Study: Sports streaming subscribers rise as traditional sports network subscriptions decline

As the digital shift in professional sports continues, the number of subscribers to sports streaming platforms is increasing, while subscribers to traditional networks are declining, according to a research post by Guillaume Perrin, senior analyst at Dataxis. Perrin’s research shows ESPN subscribers fell to around 76 million in 2021, down 10% from 2020’s 84 million. However, research shows ESPN+ has seen significant growth over this period, as it entered 2020 well below 20 million subscribers and surpassed 21 million by 2021.

ESPN+ subscriber growth could also contribute to The Disney Bundle and the decision to include the platform in Hulu + Live TV subscriptions at the end of last year. It could also create problems with network revenue, with Perrin’s article stating the following:

Sports networks are still resisting revenue pressure from streaming services: Affiliate fees for ESPN and ESPN2 are still around $10, while ESPN+’s ARPU is less than $6. $.

Below is Perrin’s graph comparing ESPN, FS1 subscribers to ESPN+ streaming services and fuboTV.

What the digital shift in sports could mean for fans and the future of streaming

As more and more platforms enter the sports arena, they will continue to bid against traditional media companies for sports broadcasting rights, which means that these fees could be passed on to the consumers, Perrin stating, “The entry of these new players into the sports broadcasting market could further reinforce the trend of inflating sports rights costs.

MLB and Apple have reached an agreement that will bring Friday Night Baseball to AppleTV+ once the 2022 season has started. Apple TV+ reportedly paid $85 million a year, for 7 years, to bring Friday night doubleheaders to the platform. So far, the MLB deal is the biggest live sports deal for Apple, which would like to spend billions on live sports over the next four years. However, for MLB, Apple was the first of its streaming deals, with the league in talks with NBC Sports to broadcast games live on peacock. The league and Peacock are finalizing a deal, which would be worth $60 million over 2 years, and will bring 18 Sunday morning games to the streamer.

MLB’s move will help Peacock bolster its live offerings after NBC agreed to a 6-year rights extension with the Premier League. Along with the EPL, Peacock is the exclusive home of the WWE Network in the United States, and the streamer is also coming off the most streamed Winter Olympics in history.

Major League Soccer is seeking a rights deal worth $300 million a year, with streaming a big part of the league’s vision for the future. Amazon and Apple have reportedly shown interest, but without US Soccer, which has an 8-year deal with Turner Sports, MLS may not reach its $300 million goal, but the league still has a number of suitors who could strike a deal.

As part of the American football agreement, Turner Sports will have the rights to broadcast matches on the TNT and TBS linear channels, and HBO Max will broadcast more than 20 U.S. men’s and women’s national team games per year. NHL games are expected to air on the platform in the coming years, and the NBA could arrive on the streaming platform by 2025.

With streaming services eyeing NFL Sunday Ticket, another bidding war could emerge that could raise subscription fees to cover costs. Streamers could also add another tier for sports fans to keep subscriptions low for everyone else. DAZN recently announced that it will be hosting some pay-per-view fights in addition to a monthly subscription, similar to the big UFC fights on ESPN.

As more and more people decide to cut the cord, traditional ways of watching sports are on the decline. One thing is certain, digital media has turned the acquisition of sports rights into a competition that traditional media does not want to lose.

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