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The future of sports streaming: Is D2C the next thing?

The future of sports streaming

In 2022, we watched sport streaming platforms keep inching closer to overtaking old-school TV broadcasters. This time, they aimed for those can’t-miss moments during live sports events – the ones that traditional broadcasters used to rule – like the World Cup in Qatar. Across the pond in the UK, Prime Video managed to nab the rights to the Premier League. Meanwhile, over in Europe, this special sportstream called DAZN got its hands on the Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League, Serie A, and La Liga, not to mention a bunch of boxing and MMA stuff. And believe it or not, Apple shook hands with Major League Soccer in the US on this super long ten-year deal to broadcast games.

And if the regular broadcasters weren’t feeling nervous already, along came 2023. Netflix, the folks famous for binge-worthy shows, decided they’re going to do a live show for the first time ever. And guess who’s headlining? Comedian Chris Rock! Now, this might not be about sports, but some people are saying it’s like a sneak peek into Netflix’s secret plan to dive into the big world of live sports – the kind that brings in loads of cash.

How will this affect leagues and sports owners?

With all these streaming services duking it out for viewers, you might think sports bigwigs are making a fortune. But hold your horses. Recent data from the US tells a different story – it seems people are getting less happy with streaming services, especially when it comes to how good the shows are and if they’re getting bang for their buck. And if you take a look at Netflix and its drop in subscribers lately, it might just be the start of something bigger.

For sports owners, handing their content over to streaming companies whose audience is a whole different ball game is a bit of a gamble. There’s a risk of spreading themselves too thin across many sport streaming platforms, which could mean fans either won’t want to pay for all those subscriptions or can’t. And what’s the result? They might end up alienating the fans they already have or not hooking in the younger crowd, who are super important for the long-term success of any sports team.

So, what’s plan B? A lot of sports folks and leagues are looking into going straight to the viewers themselves, skipping the middleman. They figure they can still make the most of streaming’s perks while controlling how their content gets split up.

Will team-owned streaming services rise?

Let’s talk about the NFL in the US – they’re doing this cool thing where they’re taking matters into their own hands and going straight to the fans. They launched their own streaming service called NFL+ earlier this year. It’s got two options: one for $4.99 and the fancier one for $9.99 a month. The cheaper one has ads, by the way. With these, you can catch all the games playing in your local area. Plus, the teams are putting out radio, podcasts, and stuff.

Why did the NFL decide to go all-in on this streaming stuff? Well, it’s got a lot to do with how they used to spread their content around. You see, on Sundays and Mondays, you’ve got games on NBC and ESPN. Then there are those Sunday afternoon games split between CBS and Fox. Oh, and the Super Bowl? That hops between CBS, Fox, and NBC each year.

To put all these games on, the NFL has deals with different companies like Paramount Global, NBCUniversal, Fox Corporation, and Disney/Hearst. These deals let these companies show games on their own streaming services, too – like Paramount+, Tubi, Peacock, and ESPN+. But that’s not all – the NFL also made special deals with Amazon Prime for Thursday Night Football and DirecTV for a package that lets you watch all those Sunday afternoon regional games.

It’s a bit of a puzzle, right? It’s hard to keep fans interested and build strong connections when your content is spread across so many places. And that’s why the NFL thought, “Hey, let’s just do it ourselves” and went the direct-to-consumer way.

Will D2C streaming result in new content formats?

One big plus of going for direct-to-consumer streaming is that it lets sports bigwigs dish out content that’s tailor-made and interactive. They can catch specific groups of fans while also tossing in merch, sponsor stuff, and even ticket sales, all on one handy platform.

And let me tell you, this is a huge deal, especially with the way different generations of sports fans are wired. See, back in the day, fans were all about the team, but these days, the Gen Z crew is all about following individual players. Imagine if soccer stars like Mohamed Salah or Erling Haaland decided to switch leagues – you’d probably see a bunch of young fans switching allegiances in a heartbeat! And if it’s not happening already, mark my words, it’s definitely on the horizon, especially with all the social media frenzy that links people right to these players.

Now, the smart sports folks are getting hip to this trend, cooking up fresh content meant to hook the younger crowd and draw in all sorts of fans. Look at Formula 1’s Drive to Survive show – it’s a perfect example. This show, similar to a reality TV show, zoomed in on the drivers’ personalities and gave a struggling sport like Formula 1 a new lease on life. Yeah, I know it was made with Netflix, not direct-to-consumer, but it’s a shining example of what can happen when sports peeps step out of the box and embrace new ways of delivering content.

Final Thoughts

The D2C strategy enables sports organizations to tap into the preferences of different fan groups and explore interactive formats. This is crucial in an evolving landscape where individual player followings are gaining prominence, driven by younger generations. Moreover, the success of innovative content like Formula 1’s “Drive to Survive” indicates the potential of embracing fresh ways to engage audiences in the D2C era.

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