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What Streaming Means for Sports

Streaming platforms have been waging a fierce battle to win consumers’ attention for the past five years, resulting in 85% of US households being currently subscribed to at least one streaming service. Still, despite this shift away from linear television viewing, most cord-cutters historically watch sporting games, events and matches on live TV. After all, traditional linear networks still maintain the rights to all major US sports properties, and live sports comprised 75 of the 100 most-watched programs in 2021. Yet current sports-viewing trends may be causing another seismic change. Here’s what you need to know.

Streaming Steps Up to Bat
Due to both technical and financial reasons, streaming services didn’t typically attempt to broadcast live sporting events on their platforms. “Sports [were] kind of the last bastion of the linear television model,” said Geetha Ranganathan, media analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. But that largely changed in 2021, when the NFL made headlines after inking a media deal that gave Amazon exclusive rights to air Thursday Night Football games. Starting with the 2023 football season and continuing for the next decade, this content will be part of the platform’s Prime Video service.

These days, fans have numerous options to choose from if they wish to watch a game online. ESPN Plus offers 15 different sports available for streaming, along with a selection of athletics-related originals like Peyton’s Place, 30 for 30 and Man in the Arena: Tom Brady. FloSports distinguishes itself by the vast quantity of available content—over 2,000 live sporting competitions throughout the year—though the types of events don’t rank among those that are most popular. Case in point: “Underserved sports finally get the love they deserve” is the company’s tagline. Peacock further provides access to Premier League soccer, some select Major League Baseball games and WWE live shows. YouTube TV, NFL Sunday Ticket ad Hulu Live TV with Sports serve as additional top streaming services for fans.

Deals Making Headlines
Last year’s deal between the NFL and Amazon Prime may have been the precursor to a new era of agreements drafted by sports leagues and streaming platforms that could change the way fans view games. In mid-June, Major League Soccer announced its own partnership with Apple TV, giving the streamer exclusive global rights to all MLS, Leagues Cup and select MLS Next Pro matches for the next 10 years (2023 to 2032), at a cost of $2.5 billion. MLS season ticket holders will get free access to the service, with all games being called in both English and Spanish, plus French for those involving Canadian teams. “For the first time in the history of sports, fans will be able to access everything from a major professional sports league in one place,” said Eddy Cue, Apple senior VP. “It’s a dream come true for MLS fans, soccer fans and anyone who loves sports.”

Viacom18, a Mumbai-based media and entertainment venture, made similar news by revealing that it’s become the new online hub for Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket for the next five years. The company paid $2.6 billion for these digital rights, which extend from 2023 to 2027. Meanwhile, Disney’s Star India group (a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company) spent $3 billion to retain exclusive TV rights to the sport for this same time span. Cricket is among the world’s most popular sports, partly due to the fact that it’s revered in India, the world’s second-most populous nation.

Way of the Future
Given the hats many online platforms are now throwing into the sports arena, it’s perhaps not surprising that Netflix is reportedly in the process of negotiating its own viewing deal. The king of streamers seems to have its eye on Formula 1 racing—a popular global sport that’s been steadily gaining US fans over the last few years. “A few years ago, the rights to Formula 1 were sold,” said CEO Todd Sarandos. “At that time, we were not among the bidders. Today, we would think about it.” According to Business Insider, Netflix entered a bidding war with NBCUniversal and ESPN to score F1 streaming rights starting in 2023. Though exact figures aren’t known, estimates for the deal are in the range of $100 million. Will live sports eventually disappear from TV as streamers invest more heavily in athletics-related action? That outcome remains to be seen. In the meantime, it’s game on for the wide world of sports!