The Battle for Sports Media Rights: It’s Time to Gamble

“We will be watching this sports content battle closely over the coming year, as well as the success/engagement from the Facebook MLB endeavor, as it could be a sign of things to come with streaming platforms playing a bigger role in global professional sports broadcasting rights in the years ahead and potentially shaking up this market, while adding a major notch on the content belts of Amazon, Facebook and other new entrants to this arena.” — Daniel Ives, head of technology research at GBH Insights.

The U.S. sports gambling market is about to skyrocket, resulting in enormous opportunities for media and television as well as for multitude of other industries. Sports fans in the United States are already doing a lot more gambling, and the number is primed to grow rapidly as more states legalize sports betting.

Looking to ease their betting decisions, gamblers are craving for information. They learn about the performance of teams as a whole as well as individual players, their style of play and tactics. In other words, they tend to consume more sports related content. A study by National Research Group (NRG) confirms this fact — 79% of current and potential gamblers agreed that they are ready to watch live sports more often.

As we bring technology into focus, it becomes clear that sports betting will go far beyond merely wagering on the outcome of games. The collection of data on every second of the action creates the potential for a new world of in-play/live betting, which is already popular in Britain, and very likely to soon explode in the United States. However, for this market to work properly, accurate data must be transmitted to betting operators in near real-time, and content (better exclusive) should be delivered to gamblers immediately.

Obviously, this reality increases the value of sports media rights exponentially. Unsurprisingly in one of their recent studies, Nielsen promised the NHL a 17.9% revenue increase to come from media rights fees.

Streaming to Success

Estimates from eMarketer state that 181.5 million U.S. consumers use connected TVs once per month or more, while this number is predicted to reach 194.4 million — or 58% of the total population — by the year 2021. The television industry is experiencing a massive digital disruption as streaming transforms the sector at an increasingly rapid pace.

OTT (over-the-top) video provides incredible advertising potential, with the capability to use factors such as demographics, lifestyle, and interests to precisely target viewers. When combined with OTT’s advanced analytics tools, marketers can reach the right audience, increase their ROI, and measure results with great accuracy. Additionally, the competition is taking off, with over 200 OTT services currently operating in the U.S. market, according to Parks Associates.

The enormous opportunities for sports content monetization make teams and leagues a very lucrative source of revenue for media companies willing to stream sports events and manage other type of sports content.

The streaming of sports events has grown in popularity to the point that some leagues have launched their own platforms. MLB.TV is the official site of Major League Baseball, allowing fans to watch the games when they want and even replay them at their convenience. The NBA also jumped on board, now providing innovative features with its NBA League Pass offerings, including the ability to purchase and watch in-progress games at a reduced price.

The Battle for Rights

We’re approaching the time when media rights deals will mostly end for the NFL, MLB, and NHL. In 2021, there will be the potential for a monumental opportunity as major streaming platforms will be positioned to bid on some of these rights, which have historically been reserved for the traditional media/cable companies. Such global giants as Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo are already paving the way and preparing to make significant inroads in professional sports broadcasting.

Who are you betting on?

Amazon, with their Twitch platform, was the leading live streaming video service for video games in the US in 2017 and managed to keep its positions. They recently extend their sports coverage and just reported record figures for their NFL Thursday Night Football broadcast. Facebook Watch has already won the exclusive rights to stream 25 MLB games this season. Or maybe Disney, who have recently introduced the ESPN+ streaming service for live sports and are getting ready to launch a new streaming service named Disney+.

As Daniel Ives said in the quote at the beginning of this article, it’s a pivotal time for new players in the media industry to battle for the rights to professional sports programming. Streaming is growing exponentially and gambling has been legalized; making this a particularly exciting moment for media players to up their game and acquire the prized sports media rights. Is it possible that sports will leave media companies out and choose to share access to their exclusive content only with sports betting operators and fantasy sports following the example of the NHL who just entered into a partnership with FanDuel? We shall see how this all plays out in the very near future.

What are your thoughts about the battle for sports media rights? Please share your opinions in the comments below.

By Russell Karp
Vice President of Media and Entertainment Practice at