Will streaming platforms unlock the potential of live sports?

Think that sports streaming and pay TV don’t go together? As ESPN sports analyst and recent National Sports Media Hall of Fame inductee Lee Corso might say, “Not so fast, my friend!” According to Interpret’s VideoWatch data, pay-TV subscribers are much more likely to watch sports via streaming than pay-TV non-subscribers. In fact, 61% of those who streamed a sporting event in the past three months subscribe to a live television service compared to just 41% of those who have not streamed a sporting event.

Over time, live sports has remained one of the leading drivers for consumers subscribing to live TV (cable and satellite) services. Yet, streaming services have increasingly made plays into this costly, but potentially lucrative, live sports space. Sports leagues are interested in playing as well, pursuing distribution deals with streaming services to help them reach younger audiences.

Peacock (Premier League), Paramount+ (Serie A and UEFA) and ESPN+ (LaLiga and Bundesliga) have acquired rights to games from major international soccer federations. Apple TV+ will soon offer live MLS matches as part of its partnership agreement with Major League Soccer. The moves have made a difference with sports fans. VideoWatch data shows that sports viewers are more likely to subscribe to ESPN+, Apple TV+, Paramount+, and Peacock compared to non-sports viewers.

Amazon Prime Video is also diving deeper into live sports, with plans for a dedicated sports app. The app is intended to improve discoverability of its sports content and would serve as a single access point for all its sports content – including live and recorded sporting events, original sports talk shows, and sports documentaries.

Google, too, has gotten in on the live sports action. After a bidding war that included the likes of Apple, Amazon, and Disney’s ESPN+, the NFL recently awarded the residential rights for its NFL Sunday Ticket package to Google’s YouTube. Sunday Ticket will be available as an add-on option for YouTube TV and as a stand-alone option through YouTube Primetime Channels. It’s a big win for YouTube, but it’s worth noting that with the NFL casting a wider net, fans can now find non-Sunday games streaming on ESPN+, Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+, and Peacock.

One streaming service notably absent from pursuing live sports is Netflix. Although it has seen some success with sports documentaries, such as its Formula 1: Drive to Survive (which is credited with increasing the popularity of Formula 1 racing in the United States) and its Untold series of sports documentary films, Netflix has indicated no plans to pursue live sports programming. Even so, rumors persist of Netflix picking up live distribution of smaller niche sports leagues, such as the World Surf League, and building up the interest and audience for these fledgling sports leagues into major entertainment properties.

As streamers dive into live sports, there’s clearly been an impact on pay TV providers who have relied on sports content for decades to prevent churn. It’s not all doom and gloom for pay TV, however. Check out Interpret’s upcoming report, Future Opportunities for Pay TV, for more information.