More Sports Are Joining The Streaming Wars

Recently concluded multi-year negotiations with sports leagues and media companies indicate a growing trend, expect more premiere sporting events on streaming video services as viewers continue to migrate to digital platforms.

In the five months of 2021 there were agreements negotiated by the NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball, WNBA, WWE along with several premier international soccer leagues with media companies. These negotiations, valued at billions of dollars, also include a streaming video component. As a result, in the years ahead, sports fans can expect more premiere sporting events being streamed. The rights for sporting events will further intensify the streaming wars. Here is an overview on the agreements.

NFL: Over the past five years, 77 of 100 most watched television programs have been live NFL games. Consequently, in March, the NFL completed a blockbuster eleven-year $100+ billion agreement with their television partners (CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN/ABC) that expires after the 2033 season. Under the new agreement, NFL games can be streamed on network owned streaming services; Paramount+

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, Peacock, Tubi and ESPN+. In addition, the NFL’s media partners will be able to provide viewers with more interactivity in their coverage including social feeds, statistics and other data. 

More importantly, Thursday Night Football which has been on Fox since 2018, will be streamed on Amazon

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Prime Video. Amazon’s deal, valued at about $1 billion per season, will begin with the 2022 season and also conclude in 2033. Amazon will stream 15 NFL games each season. In previous seasons, Amazon has streamed select NFL games. For example, in December 2020 Amazon streamed a game between (San Francisco and Arizona). This marks the first time a streaming video service will have exclusivity for a package of nationally distributed games.

While the Super Bowl continues to be, by a wide margin, the most watched TV telecast of the year. In recent years the TV ratings have been dropping. Conversely, for Super Bowl LV, last February, there were a record 5.7 million streaming viewers, an increase from 3.4 million from Super Bowl LIV and more than double the 2.6 million from two years prior.

NHL: In April, it was announced that after 16 seasons the NHL is leaving NBC Sports for Disney

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and TimeWarner. The new seven-year deal will start in 2021-22 and cost Disney $400 million per annum and TimeWarner $225 million every year. ESPN/ABC will televise 25 regular season games, with and another 75 games streamed exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu. Also, under the agreement, ESPN+ will stream over 1,000 out-of-market regular season games each year that had been previously available on NHL.TV. TimeWarner will simulcast 72 regular season NHL games on Turner Broadcasting and (for now) HBO Max. These games include the popular annual outdoor Winter Classic.

MLB: In May, Disney reached a seven-year agreement to televise Major League Baseball through the 2028 season. Under the new agreement, ESPN+ will continue to stream one regular season game virtually every day of the regular season (subject to local blackouts). In addition, all games being televised on ABC or ESPN will also be available on ESPN+. The new deal is valued at $560 million each season.

WNBA: For the 2021 regular season, the WNBA will be live streaming 12 games on Twitter and 20 games on Facebook. In addition, all ESPN telecasts during the regular seasons will be streamed on the ESPN App. In May 2021, the WNBA also reached a multiyear agreement with Amazon Prime Video providing global streaming rights to 16 regular season games.

The first nine games on Prime Video will be part of the initial Commissioner’s Cup, an in-season competition that assigns ten regular-season games for each team (60 in total) as “Cup Play” games. The teams with the best record in each conference will qualify for the Commissioner Cup Championship. The championship game will be exclusive to Amazon.

WWE: For years matches from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) ranked among the highest regularly scheduled programs on cable television. In February 2014 the WWE Network launched their own subscription based streaming service ($9.99 month). The WWE Network had an estimated 1.6 million global subscribers (1.2 million in the U.S.).

In January, the WWE announced they were shutting down their streaming service effective April 5 and moved their exclusive 47,000 hours of library and live content to Peacock. The exclusive five-year agreement was in excess of $1 billion. To watch the WWE on Peacock requires a subscription to their Premium ad-supported tier at $4.99 each month (which is $5 cheaper than the WWE Network). The WWE is also available on Peacock’s ad-free Premium Plus tier at $9.99.

Soccer: In March, Paramount+ reached an agreement to stream matches in the U.S. from Italy’s premier soccer league Serie A. In a three-year agreement, ViacomCBS will pay a reported $224 million for the rights beginning with the 2021-22 season. Paramount+ will stream all 380 regular season games and a minimum of 25 Coppa Italia matches as well as the Supercoppa Italiana between the top teams in Serie A and Coppa Italia. Previously, Serie A matches were available on ESPN. Among the top players and clubs in Serie A is Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus.

With a goal to become a soccer hub, Paramount+ has also acquired the UEFA Championship League, the Europa League and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Paramount+ will also be the streaming home for the English language rights of Argentina’s Liga Profesional de Fútbol (300 matches) their Primera Division; Brazil’s Brasileirāo Serie A league (360 matches) and Concacaf Nations League featuring teams from North and Central America (200 matches).  More recently, Paramount+ reached an agreement to stream Australia’s A-League and W-League soccer matches.

In May, Disney announced they had acquired the English and Spanish language rights to La Liga, the top soccer league in Spain. The eight-year deal cost $1.4 billion and starts with the 2021-22 season. The deal is reportedly the most expensive U.S. media rights deal for an overseas soccer league. A majority of the matches are expected to be streamed on ESPN+ with select games on ESPN and ABC. Among the top players are Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona. Real Madrid has won more La Liga titles than any other club.

Sports has been one genre often cited as the reason cable subscribers have not “cut the cord”. As more and more premiere sports become available on streaming platforms that will change. In January, Comcast

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announced the shutting down of NBC SportNet by the end of 2020. Comcast announced sporting events such as NASCAR, and English Premier League

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soccer will move to higher rated USA Network and Peacock.  

As Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner and chairman of the NFL’s media committee said, “streaming is truly the future,”

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