“Sports is the last category of must-see-now content.” But don’t take it from us, take it from Jeffrey Cole, the founder and director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg. “Based on our data, Gen Z and millennial fans are clearly shifting preferences, behavior, and spending,” Cole said in an interview with Broadcasting & Cable. And with user-experience rich developments like virtual reality, 360° video, and more, that shift is definitely in favor of online streaming services.
Maybe it’s time to think differently about the way we watch sports. Maybe it’s time to watch sports differently altogether—and we’ve already gotten started. Adobe has released findings from the 2013 Q4 US Digital Video Benchmark that showed that sports video streams were up 640% year-over-year. Is it any surprise when almost all Americans consider themselves fans of one sport or another?
A study by the Center for the Digital Future found that 86% of Americans consider themselves sports fans. Among them, 90% are willing to pay for sports programming and 63% are interested in paying for an over-the-top sports subscription service. That number is higher among “intense” sports fans—demographically more likely to be male, middle aged, married, upper middle class, and with a college degree. But don’t underestimate the women and children who also wish they were ballers. Women are willing to pay up to 50% more for sports content and households with children are 70% likelier to.
So why exactly are so many people willing to spend a higher proportion of their budget for online streaming channels? Well, a number of reasons. Affordability, mobility, and availability are just some. Streaming services generally add up to less than adding channels a la carte to an existing cable or satellite subscription. Mobile devices and computers trail just behind TVs as the most used platforms for watching sports, and you can’t bring your TV with you to a tailgate. There is also the question of “can I actually watch this where I live?” If you’re a fan of a very local sports team and don’t live locally, or a very popular sport that’s unpopular where you live, the answer may be no—unless you can find the right service.
These statistics alone show us that the market for OTT sports content is strong, and getting stronger every day. But the real data lies in the games themselves, and the data doesn’t lie. Rio 2016 was the most streamed Olympic event ever. Super Bowl XLIX was the third most watched Super Bowl broadcast in U.S. history, raking in an average of 1.4 million viewers a minute on CBS’ live stream and 115.5 million viewers overall. The Euro Cup saw record viewership in 2016, and the World Cup saw a 36% increase in broadcast hours in 2014, with over 280 million people watching on their devices, making it the most digitally connected World Cup of all time.
While the Falcons may not see a title in the near future, streaming is the future of sports content delivery, and it’s clearly here to stay. According to Forbes, in May 2016, Amazon hired veteran sports media executive James DeLorenzo to head its newly formed sports group in a bid for streaming rights to NFL’s Thursday Night Football. Twitter eventually won that bid, however, Amazon’s focus on sports live streaming was an indicator of the gradual but certain shift to alternative subscription services, inspired by the likes of Hulu.