Sprint joins zero-rated data bandwagon with Copa America streaming video campaign

Sprint (NYSE:S) is taking a page from T-Mobile's (NYSE:TMUS) playbook and enabling customers to watch every live match of next month's Copa América Centenario soccer tournament on their phones without incurring data charges.

The campaign marks Sprint's first foray into zero-rated data via its primary Sprint brand, a carrier spokesperson confirmed.

Customers of the nation's fourth-largest mobile operator will be able to stream Spanish-language broadcasts via Univision and fuboTV, a service that bundles live sports and entertainment channels. After a 60-day trial Sprint users can pay $10 a month to keep fuboTV; Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile users can access a 30-day trial before having to pay for the service.

The tournament, which is being held in the United States for the first time, consists of 31 matches that will be held in June at sites around the country. Sprint is aggressively using the event as a marketing tool, conducting 5G demonstrations at two venues and executing promotional giveaways. The carrier also will launch bilingual TV commercials featuring soccer star David Beckham.

Zero-rated data offerings are quickly gaining favor among carriers as a way to differentiate their offerings and sometimes to generate revenue. T-Mobile was the first U.S. carrier to experiment with the model with the launches of Music Freedom for streaming music and Binge On for streaming data, and Verizon has followed FreeBee Data, which enables content providers or other parties to pay the cost of delivering content and services. AT&T continues to dip its toes into the sponsored-data waters as well.

But this isn't exactly the first time Sprint has ventured into the zero-rated data space. The carrier's prepaid services, Boost Mobile and Virgin, launched zero-rated music services late last year.

Such services have come under fire from net neutrality proponents, though, who claim they allow deep-pocketed media companies to pay for access to mobile subscribers, giving them an unfair advantage over smaller players. Sprint's campaign isn't likely to have the broad appeal of some other offerings -- it's a limited-time offer for soccer broadcasts in Spanish, all of which will surely limit its impact -- but it may still run the risk of drawing flak from net neutrality backers.

For more:
- see this Sprint press release

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Article updated Thursday, May 19, to confirm the campaign is Sprint's first zero-dated offering under its primary brand.