The combination of technology, disintermediation, loosened regulation, changing consumer behavior and views on betting are dramatically changing the landscape and power dynamics in sports
"To the sports world today, basking in a two-decade long flood of cash, this might sound daft. But, over the next decade or so, as streaming undercuts the distribution model for traditional sports broadcasting, leagues will probably find teaming up with the likes of Netflix more appealing. It may take time and financial pain to drive this point home. But if club owners and leagues worry about the decline of their great benefactor — pay-TV — and want to reach the biggest possible paying audiences, they should start exploring how to co-own rights with a global streaming service."
As a biographer of the storytelling entrepreneurs who built the media industry, I am always blown away by some of the legendary entrepreneurial moves by folks like Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch (in the latter’s case, notwithstanding his otherwise treacherous impact to mankind and history) who secured rights to sports matches and saw their fate and fortune take off.
In any case, the brave new boundaryless world of streaming has changed this world, too:
"The golden era for leagues and rights-holders, in other words, was bankrolled by pay-TV using sport as a loss leader. As rights costs soared, so did prices for consumers. That is a factor behind the retreat of cable TV in America, which is losing viewers because of cord cutting, and then punishing those who stay by charging them even more. François Godard of Enders Analysis points out that the audience of 18 to 49-year-olds for sports channel ESPN fell 35 per cent over the past decade, while per-subscriber fees increased 130 per cent. Now, pure-sports services such as DAZN demonstrate how hard it is to build a paying audience big enough to cover the cost of prestige rights."
Leagues have also explored direct-to-consumer options. But those that dared — WWE wrestling, Formula One racing and NFL American football — have struggled to manage parallel rights sales, deploy robust technology and build up enough content. Live sports have a short shelf life and do not fill streaming libraries in the way a movie or drama series does.
Over the past 15 years, we tried to partner with leagues, having talks with most of them about building a parallel “shoulder content” which is already part of our back catalog, to help them transform from “mere” sports leagues to fully diversified media & entertainment companies, but to no avail.
To answer the question in the title, in essence: leagues sports rights are “maximized” on leagues’ profit & loss statements in the near-term by selling to ESPN or DAZN, but could “optimized” to create more value on the balance sheet in the long run if managed differently.
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