Panel: Sports fans want multiple options to watch games

Mark Cuban, Amazon and Discovery execs say young fans in particular, want to watch sporting events how they want, when they want.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read

How can you nourish sports superfans when it comes to watching games?

Give them what they want, says Mark Cuban, tech investor and owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. Cuban made the suggestion during a panel discussion Tuesday at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in Beverly Hills.

Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 1

Amazon executive Jeffrey Blackburn and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (right) say young fans are determining how sports is watched and played. 

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Cuban, along with Jeffrey Blackburn, senior vice president of worldwide business development, Amazon and David Zaslav, CEO of Discovery Communications, agreed that today's sports fans want multiple options on how to watch sporting events, whether it's on a big-screen TV, their phones or their laptops. 

Blackburn noted that despite some early technical glitches, about 1.9 million viewers worldwide watched Amazon Prime's inaugural NFL Thursday Night Football pregame and game between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. 

After reportedly paying $50 million to stream 10 games this season, Blackburn called Amazon's NFL debut, 'a great night for us," he said." 

Cuban said Amazon, which signed a rights deal to stream sporting events across Europe with Discovery's sports network Eurosport, poses a threat to the likes of ESPN, which also streams globally.

"it's a very competitive environment," Cuban said. "It's how we reach people and how they consume it. The biggest challenge isn't the methodology of distribution, it's (the) kids."

Cuban told the panel that when he was growing up, his family gathered around the TV set to watch sports. Now, he says, there are too many options, especially for younger fans who watch games on mobile devices and also go to Twitter to get fan reaction at the same time.

"We have to deal with overcoming that, it's not just the technology, it's not just cutting the cord, it's how we're counting [viewers]," he said, debunking the notion that sports viewership is down. "It could well be that the numbers are up, we don't know?"

Zaslav agreed, saying, "it's about finding the right recipe for what nourishes the audience."

Cuban later asked Zaslav if his networks in Europe would consider gambling. Zaslav said they're still trying make sure his direct-to-consumer base is functional. 

Meanwhile, Blackburn said Amazon's goal is make sure Prime viewers stay tuned into the game. He said Amazon lost only 10 percent of its viewership during last Thursday's game because of a weather delay. 

"We're the new kids in this sports space," he said. "We're very focused on the tactics of executing perfectly and work on the next level. We have a gazillion ideas on what we want to do."

Blackburn said there may be a possibility that Amazon could some day air more niche sports. He also said he's not thinking about Facebook, which is making a big push into sports streaming. 

When Cuban wasn't discussing how artificial intelligence will replace analytics to measure fan engagement and the health of athletes in sports, he was asked about the rumors of whether he would run for US president in 2020. 

Earlier Tuesday, Cuban raised eyebrows when he said on CNBC's Fast Money he'd consider a campaign run, no doubt taking a jab at his nemesis and fellow billionaire, President Donald Trump. 

"Based off what's happening in the White House, based off what's happening in the country and the world, we need better leadership. And I think I could do a better job," said Cuban, adding there's "a 90 percent chance he won't run," mentioning his wife wasn't having it.

When asked again during the sports tech panel, Cuban joked he'd run only if Zaslav was his running mate for vice president. 

"Anything more than that," asked panel moderator and CNBC correspondent Julia Boorstin.

"No," Cuban replied.

CNET's Dara Kerr contributed.  

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