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The State of Live Sports Streaming 2024

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Live content is led by sports, and fan appetite—much like bidding for rights—shows no sign of slowing down as the calendar turns to 2024. A survey of adult sports fans in the U.S. the UK, Germany, Spain, and China suggests that the reach of top sports leagues has never been more global, and the willingness of fans to spend hundreds yearly to stream games and events from these leagues remains high in some markets, according to Altman Solon’s 2023 Global Sports Survey.

ViewLift CEO Rick Allen tells Streaming Media that the markets for sports broadcasting in North America and Europe will begin to mirror each other through the integration of linear TV and streaming.

“Europe must prepare for the possibility of cord-cutting escalating in Europe, mirroring the trend already well underway in the U.S.,” he says. “Whether it’s the global fanbase inspired by Europe’s soccer dominance or the U.S.’s inventive solutions addressing shifts in the RSN model, these lessons have the potential to ignite innovation and the development of fresh revenue-generating business models. In 2024, we are likely to see more similarities as they draw lessons from each other.”

NBA: America’s Most Globally Relevant Property

The NBA is the next major sports property with media rights up for grabs and even though a deal is likely months away, the machinations surrounding it offers a picture of the state of live streaming.

The current deal with Disney’s ABC/ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT expires after the 2024–25 NBA season. While the league currently earns $2.7 billion per season from those national broadcast partners—collectively the second biggest domestic rights deal in U.S. sports—the vast majority of its broadcast revenue is generated overseas.

nba international

The NBA’s international appeal and lucrative overseas rights—currently up for grabs—generate most of its broadcast revenue.

Calling the NBA “America’s most globally relevant sports property,” Ampere Analysis calculates that the league performs far better internationally than the NFL and MLB, earning $715 million annually from its non-US media rights agreements, equal to 21 percent of its total media rights value.

The NBA will use that as well as a heated streaming market to raise valuation as high as $75 million, or $7–$8 billion per year.

Commissioner Adam Silver, who heads NBA negotiations, wants to avoid creating too much fragmentation for fans by adding too many broadcast media partners at the same time as signalling an intent to work with one or streamers. “You’re clearly seeing an evolution or a morphing of media moving continually to streaming services,” Silver said. “Obviously other entrants in the market would potentially be interested.”

In another interview Silver added, “There will be more changes in media technology over the next 5 years than there has been in the last 30 years.” Streaming platforms and video technology increasingly will enable fans to tailor their viewing via customization and personalization, according to Silver. “To the extent you want to follow a particular player, you want more data as you’re watching the game, you want to be chatting with your friends or part of a larger conversation with experts. All of those things are beginning to happen now in sports, but I feel like we’re just scratching the surface.”

Joining the two incumbents in the bid will be Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Google through YouTubeTV, and even Netflix.

Although the NBA would be highly unlikely to strike an exclusive deal with a streamer, the league’s domestic TV ratings are tanking. SportsMediaWatch highlighted that the 2022–23 NBA season saw its linear viewership audience nearly cut in half compared to its linear audience a decade prior.

Contrast that with the record of over 32 billion views across social media last season, and that 50% of its total social media audience were 25 years old or younger. The NBA’s ability to secure a young and diverse demographic via linear TV is another major reason why its streaming rights remain so valuable.

But it is the global value of the NBA which makes the $7 billion to $8 billion number possible. “The valuation could be light,” John Rowady, founder of sports marketing agency rEvolution told TheStreet. “Given the league’s international appeal and the digital opportunities it presents, this figure isn’t beyond the realms of possibility in today’s evolving media rights marketplace.”

DAZN Path to Profitability

According to its latest annual review published at the beginning of 2023, DAZN reached 15 million subscribers globally in 2022, generating total annual revenues of $2.3 billion but an operating loss of $1.36 billion. This represented a 70% year-over-year revenue growth for the sports-dedicated subscription OTT platform, which, in its seventh year of operations, has grown to become the fifth largest buyer of sports rights globally, leading the subscription OTT market by investment on sports rights.

DAZN growth 

Despite DAZN’s rapid growth as a top-tier sports subscription service, it has yet to be profitable. 

According to Jack Genovese at Ampere Analysis, DAZN has adopted a strategy of heavy investment in top-tier rights to accelerate subscription growth at an early stage. Indeed, Ampere estimates that, in its core markets of Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain and the USA, DAZN grew at a CAGR of 90% per year since launching in 2016. Despite the rapid growth in subscriptions, however, DAZN has yet to be profitable. In its annual review, DAZN indicated that it is aiming to achieve profitability in early 2024.

Currently, DAZN generates up to 80% of its income from subscriptions. In order to break even, Ampere thinks DAZN would need to grow subscriptions revenue by 34% in 2023 while also generating $730 million in advertising revenues.

Genovese says, “While this sounds ambitious, if we assume advertising accounted for half of this additional revenue, DAZN would be generating only around a third of the advertising revenue generated by rival Sky from a broadly similar-sized subscriber base.”

Netflix Inches Toward Live

Netflix began expanding its live capabilities in 2023 with mixed results. In March, the company live streamed a Chris Rock special without a hitch. However, in April, distribution difficulties struck a live streamed special for the reality show Love Is Blind, forcing Netflix to revert to a pre-taped finale which aired in October.

chris rock outrage netflix

Netflix’ forays into live streaming in 2023 were hit and miss following the success of its Chris Rock stand-up special in March.

“To everyone who stayed up late, woke up early, gave up their Sunday afternoon… we are incredibly sorry that the Love is Blind Live Reunion did not turn out as we had planned,” Netflix tweeted in a statement.

Netflix did not give a reason for cancelling the livestream, but show host Vanessa Lachey indicated it was a technical error in a live video on Instagram, captioned: “Apparently we broke the internet.” Website tracker Downdetector showed more than 10,000 people in the U.S. reported the website was not functioning during the stream.

To coincide with a new Las Vegas Grand Prix and the success of Netflix doc series Drive to Survive, November saw the inaugural Netflix Cup, which pitted leading golfers against F1 drivers in a live cross-sport event. The event aimed to strike a balance between sports and entertainment, but reception was mixed.

While the event aired commercial-free, Netflix was charging sponsors including Nespresso $2 million for billboards at Las Vegas’ Wynn Golf Club, meaning that even users on Netflix’s non-ad tiers would see them. Netflix says it is not interested in chasing the costly rights fees of major sports like basketball and NFL, but will continue to experiment with live one-off events; among them a live broadcast of a Jake Paul boxing match.

“We are investing heavily in increasing our live capabilities so that as the demand grows for that and we find different ways, the liveness can be part of the creative storytelling,” co-CEO Ted Sarandos said in a Q3 earnings call. “We want to be able to do that at a big scale.”

In February this year, Netflix will broadcast the first of a planned multi-year partnership with the Screen Actors Guild Awards on its YouTube channel.

Women’s Sports Become Hot Property

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup final in August attracted record viewing figures in pretty much every region, underlining a breakthrough year for women’s sports.

 women's world cup

The record-setting 2023 Women’s World Cup final highlighted a breakout year for women’s sports broadcasts.

Spain defeated England 1–0 in the final in Sydney, with a record 12 million viewers watching in the UK on BBC One (higher than the men’s Wimbledon final last July, which peaked at 11.3 million). In Spain, 5.6 million watched the final, and it peaked at 7.4 million viewers, with data published by Barlovento Comunicacion saying that 56.2% of the Spanish television audience was male.

The tournament contributed to an increase in women’s sports viewing figures in 2023, according to data from the Women’s Sport Trust (WST). International women’s sporting events were watched by viewers for nine hours, 58 minutes on average, the WST found. In the UK, these included Golf’s Solheim Cup, England women’s cricket team, and the Netball World Cup. 

“There is still more to be done in translating international success into [regular] viewing,” the WST said. Which is why, at the same time as broadcast rights for women’s sports reaches all-time highs, the reach of TV is considered a priority by rights owners.

The new deal for the National Women's Soccer League is a case in point. The NWSL secured US$60 million per season for 118 live matches from CBS Sports, ESPN, Amazon and Scripps Sports—40 times the $1.5M previously paid for women’s soccer. Non-televised matchups will be broadcast on a new DTC platform.

“Throughout the process, it became clear that the best way for us to maximize reach, revenue and relevance was to have multiple partners,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman told Sports Business Journal. “These partners emerged as the ones who were prepared to make the appropriate investments, not just from valuation and rights fee perspective, but also to provide marketing on their institutional platforms and their willingness to cross-promote to each other.”

This will be a template for a bidding war early 2024 for a fresh tranche of rights to arguably the World’s leading women’s soccer league, the WSL. The current deal for $30 million over three seasons was signed in 2021 and shared between Sky and the BBC. An increase in the number of WSL games televised from the current 56-per-year could lead to Sky and TNT Sports (formerly BT Sport) sharing live rights, as they do for the Premier League.

TNT Sports in the UK is doubling down on women’s sports coverage. It has licensed the rights from DAZN to co-broadcast UEFA Women’s Champions League games, including the final, announced a new deal to broadcast 20 games from Women’s Premiership Rugby each season on TNT Sports and Discovery+ and continues to cover all of cycling’s women’s World Tour (via Eurosport) and the Tour de France Femmes.

In March, DAZN launched a FAST channel dedicated to women’s sports, featuring the Women’s Champions League, Frauen Bundesliga, and Liga F. In Germany, it is known as DAZN Rise, and in Spain DAZN Victoria. It also began streaming all Uefa Women’s Champions League group stage games for free in the UK and other territories on the company’s YouTube channel.

dazn rise

DAZN Rise is DAZN’s dedicated women’s sports FAST channel.

“DAZN made a commitment to women’s sport a couple of years back with the Women’s Champions League,” DAZN VP of production and editorial operations Louise Lawler told Broadcast Now in March. “This deal was slightly different as it wasn’t necessarily about seeing commercial opportunities for an initial return. It wasn’t going to drive subscriptions to justify the rights fee, but what it could do was grow the sport, so then you could get commercial opportunities and subscriptions follow.”

Apple Grows Sports, Looks to ESPN

Apple’s ten-year $2.5 billion deal to stream MLS games on Apple TV kicked off in February 2023, and had an immediate subscription boost when Inter Miami signed soccer superstar Lionel Messi.

apple tv mls streaming 

Apple TV’s decade of MLS streaming kicked off in February 2023.

In an earnings call in August, Apple boss Tim Cook credited Messi’s arrival for “beating our expectations in terms of subscribers.” The Argentine reportedly gets a cut of that new subscription revenue as part of the deal bringing him to the MLS.

Analysts reckon that Apple TV+ has about 50 million subscribers and is looking to sports to drive growth. Even though the tech giant’s proposed deal for exclusive Pac-12 football rights fell through, Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives believes the company will not be denied. “The massive appetite for live sports content remains the laser focus for Cupertino now to boost its streaming future and further tap into its massive installed base of 2 billion iOS devices worldwide,” Ives reported in Deadline. “We believe the shoe that fits for Apple is the golden ESPN assets which potentially may be on the table in one form or another as [Disney CEO Bob] Iger and the Board strategically look at Disney’s core assets over the coming months.”

A full acquisition would likely cost more than $50 billion and has been downplayed by Disney, which is preparing to let loose a DTC version of ESPN in the next couple of years.

A key decision looms for ESPN with the NBA, with those rights due to expire in 2025. Speculation has centered on Apple, Google and Amazon as potential partners. Their cash reserves could help Disney and ESPN manage to pay still escalating rights fees at a time of austerity for the company and the overall media sector.

Data, Personalization, and Changing Fandom

With broadcasters across the globe reluctant to invest further in the satellite or internet bandwidth infrastructure needed to lift picture quality to 4K UHD (and with limited prospect of audiences paying more for the resolution upgrade), attention has turned to using innovations in data and in personalisation and distribution over IP to give sportscasts an edge.

This will be showcased this summer in Paris, which hosts the 2024 Olympics. Alibaba Cloud is the IOC’s official cloud services partner and will provide cloud-based broadcasting, data analytics, and tracking of athletes’ performance on the field.

Expect this to include biometric data such as the heart rates of competitors in archery. Audiences will be able to chart the adrenaline rush experienced by archers as they shoot their arrow in an on-screen graphic. Also in Paris, expect greater use of 5G wireless technology to open up more of the same real-time performance data from other sports.

At the Wimbledon tennis Slam last year, AI was trained on raw ball and player tracking data to generate a range of new data points throughout a rally, as well as to automate highlight edits and, in an experiment, to provide voice commentary.

During WBD’s coverage of cycling’s Tour de France, a 3D graphic helped show viewers the gradients faced by the peloton. “Audience expect to be on the field of play,” said Scott Young, SVP content and production at Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe. “They don’t want to be in the grandstand anymore, from a television viewing perspective.”

At the ICC World Cup in India, all matches were produced in vertical video for viewing on mobile phones. Key graphical features like ball tracking, player tracking and field position were also tailored to fit the vertical format.

icc vertical video stream

The International Cricket Championship (ICC)’s first-ever vertical video stream for mobile viewers

An AI-powered bodycam worn by English Premier League players during the pre-game warmup has also been trialled in the UK by WBD’s TNT Sports and may become a fixture at later EPL matches.

All of this points to a more personalized means of viewing live sport, fragmenting the traditional broadcast experience, and even of the traditional loyalty to teams.

“It is important to recognize that the way fans consume sports is much different from a generation ago, or even at the end of the past decade,” noted Matt Del Percio, Director at research analyst Altman Solon. “While historically, fandom was defined by the local team or teams you follow—and often the team your parents followed—modern sports fans are making more decisions based on athletes’ on-field performance and off-the-field personalities or social media presence.”

EPL Rights Primacy

In the UK, the year ended with the swift conclusion to the latest tender for rights to the English Premier League. The winners are undoubtedly Sky Sports, which gained the bulk of the 270 live matches per season on offer, and the EPL, which celebrates a new record £6.7 billion (U$8.48 billion) domestic deal.

The EPL auctioned 25% more matches than ever, including more mid-week match days where games are shown simultaneously. This expansion of content, and extension of the terms from three to four years running 2025 to 2029, enabled the League to achieve what it calls “the largest sports media rights deal ever concluded in the UK.”

Sky picked up rights to 215 games and TNT Sports the remaining 52 meaning that neither Amazon (current holder of a limited package of games) nor DAZN has secured any matches in the new agreement.

“The deal will be seen as reinforcing the Premier League’s status as the world’s most successful domestic football competition,” said The Guardian’s Paul MacInnes. “Despite securing growth in its annual revenue from domestic rights of just 4%, below the current levels of inflation, the deal is more than double the value of the agreement struck recently by Italy’s Serie A.”

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