As far as viewing experiences go, there's never been a better time to be a sports fan. Look at all the options.
Tune in with a massive, HD television. Follow along with like-minded fans on social media. Even if you decide to actually go to a game, modern stadiums and arenas are veering ever-closer to being mistakable for luxury resorts: have a craft beer, use the WiFi, eat a locally sourced, artisanal hot dog.
Fans got even more options Monday with the announcement of a pair of deals. First, the NFL announced one with PlayStation Vue, an internet-based live TV service, which starting next regular season will allow the service to stream the NFL Network and, importantly, the popular NFL RedZone channel. Then, Twitter and MLB Advanced Media announced a deal to live stream weekly MLB and NHL games.
Both deals give fans more ways to watch their favorite leagues. RedZone is uber-popular with NFL fans, allowing the viewer to watch the most exciting parts of every game at once. The Twitter streams, meanwhile, will show weekly out-of-market games — meaning not your local team — for both signed-up users and non-users of the micro-blogging platform. Also announced in the deal, an over-the-top — meaning directly to the internet — sports highlights show produced by 120 Sports for Twitter called "The Rally."
It's just the latest push into sports for Twitter, which has a content deal in one form or another with all four major U.S. professional leagues. Perhaps most notably, the social media platform locked up the rights to simulcast live streams of ten Thursday Night Football NFL games in April.
Variety called Twitter's sports offerings more of a "sampler platter than a full-course meal," and the description is pretty apt for sports-streaming options in general. You can get a taste online, but if you want the access to the buffet, you've got to pay up for traditional TV.
The leagues still have a ton of money tied up in television. The massive figures have changed the way sports leagues function — in a time when live viewing experiences are more valuable than ever, sports content is supremely costly and it's changing the way leagues look.
The NBA's new $24 billion TV deal, for instance, ballooned revenue and a caused 34 percent increase in the salary cap, forcing a seismic shift upward in player contracts. That kind of money is addictive, and while streaming options are surely bound to expand, it's unlikely they'll change in any way that has the potential to significantly cut into the value of gargantuan television deals.
Most streaming deals complement traditional TV coverage, with perhaps the exception of a Yahoo stream of one NFL game that was available only online. Consider the deals announced Monday.
MLB is getting more eyeballs on games, while also not cutting into local ratings. The NFL is allowing more people to watch their league-owned channels and likely pocketed some extra cash. The NFL is so popular and such a ratings giant that it remains the easiest to watch without a cable subscription — an antennae will get you most Sunday games broadcast on the major networks. Still, the league is smartly expanding a la carte options for diehard fans who want more (and building toward its stated, and incredible, goal of $25 billion in revenue by 2027).
Across the major sports leagues, the progression toward streaming has been more a slow dip into the water rather than a cannonball. It's an experiment until the day comes that streaming has a measure of exclusivity. For now, the approach seems to be to keep the online-native fans happy, collect some extra money and prepare for the future.
It's a win for the leagues, it's a win for Twitter and PlayStation — they can now offer you real, exciting sports options — and it's a win for fans, who have an embarrassment of riches with nearly every device and every platform offering sports content.