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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 August 2007, 06:09 GMT 07:09 UK
Sport and mobiles seek 'dream team'
by Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

Action from Aston Villa v Liverpool game in the Premiership
Premiership action is available through a number of mobile plans

After four years of trying to sell sport on mobile phones to fans, operators have hit on tactics which they hope will bring success in this new football season.

So far, the majority of mobile phone owners have shown themselves resistant to the idea of turning their devices into miniature TVs to watch sporting action.

Rather, they have preferred to access websites from their phones to catch up on the latest information, or signed-up for score alerts by text.

A hoped-for-breakthrough at the 2006 Fifa World Cup did not take place.

But this season, BSkyB, which owns the mobile Premiership rights, is providing action from top-flight matches for the next three years, and most importantly, at an "all-you-can eat" price of 5 a month.

Post-game highlights are being made available along with goals and key moments from some matches, depending on what time they are being played.

The mobile networks are trying to take customers away from competitors by offering football highlights as part of their mobile TV offering
Rachael Church-Sanders, editor Sport and Technology

And eager to claw back some of the cash they splashed out to secure 3G licences, the major mobile networks have got on board with Sky and are hoping that this is the season football on mobiles makes a significant breakthrough.

Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, 3, and O2 are all offering some form of content from Sky Sports' Mobile TV offering - be it full access to Sky Sports, the 24-7 football video clips and highlights deal, or goals on a clip-by-clip basis.

And in another new move, Football League highlights will be available on Virgin mobiles.

'New media markets'

Rachael Church-Sanders, editor of Sport and Technology e-newsletter, observes: "Sky will be looking to get back the money it has forked out to secure the mobile rights.

"Meanwhile, the mobile networks are trying to take customers away from competitors by offering football highlights as part of their mobile TV offering, while at the same time reducing their own churn rate.

Woman watching mobile TV
Networks are looking to make sport on mobile TV more accessible

"At the same time they are also hoping to justify their spending on 3G networks, and are looking for a return on the money they have spent."

Reflecting the importance of mobile rights, the Premiership has just concluded deals for countries such as China, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and, Saudi Arabia, as well as more traditional markets.

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore says: "New media markets are an increasingly important part of our international broadcast strategy and landscape."

However, alongside these packages of goals and highlights, perhaps the most intriguing offering this summer comes from Orange, in the form of Frank TV.

This is nothing less than an entire mobile channel dedicated to giving us "fly-on-the-wall" experiences from England and Chelsea player Frank Lampard.

Frank TV makes for great bite-size viewing and provides our mobile TV viewers unique insight to the life behind the footballer
Jake Redford, Orange

The channel is being made available to the 1.3 million Orange 3G customers on its mobile phone TV service, Orange TV. It will be broadcast alongside other Orange mobile TV channels, including the BBC, Channel 4, Sky and FHM.

It includes Lampard's own video diaries filmed in the last two seasons at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea's training ground and Frank's house.

Sprouts and puppies

Orange was an official partner of Chelsea, providing content and behind-the-scenes news, but the deal has ended.

However, Lampard has a separate deal with Orange, which includes personal appearances and the Frank TV video diaries.

Orange claims he is the first footballer to launch his own dedicated mobile television channel.

Chelsea's Frank Lampard during the launch of his TV channel
Orange says Frank TV is the first footballer's mobile TV channel

Jake Redford, head of mobile, Orange UK, said: "Frank TV makes for great bite-size viewing and provides our mobile TV viewers unique insight to the life behind the footballer."

Footage shown at the launch mixed football-related material with "Frank at home" material, swinging from the player meeting Brazilian star Ronaldinho to a clip of him explaining how to peel sprouts.

Material featuring the Lampard puppies is perhaps for the diehard fan only. But for those more interested in what goes on at Chelsea, there is footage from behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge, much of it featuring masseur Billy Blood.

"I've enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would," says Lampard. "I'm pleased with the end product and that people can see the real you."

Exclusive content

However, whether the temptation of watching Frank TV would be enough to convince football fans to sign up for sport on mobile TV is another matter.

As Rachael Church-Sanders says: "I think people want to have some sort of access to sport on the move - what the score is, who has scored - and so on.

"What Frank Lampard did previously for Orange was successful and liked by fans.

"And there will always be users who will want to see content that is not available elsewhere. If the channel is to be successful, then they will be hoping to attract a number of new customers."

But she warns: "At the end of the day, many people are still just using their mobiles for texting and phoning."

But for now, the mobile networks will be hoping that the lure of Premiership action - and for Orange, footage of Frank Lampard wrapping his Christmas presents - will be enticing enough to make a growing number of football fans sign up for sport on mobile TV.

If so, this season could be the one that really sees the formation of the "dream team" of sport and mobile networks.

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