Game On: Live Sports Shifting to Streaming Shaking Up Television Industry

Sports watching used to be as easy as firing up the cable box. Nowadays, it’s a bit more complicated.

A cable subscription used to be required to watch games, not anymore. Most sports fans have cut the cord, but are now relying on streaming subscriptions (plural) to keep up with their teams.

You want to watch your regional NFL match up on broadcast? Sure thing, you can do that with CTV, apps like DirecTV Stream, Sling, YouTube TV have you set.

Monday Night Football, that’s available on ESPN+, Sunday Night Football, that’s on Peacock. And Thursday Night Football has a new streaming home with the NFL signing an agreement with Amazon to stream it exclusively on Prime Video for the next decade.

What about college football? Streaming is helping to reshape the college football conference map.

The Big Ten conference announced that it would air games on multiple broadcasters, including Fox, FS1, the Big Ten Network, CBS, NBC, and Peacock, this deal helped to lure USC and UCLA to the historically midwestern conference.

A national pastime has jumped into the streaming game as well. With a new slate of Friday night games available only on Apple TV+ and a weekly matchup on Peacock by NBCUniversal, Major League Baseball has slid into the streaming wars.

Likewise, you have options when it comes to soccer. For the first time ever, Major League Soccer will be available on Apple TV+ beginning in 2023, giving Apple exclusive global broadcasting rights. A variety of European leagues are streaming on different platforms: EPL on Peacock, La Liga and Bundesliga on ESPN+, and UEFA Champions League on Paramount+.

The majority of U.S. sports leagues also provide an out-of-market streaming service that includes every game from every team. MLB.TV, NHL on ESPN+, the aforementioned MLS, NBA League Pass, and the heavily-rumored NFL Sunday Ticket joining a streaming service next year only further reinforces the narrative that streaming is the future and it is here to stay. 

So what does this splintered sports streaming landscape mean for advertisers?

The price these companies paid for their live sports streaming rights is also telling; they spend billions – with a B – on them every year. As a result of such skyrocketing costs, linear broadcasters and streaming video platforms are turning to two primary revenue sources: subscription price hikes and — BINGO — advertising.

Why are live sports so prized? Games get eyeballs. Industry experts call it DVR proof. And outside of a select few water-cooler TV series, it is the only appointment-viewing left on television.

There are more than 160 million Americans who regularly watch live sports – nearly 50% of the total population. By 2026, it is projected that more than 130 million of those viewers will be tuning in via digital devices. Seventy-nine percent of sports fans say they would exclusively watch live events through streaming platforms if they could. It’s the digital era for live sports advertising.

This audience is valuable, so valuable in fact the biggest leagues, media companies, and tech juggernauts are shelling out never-before-seen contracts to lockdown the leagues, the games and most importantly the audiences that come with them. Shouldn’t your brand be doing the same?