Take one part cutting-edge digital technology, one part old-school broadcasting and one part homegrown business ingenuity, mix them together in a 60,000-seat stadium in Orlando and what do you get?
Very possibly, the future of sports entertainment.
That’s the concept behind LiveEventTV™, a multimedia experience concept born in the minds of two local former wireless executives, nurtured at the University of Central Florida Business Incubation Program (UCFBIP) and set to be unveiled to the world during the upcoming college bowl season.
The basic idea behind LiveEventTV™: transform the fan experience at sports events by providing a personalized TV app that allows viewers to simultaneously watch TV at down times during the game and enjoy the action of seeing the event live. Essentially providing the best of both worlds to sports fans.
Competition in sports is as fierce off the field as it is on. No matter the sport, the goal is always the highest number of fans in the seats at events.
“That’s an issue that everybody faces, pro, college, pretty much anywhere, is trying to figure out how to make the product in the stadium more compelling potentially than it may be at home on your couch in front of an 80-inch television screen,” said Steve Hogan, president and CEO of Florida Citrus Sports (FCS), which operates the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1) and the Russell Athletic Bowl (Dec. 29).
FCS is LiveEventTV™’s first full-time customer, having signed a three-year contract (with an option to extend another three years) at the bowl games. This year, Hogan intends to conduct an elaborate beta test of the technology, putting it in the hands of 300 to 500 fans at each game, and then expanding the product at future games. He’ll have his pick of candidates at the BWW Citrus Bowl, as tickets to the Michigan-Florida matchup sold out in just over 24 hours. A large crowd also is expected for North Carolina and Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“At the Citrus Bowl, we will be delivering eight channels of television and so (FCS) is going through the process of determining what you are going to see on a TV channel,” said Gary Bonner, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Orlando-based imediaReach, the creator of LiveEventTV™. His wife, Leslie Bonner, is the other co-founder and CEO.
“We’ve got concepts at this point,” Gary said in describing the feeds. “There could be cheerleader cam, continuous coverage of the quarterback, live stats, the broadcast feed of the game, focus on a Heisman winner, something that shows you what the coach is doing. (Fans) would like to see those things that you might not necessarily see all the time at home.”
Perhaps the most intriguing is the possibility of a channel devoted to what the replay officials see when deciding whether to uphold or overturn a call – not the video that fans see at home, but the actual images the replay officials are reviewing.
It has been a challenging road to this point, one that required both the Bonners’ expertise in technology and marketing and the UCFBIP’s know-how in building a business.
“We have been very fortunate with our incubator partners,” Gary said. “When we launched our company we knew that we needed access to resources because we were going down the tech path, and we learned about the University of Central Florida’s Business Incubation Program which was just getting underway.”
For Gary and Leslie, the UCFBIP assistance has been particularly valuable in overcoming challenges technology entrepreneurs face in trying to engage a larger national audience. Given the energy and ingenuity the Bonners have put into their company, they credit the incubation program in helping them realize the full potential of this concept.
The Bonners have been working their way toward LiveEventTV™ for roughly a decade now, since the first smartphones appeared on the market. As long-time executives in the wireless industry, primarily with Cingular Wireless (which became part of AT&T Wireless), the Bonners had a front-row seat to the evolution of the smartphone and its amazing video capabilities. When the iPhone was first introduced in 2007, Cingular/AT&T had a three-year deal with Apple to be the exclusive carrier of the device.
“When the very first iPhone came into the marketplace, I got to be part of the startup team,” Gary said. “The first time I saw an iPhone, I saw the potential for it to be a television device or to serve video. That was the original kernel of thought, and you just hold on to those things.”
The Bonners had to wait, though, because smartphones initially made up a small portion of the wireless market, and there was a plethora of operating platforms (remember the Treo or Motorola Q). At the point when smartphones reached 50 percent of the wireless market and the industry narrowed to two primary smartphone platforms, Apple iOS and Android, one key ingredient for LiveEventTV™ was in place.
The other key ingredient was the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) repurposing of dormant UHF television frequencies.
[For those born after 1970 who are staring blankly at the mention of “UHF,” we are referring to Ultra High Frequency, the less desirable and more temperamental of the two pre-cable broadcast frequencies. Very High Frequency – VHF – was the other. Whereas VHF, channels 2 to 13, was easy to tune on a dial that clicked neatly onto each channel, UHF covered channels 14 to 83 and the dial had to be tuned with the precision of a short wave radio trying to pick up a signal from New Zealand.]
As cable television and digital broadcasting became standard, the difference between VHF and UHF melted away, and the use of UHF frequencies diminished dramatically. In recent years, the FCC began to reallocate those frequencies for new uses, and the Bonners were quick to take advantage of the opportunity.
Utilizing a broadcasting device about the size of a briefcase, LiveEventTV™ can broadcast its multiple channels on the UHF spectrum in full compliance with FCC rules. One transmitting device can cover an entire football stadium. For golf tournaments (LiveEventTV™ has a relationship with the PGA Tour), it takes two transmitters. Those who want to receive the signal need simply to download the Live Event app to their smartphone and utilize a special antenna that plugs into the power port on the phone.
As all these pieces have come together, the Bonners and LiveEventTV™ stand on the verge of pulling off a truly unique feat – marrying old-school television and new age digital technology to draw back to the stadium those fans who have found modern home entertainment systems make it simply too tempting to watch the game at home. The irony is rich: the best television viewing experience is moving from the man-cave back to the stadium.
This, understandably, is what appeals to sports executives and at this moment there are virtually no competitors to LiveEventTV™. In addition to the bowl contract and the aforementioned PGA experiment, LiveEventTV™ is in conversations with the Southeastern Conference and individual SEC schools about making it a permanent part of the viewing experience in the nation’s foremost football conference.
Gary is quick to point out his company will strictly be providing the technology and, in the case of the antennas, the hardware. How the clients choose to put the antennas in the hands of fans and how this fits into the increasingly complex web of television contracts, he will leave to the bowl games and the conferences.
LiveEventTV™ is not in the television rights business, we are in the transport business. We are a pipe,” he said. “We are a very efficient, very low-cost service provider. The conferences, the teams, the venues, the sports organizations, they work with the broadcasters and all that (TV rights) is handled in their separate negotiations and agreements.”
On that front, Florida Citrus Sports’ Hogan has encouraging news.
“Some of that is going to involve conversations with your conference partners, your teams that are actually participating in the games, understanding your broadcast rights and television clearances,” Hogan said.
“So far, so good. We feel like everybody seems to be on the same page. There’s very little resistance, very few hurdles to clear in terms of what we want to do.”
LiveEventTV™, Florida Citrus Sports, Orlando and its entrepreneurial ecosystem through UCFBIP is a case study in teamwork.
And the players are just getting warmed up.