The Future of Sports Viewing: Free Agent Fans

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Shohei Ohtani proved that free agency for elite baseball players can be highly lucrative, signing a 10-year, $700 million contract in early December. But in recent years, the aggressive push by streaming services to secure global sports rights deals has created a new type of free agent: sports fans.

The fragmented sports media landscape has made accessing content difficult for sports fans. Altman Solon’s 2023 Global Sports Survey reveals that 60% of sports fans have difficulty accessing or affording the live sports content they want to watch. However, the fragmentation also means fans can pick and choose what sports they want to pay for, following their favorite teams and leagues if they change broadcasters. Nearly 70% of fans are willing to switch television providers to retain access to one or more of their essential sports. And streaming services are working hard to keep up with these new “free agents.”

Investments in top sports leagues have consistently proven to be a powerful tool to attract and retain customers for linear providers. The record-breaking $8.5 billion domestic rights deal for the English Premier League shows that linear TV is not out of the sports game. In a twist, Sky Sports and TNT Sports unseated the incumbent Amazon Prime Video from EPL rights, underscoring durability for traditional sports broadcasters.

Sports fans are a critical audience segment, dedicating more than one-third of their TV and video budgets to sports content. While broadcast networks and cable providers have courted sports fans for years, streaming services recognise they can grow and diversify their subscribers by appealing to this segment.

While competition with linear TV is just beginning, streaming services have an advantage over traditional broadcasters in attracting subscribers. There was consumer backlash over Peacock becoming the first streamer to exclusively broadcast an NFL playoff game, but it was a big win for NBCUniversal, setting an all-time record for streaming events with 23 million viewers and signing up 3 million new subscribers before kickoff. While it remains to be seen how many new Peacock subscribers are retained, the fact that so many sports fans were able and willing to quickly access a game they want to watch underscores the ease with which streaming services can gain new subscribers.

One way for media companies – both linear and streaming – to grow their subscription base is to target more casual fans, or those watching only a few times a month. After all, avid fans – or those who watch more than one game a week – only compose 15% of the global fan base.

As part of the survey, Altman Solon also interviewed more than 100 global media executives who revealed that targeting casual sports fans may become a major trend for the next year: Over 70% of the media executives surveyed believe casual fans should be wooed through expanded content offerings, like pay-per-view options, augmented live experiences, personalised content recommendations, and ad-supported models. 

Media companies can no longer rely solely on traditional monetization strategies for sports rights. Instead, broadcasters must rethink their monetization models, optimise their rights portfolios with a disciplined approach to content acquisition, and reduce discoverability costs with streamlined distribution models. By focusing on the needs of avid sports fans and experimenting with ways to engage more casual fans, media companies can continue to monetise sports rights. 

Matt Del Percio has more than 15 years of experience in the Telecommunications, Media, and Technology (TMT) sectors. He has deep expertise in using analytics and research to develop data-driven growth strategies and performance improvement plans. Matt is an expert in growth and operational strategy development for leading B2C and B2B companies. During recent engagements, Matt assisted clients with customer acquisition and churn management, offer/pricing development, customer segmentation, and marketing attribution.

Additionally, Matt leads Altman Solon’s engagements at the intersection of sports and technology and media. He also leads the firm’s Annual Global Sports Survey, which measures consumer interest and willingness to pay for sports and news programming, and gleans insights about sports fandom, viewership, and betting habits.

Matt holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University’s Questrom School of Management and a Master’s degree from Columbia University.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Altman Solon. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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