of the sports broadcasting companies that offer such deals, with bEIN Sports, for example, representing another provider which give consumers freedom to watch shows when they want and on the platform of their choice.
The drawback of this is that it could spell the end of mass get togethers, with people instead opting to watch live sport at home due to both price and convenience. Yet this change has been coming. The introduction of televisions into households meant that mass viewings - where people crowded round a screen to watch a match - effectively ended, or were at least restricted to matches of particular importance. On-demand services are the next step in this evolution, with the public demanding a consumption method which is more convenient and ultimately cheaper.
Live sport has never been more accessible than it is today and we have advances in technology to thank for that. Whether you want to watch a match legally or illegally, it’s now just a few clicks away. The fact that people still gather to watch big matches shows that the public still enjoy the camaraderie and atmosphere that comes with cheering your favourite team en mass, but perceptions have changed, and technology has been central to that.