Will you keep paying for live sports?

There's a lot of money on the table as a generation tunes out..

BY Joseph Conroy 11:48 Wednesday 8 February 2017, 11:48 8 Feb 2017

Silvia Izquierdo AP/Press Association Images

Disney released its latest set of quarterly results overnight and one of the main takeaways was that its TV sports network, ESPN is weighing down its balance sheet.

The network has a number of long-running problems - it's losing subscribers and shrinking audiences mean it can demand less money from advertisers.

While the performance of the rest of Disney's sprawling TV interests have been solid, the sports network is an outlier.

The long game

As TV went online, sports were initially said to be immune to much of this fragmentation due to the extra value offered by seeing these high profile events 'live' - but that rub is fading.

Online options such as Netflix and YouTube - and traditional media companies apps like All 4 and RTE's player offering a simple substitution to TV packages.

INPHO/Billy Stickland

At a time when we're watching less TV adding on costly sports packages seems like an increasingly big ask.

These trends tend to bubble in the US before coming in Europe, but given the Premier League's well-chronicled fall-off in 2016/17 viewing figures you'd have to imaging that broadcasters are getting nervous in the early stages of their mega-money rights deals.

The number's watching live Premier League games are down by almost 20% according to some counts - while BT's Champions League offering is also struggling.

Sports fans in Ireland face particular challenges as live events are spread across Sky, BT, and Eir - leaving fans with headaches on many match days (like Ireland's victory over the All Blacks in Chicago, which was exclusively on Eir Sports - leaving many fans in the dark).

Netflix has become the front runner in subscription TV/film streaming but it says it has no interest in touching live sports - citing the leverage that leagues and federations have it simply thinks it's not worth the cost. 

After TV

More and more fans are willing to take their chances with (dangerous) illegal streaming services - or to wait for a drip-feed of curated highlights dropped in their newsfeeds so they can stay on top of everything that's happening - allowing them to skip live broadcasts without missing the must-see goal, KO, high tackle, or red card that everyone will be talking about come Monday morning.

ESPN is down almost 10 million customers since 2013 - the NFL is getting 14% less viewers between 18 and 49 this year. Its plan to turn things around its a beefed-up streaming service and 'skinnier' sports packages (bundling them with less other services - making them cheaper).

Deals deals deals


Clubs like Manchester United have already shifted their focus towards an increased reliance on 'commercial' income (through partnerships with brands) - these activities will account for more than combined box-office and TV income for the first time ever this year.

Manchester's 2017 partners

But not every team is Manchester United - and you need massive pulling power to pull-off this alternative model.

The bubble might not pop but it is deflating and will cause problems for both broadcasters and clubs who have gotten used to these cash injections.


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