Live sports and the development of consumer media have been intertwined for the better part of a century. Radio grew alongside baseball, whose leisurely pace made it a natural fit. Football, on the other hand, was perfect for television—with the line of scrimmage perfectly framed onscreen and, just as importantly, advertising-friendly pauses baked into the action. The rise of cable TV was facilitated by networks gaining exclusive rights to various leagues. Ted Turner’s TNT superstation was built around an Atlanta Braves broadcasting license, for instance. So it’s only fitting that live sports appears to be the final frontier on the long journey from pay TV to streaming.
The large streamers don’t need to be convinced about the value of live sports. NBCUniversal paid $110 million for an exclusive NFL wild card game that reportedly brought in nearly 3 million new subscribers and 25 million viewers to Peacock (and linear in the local markets). Paramount is simulcasting the Super Bowl on CBS and Paramount+. Disney has turned ESPN+ into the home of UFC, and the main network’s streaming future seems predicated on arbitraging live sports opportunities. Amazon has Thursday Night Football on Prime Video and just invested in RSN owner Diamond Sports Group.