What Meerkat, Periscope mean for sports broadcasts

Seattle Reign soccer
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The Seattle Reign of the National Women's Soccer League has live-streamed a preseason contest on Twitter's Periscope app—a tool that lets people send video to their followers in real time. Fans are also pulling out smartphones to broadcast their perspective at games on rival streaming app Meerkat.

As the real-time video apps grow, they've allowed Twitter users to broadcast live events to their followers from concerts to games. But free, accessible social media live streams likely will not shake the foundations of the lucrative—and jealously guarded—world of sports broadcasting.

Read MoreTwitter's Periscope tackles live streaming, Meerkat

Twitter challenged Meerkat—a start-up that gained traction at this month's South by Southwest conference—by launching Periscope last week.

Meerkat vs. Periscope: What's the difference?
Meerkat vs. Periscope: What's the difference?

The apps' sudden and growing influence has raised the question of how they will affect sports TV, a vital revenue source for big leagues like the NFL and NBA. Meerkat and Periscope may not immediately threaten to steal broadcast money, but they serve as a form of "grass roots competition," said John Vrooman, a Vanderbilt University sports economist.

Still, Vrooman said that competition is no real threat, for now at least.

"Streaming apps that allow simultaneous media consumption and production are not in themselves a clear and present danger to sports leagues," Vrooman said.

Sports leagues may have to find ways to use such technology to their advantage. Annual TV rights fees for the four major American sports surged 61 to 400 percent from their previous to current deals, all of which stretch past 2020, according to Vrooman. If live-streaming spreads, it could threaten the current "explosion" in sports broadcast rights fees, he said.

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Big sports organizations would have to figure out how to use the new technology to their advantage, Vrooman said. Usually, as technology evolves, leagues have looked to cash in by "jamming and internalizing them," he added.

The new streaming platforms provide a marketing opportunity for teams and leagues, said Manish Tripathi, an Emory University marketing professor and co-founder of Emory Sports Marketing Analytics. Ultimately, they can use content from fans to their advantage by increasing engagement.

"I think these apps will be viewed as ancillary to the actual broadcasts. In fact, you could see teams and leagues using the fan generated content from these apps as opportunities to enhance their marketing," Tripathi said.