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Why streaming regional sports networks may not be the future of leagues – The Streamable

Why streaming regional sports networks may not be the future of leagues – The Streamable

For many years, regional sports networks (RSNs) were isolated from much of the pressure that led to the cutting of wires and the decline of traditional pay-TV. After all, it was almost impossible to watch sports without cable. Recently, things have started to change, with sports fans getting options, streaming services offering more live games, and even companies like ESPN and Sinclair Broadcasting launching direct-to-consumer (DTC) services. However, not all fans will pay the price for such services.

A recent report from nScreenMedia looked at how things are changing in that regard and found that this year there are 70 million cable, satellite and broadband houses in the US, down from 71.6 million in 2021 and 101.2 million in 2014.

“When traditional pay-TV goes down and operators push back high RSN fees, channel owners are switching to direct-to-consumer apps,” the report said. “But with high subscription prices, only dedicated fans pay the price. And in the long run, sports leagues may decide to take a different path to distribute their matches.”

Earlier this year, TiVo released a report that found that 60% of sports fans sometimes want to watch a sporting event that is not available on any of the subscription sources they use. Of those who answered yes, 36% said they “just skip it”, while 29% go to a friend’s house to see, and 25% go to a restaurant or bar to see. Another 20% said they “subscribe to a streaming service temporarily and cancel afterwards.”

Another option emerged last month with the launch of Bally Sports +, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s new direct-to-consumer service. However, the service has some drawbacks. It is not available in all markets, and not even all markets that offer Bally Sports networks.

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The “soft-launched” service launched in the markets of just five Major League Baseball teams – the Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays – with more expected to arrive later this year. The service will also offer games to 16 NBA teams and 12 NHL teams when the service rolls out fully this fall.

On the downside, the service is quite expensive for consumers, with a price point of $ 19.99 per month or $ 189.99 a year, which is very high for a power service. As the nScreenMedia report noted, it’s obviously far more likely that Bally Sports + – and other direct-to-consumer services like it, including NESN’s recently launched service covering the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins games – will appeal more to hardcore fans than informal ones. .

Because of this, this shift towards streaming has a chance of harming the sport itself, as the random discovery of games is likely to go down. Considering that the record-high agreements on broadcasting rights are the main drivers of revenue for most leagues and teams, without a significant number of subscriptions, it remains to be seen whether these types of agreements are additive for leagues and teams, or whether they end up being a financial drain.

The exception to this type of concern is obviously the NFL, where all games are available in one form or another across the country, and not through agreements involving local teams. That league is expected to find a new streaming home for the NFL Sunday Ticket starting in 2023.

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“The future of the RSN model has never been more uncertain. The profitability of the D2C model is untested. And when existing sports licenses expire, RSN owners may find the leagues reluctant to renew, preferring instead to pursue a more centralized model, the report said, citing recent Major League Soccer moves, in particular, to move against a league-centric model, as opposed to individual teams controlling their streaming rights.

There are some indications that leagues are already thinking this way. In October last year, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed skepticism that the Sinclair DTC model could work, and instead suggested that the league could launch its own streaming product in the market to complement the revolutionary MLB.TV that is not on the market.

When Fox sold out of the former Fox Sports regional sports networks in 2019, after the Disney merger, MLB had placed a bid on the RSNs, according to reports at the time, but they eventually went to Sinclair, which made them Bally Sports network around the country.

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