Smart sports fans changing the game with smartphones

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Behind the scenes of every BYU baseball game is a team of dedicated workers that provide additional coverage on social media outlets. (Ryan Turner)

Former BYU athlete Craig Merkley threw the discus for BYU track until he graduated last year. However, staying up to date on such an obscure sport hasn’t been easy when there aren’t millions of other fans demanding to view the event.

Merkley found an excellent new way to keep track of the athletes he wants to watch this year: Instagram live.

“I’m always interested in how guys are doing, but I don’t want to text them the day of their competition and mess up their routine,” Merkley said. “It’s awesome to be able to watch it live and follow former teammates with live video apps.”

Through the Instagram app, a teammate or coach can film the competition and broadcast it live. Anyone can tune in and watch the events occur in real time.

“With smaller niche sports like track, a lot of times the people writing the recaps don’t know enough about the target audience to include all the information that true fans want to look for,” Merkley said. “So it’s nice to be able to watch a competition as if you were there.”

Merkley isn’t the only one using social media to follow sports.

The BYU baseball team started using Facebook live videos to broadcast away games.

Baseball sports information director Ralph Zobell has been working with the BYU baseball team since 1976, and this will be the first season where he’ll be able to watch every game.

Tuckett Slade is the director of operations and he’s been broadcasting the away games on Facebook live.

“It’s been great,” Zobell said. “All he needs is his smartphone, and he can get a good feed.”

BYU baseball’s blog reports people tuning in from all over the world, from Canada to New Zealand.

At BYU, not only do we have BYUtv, but we have the AM radio station that broadcasts every home game,” Zobell said. “The radio station is ESPN 960 and has a mobile app that allows people to listen live from anywhere with an internet connection.”

A member of the BYU athletic communications staff works during a game at Miller Park. (Ryan Turner)

BYU track and field director of operations, Isaac Wood, also caught on to the trend of using Facebook live at a track meet held in South Bend, Indiana, on the University of Notre Dame campus.

“We started broadcasting because someone came up to me and asked if we could live stream the distance medley relay at Notre Dame,” Wood said. “So I thought, ‘Yeah why not?’ and it worked really well. We got a ton of views without any advertising at all, and a lot of people ended up watching it.”

The Facebook live video of the women’s distance medley race at Notre Dame got 3,100 views, and Wood went on to live stream the indoor NCAA national championships as well.

Wood said he considers live video via smartphone the future for watching sports.

Considering how many people we got to watch one race at Notre Dame, without any advertising, is pretty incredible,” Wood said. “Moving forward, as we let more people know about these events, we will be helping BYU fans around the world.”

Mobile apps are being used more than ever to view sports, and a great example is found in the recent NCAA basketball tournament.

“Last week, I was out working on my yard, and I was watching March Madness on my phone,” Wood said. “Mobile connectivity for sports fans is the future.”

Fans spent 18.1 million hours watching video on the March Madness Live app in 2016, and it is estimated more video was watched during this year’s tournament.