[size=10pt]As if you didn't have enough options ...[/size]


As you check your cell phone for scores, flick on satellite radio and get your TV in-screen on your computer, you might wonder, "How can I get more access to sports?"
Vast improvements in technology have spoiled sports fans for the past decade, leading them to wonder what's on the horizon.

The experts are wondering the same thing. Each new James Bond movie unveils gadgets that surpass anyone's wildest imagination. The improvements to computers, radios, televisions and phones over the next decade are almost as impossible to imagine.

Even so, some of those inside the ultramodern operations shared their thoughts on the future of sports technology.

Computers: Incredible changes

Stephen Snyder briefly considers the question of where Internet technology will take the sports consumer in the next eight to 10 years. Surely, the general manager of CBS SportsLine.com has grand thoughts on how things will play out, right? "Eight to 10 years?" he said. "I have no idea."

Snyder continued: "When you're talking eight to 10 years, you're talking about encapsulating a complete change of networks, devices and behaviors."

Snyder predicted that by 2016, the Internet, television and cell phones largely will have merged and blurred what we now see as three distinct technologies.

Fans will no longer think of their living room as the place to watch games and their office as the place to surf the Internet.

John Kosner, senior vice president of ESPN New Media, is a direct competitor of Snyder's, but he sees similar changes coming.

"We think there is going to be a much wider choice of content and that it's going to look similar to iTunes with your ability to do what you want, when you want it, through a variety of different devices," he said. "So that I think that a sense of programming, be it TV programming vs. online programming vs. portable programming, it's all going to begin to flow together."

Snyder said part of the reason for the upcoming breakthroughs will be a virtually unlimited bandwidth.

"Wherever you go and whatever device you have, whether it's a computer or a cell phone or a chip in your eyeball, you can get a signal directly to that device and tune it to whatever you want to tune it to," he said.

TV: HD for everybody

Networks and sports leagues have long tried to enhance coverage of their games for television viewers. Tactics have included glowing pucks, cameras implanted on backboards, microphones on the first baseman and in-game interviews with athletes.

Not since the color picture replaced black-and-white, though, has there been an advancement as important as high-definition television, or HDTV, which is superior in its picture clarity. It hasn't become the norm for viewers and broadcasters yet, but the government has mandated that over-the-air broadcasters upgrade from analog to digital broadcasting by February 2009.

Bryan Burns, the vice president of strategic business planning and development for ESPN, figures that the coming years will continue to bring improvements but no radical changes.

"Let's just say 3-D TV for a laugh," Burns said. "That's going to take a while. What has been done in the last two or three years and what we'll do for the next eight to 10 is reinvent the way we produce television. A [HD production] truck costs anywhere between 7 and 12 million dollars, so if you put that equipment in play you have to amortize it for a few years to get the value out of it.

He doesn't see another advancement beyond HDTV for at least a decade, though. "This is the first major change in TV in 50 years," he said

Will the viewer be able to select from a variety of camera angles and choose the one he or she likes the best?

"After a couple of minutes of picking your own camera angles you say, 'I don't want to do this anymore, I just want to watch the game,' " Burns said. "Will a consumer pay $9 a month to be able to choose their own camera angle from, let's say, a Twins game? I'm not buying that one."

Radio: One device fits all

Mick Anselmo has plenty of opinions about what the future holds for radio, but the president/market manager of Clear Channel Radio Twin Cities points out that the last decade has taught us it's risky to look too far ahead.
"I think it will come down to using one device, whether it be a handheld device that you carry with you that's a cell phone as well as a source for music, sports and information," he said.

Although it's a competitor, Anselmo recognizes the capabilities of satellite radio services. His industry has responded with the launch of HD Digital Radio, setting up a competition that could make the traditional use of radio a thing of the past by 2016.

HD Radio enables multiple programs on one channel, while using the same frequencies as AM and FM stations. Clear Channel, for instance, already has built out 75 different formats for HD service. This will continue to grow, meaning in 10 years the Vikings could have a round-the-clock channel, just as the NFL has its own station on Sirius Satellite radio.

It's important, however, that the audience of radio's future isn't looked at as being only one culture, Anselmo said.

"Just look at the amount of Hispanic influence in the United States," he said. "Maybe there will be a Spanish sports-talk channel, a Spanish Vikings channel. Who knows what those niches are going to be?"

David Pearlman, a former CBS Radio executive and president of Massachusetts-based Pearlman Advisors, said teams having their own frequencies in HD wouldn't be surprising. The ability to have several programs on one channel would easily allow radio companies to feature highly specialized content, he said.

Whatever happens, Anselmo figures listeners will be benefit.

"My radio stations and our company is in the business of creating content," he said. "Whatever forms of distribution they are, we don't care. We want our consumers and listeners to receive brands in whatever or however they might choose or whatever opportunity they might have."

Phones: It's about location

Manish Jha is paid to see into the future. And as senior vice president and general manager of Mobile ESPN, that's exactly what he spends much of his time doing.

He's looking forward to the day when mobile television is the norm, when people can exchange tickets via their cell phones and when fans can use mobile technology to find gathering spots to support their favorite team.

"Location-based things are getting integrated into phones so you can figure out where a sports bar is or where to find a parking spot," Jha said. Some of those services already exist in other parts of the world and are now coming to the United States.

New Mobile ESPN phones are equipped to deliver video alerts from various games to subscribers. This happens only a few minutes after something occurs.

Mobile television is probably farthest down the road but, because of the immediacy of sports, Jha expects fans to embrace the concept.

"I'm not sure you should take the traditional television channels that are created for long-form consumption for watching an hour or two hours at a time and stick the same channels on mobile phones," he said. "Maybe you need to create different types of content, different types of channels, which are designed for much shorter viewing intervals than traditional television.

"But I do think mobile TV in some kind of incarnation is going to be a very exciting new thing."