Fan streaming apps have sports world debating TV rights

Ask big names in the sports business what's on their mind, and live streaming by fans is one of the first things they'll mention.

Sports biz players & execs sound off on streaming sites
Sports biz players & execs sound off on streaming sites   

Television, with its ever-escalating contracts, increasingly finds itself competing against new technologies such as live-streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat that threaten to disrupt the entire business model. Even Internet giants like Google may be entering the space. (Periscope is owned by Twitter, and CNBC's parent company Comcast is an investor in Meerkat.)

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Broadcasters, sports executives and athletes the Sports Business Journal's 2015 Sports Business Awards in New York on Wednesday were of two minds when asked about fan streaming apps, with the old guard having bigger problems with the technology than the younger generation had.

"There is a difference between fan engagement and commercial exploitation; it's one we are going to have to be prepared to draw." -Gary Bettman, commissioner, National Hockey League

Dick Ebersol, a former chairman of NBC Sports, said that live streaming through apps like Periscope and Meerkat shouldn't be allowed.

"I happen to think it's wrong," he said, arguing that consumers need to pay for what they are watching. "Are you going to let them steal the signal?"

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"I know to the young I probably sound like an old fossil," Ebersol continued, "but to me it's theft. The philosophy for years has been if you go to a game, you pay for the game. If you watch a game you watch commercials."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league isn't banning streaming apps for personal use but is serious about stopping commercial uses: "There is a difference between fan engagement and commercial exploitation; it's one we are going to have to be prepared to draw."

Bettman reaffirmed the league's position that it won't let reporters use the apps at its matches. It has "notified our credential media holders that those apps are not OK to use under their credential. A fan experience is different than fan exploitation."

Streaming sports mobile phone
Mikkelwilliam | Getty Images

Abe Madkour, executive editor of Sports Business Journal, predicted a 12- to 16-month time frame "before we start seeing changes on what's protected and what's blocked."

"The people who own the intellectual property, the rights holders, will take a more active stance to protect their property," he said.

Last month, Major League Baseball's president of business and media, told CNBC last month that the league will not ban fans from using live-streaming apps at stadiums.

Cris Collinsworth, a NBC broadcaster and former player, on Wednesday said he wondered when the rights bubble would burst. "I keep thinking we are going to reach a saturation point, and people are going to say enough football," he said, "but we're not even close to that. Everyone is begging for the next rights to the games."

Read MoreNo, MLB won't ban Periscope, Meerkat, says executive

WNBA star player Swin Cash took a different approach, saying that fans were going to use the apps anyway. The leagues and owners need to figure out how to make it all work, she said.

"It's a very slippery slope, if you look at where social media is at now—I just got married and you can tell people not to stream things, but it's really like people are addicted…they have to get whatever happens in the moment and they want you to see it. So for the leagues that do it right, they should be able to capitalize on it."

Mark Herzlich, a current linebacker for the New York Giants, said he doesn't see the live streaming apps as a threat.

"It's a free market, and it will work itself out in the way it does," he said. "The more people who are able to access the content of the sports—as an athlete, in my opinion—the better."