Getting Sports Streaming Right

  • by , Columnist, April 9, 2024

The sand is clearly slipping through the hourglass for traditional broadcast and cable when it comes to sports. Despite the audible groans from traditional fans as greater amounts of content and live coverage make their way behind pay walls onto strictly over-the-top services, there’s an inevitability that all of us are living through right now.

With February’s announced joint venture between ESPN, Fox and Warner Brothers Discovery to build a new consolidated sports streaming service, it isn’t farfetched to envision a time in the very near future when this past season’s pay-per-view NFL playoff game becomes the rule rather than the exception.  And then could come the accelerated extinction of traditional cable TV sports bundles.

It's no surprise that such sea change will bring about some consternation from American sports fans -- who, our research continues to show, are feeling a financial squeeze.  To the extent that streaming offerings will provide greater flexibility and choice, the consumer may benefit from being more in control of what content they ultimately pay for, but research is also providing some additional direction on optimizing the rollout.



New Harris poll data showed that more than half of Gen Z and millennials believe that they are overspending on streaming services each month, a phenomenon that if it continues, may force difficult choices that could dilute the reach of live sports offered exclusively over-the-top.

But beyond the financial side of these decisions, our research dove into another important consumer trend that may also impact short-term adoption rates. Specifically, we found a majority of sports fans agreed that “finding and watching television programs that I want is complicated.”  I chuckled as I recalled my initial foray into trying to find the sports that I wanted, while renting a vacation home without cable a few years back, growing increasingly frustrated that I needed to navigate across multiple streaming platforms rather than channel-surf for my sports.

As I fight the reality of getting older, I felt somewhat vindicated to see in the data that a significantly higher 63% of those under age 25 shared my frustration with the complexity of finding what they wanted.  Those in the marketing sweet spot of age 35-44 also out-indexed the sports fan population as a whole in expressing this sentiment.

Exploring this phenomenon further, we asked fans whether having fewer digital streaming services would make it easier for them to watch desired programming.  A majority agreed here, with those aged 25-44 out-indexing the sample as a whole.  So, price/value, ease of accessibility and flexibility all look like critical success factors as the market diffuses.

I’d also maintain that the opportunity is significant, as social media and digital platforms mature.  Sports marketing has fully embraced these channels to build greater connectivity, bringing with it significant fragmentation and challenges in engaging audiences at scale.  It’s worth noting that in that same study, only 45% of fans agreed that “All things considered, social media is a net positive.” That’s down from 54% who felt the same way in December.

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