Sports Streaming: More $$ for Them, Higher Costs and More Frustration for Us

As discussed in Fair Pay–Fair Play: Getting the Pro-Team Sports We Want at Prices We Can Afford, free-market competition forces businesses to put us first.Laura Dressman, spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble’s Family Care division, explained why the company makes so many roll sizes of Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper— Big, Large, Double, Family, Giant, Jumbo, and Mega: “Our product offerings are driven by ‘consumer is boss.’ Some consumers want a larger size roll for a bigger family or prefer not to have to change the roll as often. Others prefer smaller packs due to limited storage space.”

The respect we get as consumer/customer-boss isn’t limited to shopping for toilet paper. Entertainment companies know we are the boss so they produce and distribute TV programming to get our choice. Their shows will have star, or hope-to-be star, actors and actresses telling a well-scripted, relatable story. Their goal is to get us to tune in to the same channel each week (or subscribe to their streaming service) so we won’t miss an episode.

Pro-team sports TV programming has some of the same elements. The teams and players are the stars of every game broadcast and the announcers are the supporting cast. Because the vast majority of pro baseball, basketball and hockey games are aired on a regional sports network (RSN) the announcing crews provide play-by-play calls and color commentary that make each game description comfortably familiar. In a baseball game, it’s the banter between the members of the announcing crew and the play-by-play home run and strike out calls.

Of course, there is one key difference between these forms of entertainment. As a viewer, we can choose between any number of scripted comedies or dramas distributed on a TV network or a streaming service. As a fan of My Team, we have no choice. (See also____ for a more in-depth comparison of movie entertainment where we have a choice and pro-team sports, where we do not.)

Leagues and teams understand the one-of-a kind nature of pro-team sports. As NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in 2016 “Live premium sports content is clearly king these days.”

This is why all four leagues can demand, and get, huge rights fee deals from major networks for national broadcast rights and baseball, basketball and hockey teams demand and get huge rights fee deals from RSNs for the remainder (which is the bulk) of their schedule. We pay in the form of sports-fee-laden cable TV bills.

 These same dynamics are now playing out with streaming TV services. A January 31, 2022 Wall Street Journal story described the streaming marketplace:

“The proliferation of streaming services has given users an array of options. HBO Max, Disney+, Peacock, Apple TV+ and Discovery Inc.’s Discovery+ have entered the field since 2019, while ViacomCBS Inc. has rebranded and expanded its CBS All Access service, now known as Paramount+. All are fighting for market share with more established players including Netflix Inc., Amazon  Inc.’s Prime Video and Disney-controlled Hulu.”

That report also noted how streaming companies can gain (and then lose) customers because they operate on a monthly subscription basis. The answer for streaming companies is—yup, you guessed it—live sports as noted in a March 11, 2022 Wall Street Journal story:

“Streaming services are finding live sports to be a major draw in their push to sign up viewers and subscribers—just as they have long been in the traditional TV world. Streamers like Apple and Peacock ‘need more ammunition, said Daniel Cohen, senior vice president of global media-rights consulting at Octagon. ‘And nothing is better when it comes to being an audience aggregator than live sports.’”

A week later, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the same thing: “I believe that live sports content has a unique ability to attract people to platforms.”

Knowing their unique (monopoly power) position, MLB signed rights-fee with Apple+ and Peacock beginning with the 2022 season. The Apple+ deal was $85 million per year over 5 years for the exclusive rights to broadcast 2 games every Friday night (about 50 games per season) and the Peacock deal was $30 million per year over 2 years for the exclusive rights to broadcast 18 Sunday games per season.

So, what does this mean for us fans? First, following our My Team will cost more. We’ll continue to pay a cable or streaming service bill bloated by ESPN, Fox Sports, RSN, etc., carriage and surcharge fees so and we will need to pony up $4.99, or more, to see our My Team games on various streaming services.

Second, we’ll hear game calls from people we don’t know. This is how Brandon Contes reacted to the news in his March 30, 2002 story on awfulannouncing.com: “As a Mets fan, I’ll be locked in to Scherzer’s first start on Apple TV, but more than being annoyed because I have to watch on a streaming service, I’m bothered that it’s game two of the season and I’m already forced to watch without Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling.”

And third, life will get much more confusing.

Contes story also reported on a rant by Sirius XM Sports Radio personality Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo: “Their (referring to WFAN) whole show today is listening to the angry old man call up the radio station ‘get off my lawn’ all ticked off that he can’t see Scherzer’s first start because god help him, he doesn’t know how to figure out Apple TV. And he isn’t the only one.”

Fast forward to the 2023 season. In May 2023, the New York Yankees were in the middle of a five-game stretch where their games were on four separate outlets — Sunday Peacock, Tuesday and Thursday YES Network, Wednesday Amazon’s Prime Video and Friday Apple TV+.

This led WFAN sports-talk radio host and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason to point out the chaos foisted upon the team’s fans:

“You’ve got to find them on Peacock. You’ve got to find them on Apple TV+. You’ve got to find them on Prime. And then you’ve got to find them on YES. When are they, where are they, and how do we find them? It’s ridiculous. This is as bad as the NFL. You talk about a money grab.”

And the money grab isn’t limit to pro-team sports. Major college sports are doing the same thing and for the same reason. Beginning with the 2023 season, the Big Ten Conference entered into a seven-year, $2.6 billion rights fee deal with NBC that included the exclusive right to stream eight games each season exclusively on their Peacock streaming service.   Reacting to the news one commenters, Charlie P. spoke to the new find-the-game chaos.

“So what you’re telling me is that I’m going to spend the first quarter of every bottom-tier B1G West game on the phone with my dad walking him through the process of getting it on his TV?”

Another, Luke H. spoke to the major-college-team-sports money grab.

“I can understand if you are a “cord cutter” and refuse to pay for cable TV services due to the high cost. However, for those of us that choose to pay that expensive cable TV bill each month, this is disappointing. We watch a lot of sports in our household and now we are expected to pay even more for all of these new “streaming services”? We already pay a lot of money for sports on cable TV for FS1, ESPN, BTN, Balley Sports, and so on. No thanks. While it’s important to reach that younger generation of fans who may be more willing to “stream” services, you also cannot forget about your traditional TV audiences and the cable/broadcast TV platform. It’s a shame that fans will need to pay for additional streaming services to watch some of their favorite college teams, mostly of which are PUBLIC universities.”

Our pro-sports teams are “civic assets” (their words) and most of these major college teams play for public universities. Sadly, they continue to operate as monopoly enterprises. Is that what you want?

K J F

Sources:

Fair Pay–Fair Play: Getting the Pro-Team Sports We Want at Prices We Can Afford, pages 3-8, 40, 4447, 51, and 81.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/streaming-data-netflix-hbo-disney-hulu-11643560207
https://www.wsj.com/articles/nbcs-peacock-is-finalizing-deal-to-stream-mlb-games-in-new-sunday-time-slot-11647034302
https://www.wsj.com/articles/mlb-mets-yankees-streaming-services-11649387892
https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2022/03/09/mlb-deals-with-apple-and-peacock-worth-115-million-annually-combined/?sh=7041eb10185c
https://nypost.com/2023/05/22/boomer-esiason-slams-yankees-many-tv-

deals-as-money-grab/

https://theathletic.com/3531973/2022/08/24/big-ten-football-peacock-nbc/

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