The advantages of streaming sports are now at loggerheads with increasing costs and complexity. Media providers are coming out of the woodwork to stream sports, paying top dollar for exclusive rights. As a result, recreational fans and sports bettors, are paying more than ever to follow teams, using a complicated myriad of providers.

Competing streaming sports providers is making it harder on fans and bettors.
Orioles’ Trey Mancini drives home the winning run against the Angels on July 8, 2022. The Angels’ Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani both hit homeruns to no avail. (Image: Julio Cortez/AP)

The Baltimore Orioles are hot right now, winning their last six games. But if you want to watch them play on Sunday, you won’t find the game on a national network — or even with your MLB.TV subscription. That’s because Sunday’s game is exclusive to Peacock premium subscribers.

The pros and cons of sports streaming

Having more competition for media rights has been a boon for sports leagues. Media providers are paying top dollar for streaming sports. For instance, Amazon bid $100 million a year to stream F1, but lost out to ESPN.

On one hand, having more providers is also a win for sports enthusiasts. MLS fans complained for years about the lack of coverage. Now, with Apple TV+, they’ll be able to watch every match. US-based cricket fans are likely to see more IPL matches through Times Internet and Willow TV. But some leagues are slicing and dicing their media rights to the point where viewers are paying more, while having a harder time accessing games.

MLB now has granted exclusive coverage to both Peacock and Apple TV+. While MLB’s Friday Night games are free — for now — on Apple TV+, MLB’s current demographic hasn’t had the easiest time accessing newer sports streaming providers. According to a 2017 Sports Business Journal survey, the average age of MLB viewers is 57 years old. That’s older than for most major league sports.

MLB may hope that offering more streaming options will bring in younger viewers, but possibly at the cost of its most loyal fans. Tweets like these are common.

The NFL is also carving up its media rights. In a recent CNBC interview, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL Sunday Ticket will be going to a sports streaming service in 2023. Amazon, Apple and Disney (ESPN) are all in the running. The price tag for fans could run in the $300/year range.

Meanwhile, the regional media players are starting to weigh in. NESN is offering a Boston-centric streaming service for $30/month. Bally Sports (Sinclair Broadcast Group) is soft launching a streaming service covering Milwaukee, Detroit, Tampa, Miami, and Kansas City for $20/month.

Leagues are counting on sports bettors to foot the bill

If you’re a sports bettor with skin in the game, it may get pricey for the coverage you want and need. But that’s what the leagues and media providers are counting on, according to Sinclair’s CEO Chris Ripley.

“Numerous focus groups and studies have shown that folks who like to wager on games are more engaged and watch more hours,” Ripley said. “And the DTC [direct to consumer streaming] product will allow more ‘personalization’ to each fan. But let’s be clear. No wagers will be taken on Bally Sports +. Folks who want to place a bet will be directed to our licensed sports betting partners.”

The leagues know that sports betting is now a big part of their strategy. That’s one reason why the Las Vegas Raiders just hired Sandra Douglas Morgan as president. Morgan was most recently the chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board and an attorney for MGM Mirage. In fact, the NFL just hired David Highill as the league’s first executive dedicated to sports betting.

So, the number and the expense of sports streaming solutions may lose some boomers and middle-class fans. But the leagues and media providers are gambling on sports betting to figure it out and pay the price.