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Sports streaming is starting to feel harder to navigate than cable TV

Data: Axios survey. Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios
Data: Axios survey. Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

It’s been 20 years since the sports industry started streaming, and in that time streaming has evolved from an early experiment to a crowded field.

Important reasons: Sports streaming was meant to make it easier for fans to follow their favorite leagues and teams. But with so many options, it’s starting to feel even more difficult to navigate than cable.

background: MLB.TV ushered in the sports streaming boom when it launched in 2002 as the first professional league to live stream regular season games.

  • MLB’s main differentiator was betting big on technology. Creating a small division called BAMTech, he enhanced one of the most sophisticated streaming experiences in sports at the time.
  • In 2017, MLB sold a majority stake in BAMTech to Disney, whose technology now powers ESPN+.
  • MLB is also currently considering complementing its service with a service that allows fans to watch local games without cable.

detail: MLB, like other sports leagues, has struggled between investing in streaming to reach younger audiences and maintaining a traditional TV presence where older viewers still watch games. I had to walk a fine line at the time.

  • According to Sports Business Journal, the average age of MLB viewers in 2017 was 57. The average age of his NFL viewers at the time was he was 50.
Data: S&P Global Market Intelligence. Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios
Data: S&P Global Market Intelligence. Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Line spacing: Sports has long been one of the most costly networks in cable bundles, but it has gotten even more expensive as live broadcast rights fees have skyrocketed.

  • Yes, but: With the inability to bundle streaming alternatives, die-hard fans have to pay more than ever for live sports TV packages combined with professional services.

State of play: Sports streaming is littered today.

  • Leagues like the NFL’s newly launched NFL+ are investing in their own services as a way to collect more money and data from fans. Niche sports like gymnastics and poker have their own offerings.
  • Networks have spent a lot of money lately trying to keep up with the streaming wars. NBCU’s Peacock has announced that in 2021 he will purchase exclusive U.S. rights to WWE’s super-popular streamer for over $1 billion. football rights.
  • RSN is the latest group to join the fray, with New England Sports Network’s service launching in June, Bally Sports+ launching in September, and The Yes Network reportedly not far behind.

  • Tech giants like Apple, Amazon, and YouTube are spending millions bidding for live sports rights as a way to attract more fans to their streaming services. The NFL’s lucrative Sunday ticket packages will be available to tech companies this fall.

Reality check: Streaming does not yet deliver at the scale and reliability of linear TV.

Big picture: The surge in streaming presents new opportunities for leagues, fans and commercial partners to grow in areas such as microbetting that require real-time streaming speeds.

  • But at some point, the landscape will have to evolve to become cheaper and more navigable for consumers.

What to see: Streaming’s next big test comes this fall when Amazon kicks off its exclusive deal for Thursday Night Football, which debuted last night’s 49ers-Texans game.

  • Amazon said this week it brokered a deal with DirecTV to air these games in more than 300,000 sports bars, restaurants, hotels and other out-of-home venues.

Further details: Big tech crashes big sports

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