i-81ac0aa500b1035b54a691af8b5c99dd-James Pearce of Moconews.jpg
It’s easy to ridicule the idea of watching a World Cup soccer match or baseball game on a tiny mobile phone screen. Where’s the ball, who’s on first, how’d they score that goal? But for the rabid displaced fans of any sport, having the tiniest video highlights in town is better than nothing at all.

I asked if you would be willing to pay to watch sports video on your cell phone — as so many folks are doing in Europe during the World Cup. Some of you showed interest in the idea, depending on the sport, but others worried about the small screen size and quality of the video.

Before I get to your answers, I also asked James Pearce (pictured here), who writes the MocoNews blog about mobile content, to share his thoughts on the subject. Pearce believes there will be a huge demand for sports video on cell phones — but that this demand will be situational.

“Sports content, in one form or another, will inevitably be big business on mobile phones,” Pearce said via email. “In terms of video content, I suspect the main selling point will be for fans who are unable to watch the games anywhere else. Pretty much no one is going to elect to watch the game on a cell phone when they could watch it on a large TV. The market will be for people who aren’t able to watch the games anywhere else.”

Pearce told me that the market could be split between people who wanted highlights and those who wanted to watch entire games streamed live on cell phones. He thinks that the most popular sports such as baseball, basketball, American football and soccer have the most potential for sales — with soccer being popular among Latinos in the U.S., who spend more on cell phone content than any other group, according to Pearce.

While subscription plans could work, where the viewer buys an entire season of games, there might also be a market for one-off purchases of important games, he says.

“I think there is a market for one-off views of sports games for when somebody can’t watch a particular game but really wants to,” Pearce said. “As an example, I was in Mexico for Australia’s first World Cup match, and I really really wanted to see it. However, due to teritorial rights, IP blocking and a general lack of Mexican interest in Australian games it was impossible for me to watch the game. I would have paid a lot of money to watch that game, even on a tiny mobile screen.”

So while the experience of watching sports on a cell phone might not be great, that might not matter when you’re shut out from watching it on any other screen around. Peter, who blogs at The Peter Files, wasn’t too enamored with the idea of watching baseball on a cell phone, but….

“I will probably change my thinking on this when the 2005 World Champion White Sox hit the playoffs on their way to taking the 2006 Championship, unless it turns out that you cannot see the darned ball on the screen, or tell a ball from a strike,” Peter wrote. “In that case, what’s the point? You might as well get a small portable TV with batteries.”

Blogger Ged Carroll also said that it depends on the situation.

“When I used to work in an oil refinery, we had a huge bill from calls to the UK equivalent to a 900 number,” Carroll wrote. “We called the number and it turned out to be a live cricket reportage. We got a radio that covered long wave transmissions for the finance director and the calls stopped. In order for sports to work on a mobile device the content needs to be adapted for that format. Think about how hard it is to follow many ball sports like tennis, cricket, baseball or an ice hockey puck. If the media adapts to these limitations we could see a new golden age of sports reporting not seen since the golden days of radio.”

Meanwhile, a commenter named Bill wrote that he would definitely pay for live access to sports video, preferring a season subscription rate vs. one-off payments. Rahul Bhide was more interested in watching highlights on his cell phone.

“I would pay to watch highlights or short clips of sports like soccer, Formula 1 or the Paris-Capetown rally on my cell phone,” Bhide wrote. “It would be nice if the carrier has some sort of package where I can use GPRS [General Packet Radio Service] instead of WiFi, and not pay extra for transfer/access.”

The bottom line is that there will be demand for sports content on cell phones if the providers can come out with larger screens, better video, and deliver the games and highlights we want when and where we want to see them.

What do you think? What sports would you watch on your cell phones and what situations make sense for this type of small-screen viewing? Or do you prefer to simply make calls on your cell phone?