The future of live sports is at something of an inflection point.
New entrants and legacy TV players are throwing their weight into the live streaming video space, betting on a future where sports fans watch games on connected TV sets and open their phones.
At the same time, the Supreme Court’s decision that paved the way for legal sports gambling opens new revenue opportunities and new programming opportunities that would never make sense in a strictly linear world. They are literally betting that a passionate subset of sports fans will be betting.
The biggest bet by far was made by Fox Sports. Earlier this month the company announced a deal with the Stars Group to create Fox Bet, a product that will allow users to bet on live sports in markets where it is legal, and will offer a free-to-play game nationwide.
The deal gives Fox Sports — which has rights to NFL and MLB games — a stake in the ground in the sports wagering space.
Disney’s ESPN, meanwhile, has taken an entirely different approach, even as it moves toward a world with legal sports betting.
We are heavily invested in the space already, but out focus is serving the sports fan with news and information,” ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro told Bloomberg last week. “We are not a book; we are not going to be taking people’s money.”
ESPN’s bet has been on programming, like “The Daily Wager” on ESPN News.
“I would expect that you will see more and more of that type of programing across not just ESPN News but across our other shows,” Pitaro said.
At the same time, streaming allows for technology offerings that just were not possible on linear TV. Take last week’s deal between the streaming video service FuboTV and the fantasy sports and gaming company FanDuel.
As part of the deal, FanDuel’s data will be integrated and overlaid on some FuboTV channels. I's a way to leverage the real-time data that gamers and fantasy players love, and marry it to traditional sports TV.
Every other company in the space -- from ESPN and Fox Sports to Turner Sports, DAZN, and NBC Sports -- is looking at similar approaches.
As sports leagues become more comfortable with gaming (MLB signed an interactive gaming deal with MGM last year), the push to bring those worlds together will become even more important.
And thanks to new technology and changing consumer habits, it may happen sooner than it seems.