In this “golden age” of sports content, fans have more options than ever to watch what they love. Currently, this means navigating a combination of cable, broadcast, and streaming services across their big and small screens. Helping to usher in this age, streaming has increasingly become a favorite channel for watching live sports, especially for younger fans. With the move to streaming, sports organizations are seeking further monetization of their rights and chasing a shifting consumer base. And streaming services are looking to use live sports as a differentiator to fight off competition and reduce churn.
Examples of this emerging relationship include Amazon paying US$1 billion per season to stream NFL “Thursday Night Football”; “Friday Night Baseball” and Major League Soccer on the Apple TV+®streaming video service; and a number of US women's and men's national soccer team matches landing on HBO Max, starting 2023.1 In addition, leagues and regional sports networks (RSNs) are looking to launch their own direct-to-consumer (DTC) offerings.2 Their goals are to better control their own destiny and engage fans in a more personalized way, capturing and monetizing data.
Increased competition could lead to a better overall product, both on and off the field. This may include novel game formats, improved production quality, additional ancillary content, enhanced uses of data, and preventing teams from “tanking” (in order to retain subscribers). However, there are some dangers to watch for. As this new landscape matures, fans could face an increasingly confusing mix of options to wade through to watch their favorite teams and events: home and mobile streaming services, RSNs, and cable/satellite channels. Instead of building deeper relationships, leagues and providers may therefore be creating artificial barriers for fans. Also, by having so many options to watch a specific player or team, leagues could miss out on maximizing their potential audience because of market fragmentation.
To explore how fans feel about this unfolding future, we surveyed 500 US respondents, of which 319 were identified as sports fans.3 We found that sports fans crave content, and many pay for it; they just want to access it easily. Over half of sports fans surveyed (53%) said that they paid for a streaming video service to access sports content in the last year. But fans have some frustrations with their experiences, which could potentially reduce their level of overall engagement. Negative sentiments include feeling burdened by too many subscriptions (49%), feeling frustrated by difficulties finding content (62%), and actually missing events they wanted to see because of these difficulties (54%).
These statistics are representative of the challenge—there is no “one-size-fits-all” for the entire fan base. Fan attention is being pulled in myriad directions by different entertainment choices, and if providers aren’t careful, they could see fans drifting away. This raises some difficult questions in the streaming era:
This market is going to take many years to develop and mature. There will likely be a long transition as licensing rights expire and change, and streaming providers build their live sports infrastructure. Those who want to reach sports fans through DTC offerings should focus on some key considerations:
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