In his lifetime, Steve Jobs had some pretty amazing accomplishments. In death, he will be remembered as arguably the greatest innovator of the last century. His imagination changed the way we live and interact with our world, and, since his passing, unlikely connections have been made through the expression of sadness over the loss of such an influential character.
So, it’s not such a leap to attribute pieces of the evolution of the sports industry to Mr. Jobs.
Thank you, Steve, for the iPhone.
Before the existence of a handheld device with 3G technology, there were not many ways to engage in sports. You only had a few options, including the first and perhaps most effective method: attending the game in person. Unless you’re more concerned with whether or not the FanCam is honing in on you, going to a game is the most basic way to know the score and the statistics. Granted, actually going can’t be replaced, but we’ve come pretty close.
Another option would be to check the newspaper. Remember those? If you couldn’t be at the game, you would get the scoop the next day. You hear that, sports fans? The next day. New Englanders: try to envision waking up Tuesday morning only to learn that the Patriots had been blown out by the Jets on Monday Night Football. Scary stuff.
You could also check out the radio. The first radio broadcast covering a baseball game took place in 1921. Can you imagine sitting next to a transmitter for three hours to follow an entire game? Didn’t think so.
Eighteen years later, NBC broadcast a college baseball game: the first-ever televised sporting event. Fast-forward 70 years, when the advent of 3D sports and surround sound got us as immersed in the action as possible. And, as the Internet caught on, sports became the second most popular use for office computers. Fantasy sports became synonymous with procrastination, and gamecasts made it easy to follow every Sunday football game without paying extravagant amounts for incredible cable packages.
And then came the iPhone, and from there, 3G technology.
When Apple released the first generation of the iPhone, it came with the promise of applications (apps for short). This allowed companies to integrate themselves into the mobile market and offer their apps to every person with the magical new device. Developers quickly jumped on the opportunity, creating handy widgets, games, and the app I utilize more than any other: ESPN ScoreCenter. ScoreCenter allows the away-from-home fan to keep tabs on any team, view scores from around the league, watch video clips, listen to sound bites, read headlines, and even receive alerts when a player scores. ScoreCenter has made leaving the house on Sunday a possibility, when before it was a life-or-death matter. Think of how much more productive our society can be when you give fans an entire extra day per week with which they can run errands.
But the iPhone’s power goes beyond ScoreCenter: hundreds of apps now exist, allowing iPhone owners to read sports news stories, follow blogs, and update fantasy rosters mere seconds before the game starts.
What’s more, the handheld device revolution has allowed fans to be one step closer to the pro athletes they idealize. While you sit on your couch tuned in to ESPN, you can simultaneously check the tweets players send out mid-game. This past year, the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks even had to tell forward Charlie Villanueva to stop tweeting at halftime, because it was distracting him from playing.
Before the iPhone, you might’ve been able to find out a player’s reaction to their game in the paper the next day. You never would have known, however, that on day one of his offseason, San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson decided to “watch five straight hours of dubstep videos…check!”
And that, my friends, is Steve Jobs’ greatest gift to the sports world.