The Streaming Perils Of Soccer Fans Does Not Bode Well For American Sports Fans
If you’re a sports fan, you’re probably used to having to jump hurdles to watch your favorite teams and games – especially if your favorite teams aren’t in your local market. If you’re a Dolphins fan in Seattle, you’ll need to shell out $300 (or whatever) to watch them every week, only through NFL Sunday Ticket. If you’re a Diamondbacks fan in Detroit, be prepared to dish out $120 for MLB.tv. Lakers fan in Philly? Blackhawks fan in Atlanta? NBA League Pass and NHL.tv will each cost you at least $100, depending on which package you want. Following your local teams from hundreds of miles away isn’t easy.
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But if you’re an American soccer fan, and you want to watch your favorite European team, you may have to dip into as many as three different streaming services – plus a cable, satellite, or over the top streaming subscription, which really isn’t necessary (aside from playoff games and the NFL) for other sports – if you want to watch every match.
Let’s take the Premier League. NBC airs a huge chunk of the league’s matches on cable, but something like a quarter of the schedule can only be watched with what’s called the Premier League Pass. This will run you between $40-$65 a season, in addition to what you pay for cable/streaming, just to watch some studio programming and live games that NBC and the Premier League have deemed not important enough to air on traditional networks. Keep in mind that for the first three years of its deal with the Premier League, every match was available to watch with just an authenticated login from a provider – you didn’t need to get through a second paywall to watch some matches.
The two domestic cup competitions in England (the FA Cup and EFL/Carabao/League Cup) are also paywalled, but they’re hiding behind a different paywall. The English Football League has a TV deal with ESPN+, and while the $5/month cost isn’t all that prohibitive, imagine if your team goes on a couple of long cup runs, and you’re paying $5/month for seven months. Sure, it’s a small drop in the bucket, but the bucket also is filling up. You’re now paying for cable/satellite/streaming and two separate streaming services, just to watch your favorite team.
Where things really get stressful is if you cheer for a *good* team, and the Champions and/or Europa Leagues come into play. UEFA signed a new rights deal with Turner Sports last year, and Turner has stuffed the vast majority of matches behind their B/R Live paywall. If you wanted to watch any Europa League match (aside from the Final) last season, you’d need B/R Live.
Something between two and four Champions League matches would be available each matchweek on TNT, but that would leave 12-14 matches paywalled during each of the six group stage matchweeks. B/R Live runs you $10/month, $3/match, or $80/year. If you only buy your team’s matches, and they get bounced after the group stage and don’t get bumped down to the Europa League, that’s $18. If your team does better, the cost will rise, assuming they’re not featured on TV every week. If you wanted to watch more than one match a week, the monthly plan would run you $40…and that’s assuming you cancel after the group stage.
Every match. Three streaming services, plus cable, and a bare minimum cost of $68…assuming your team sucks and gets bounced from every competition as soon as it can. Sure, that’s not as much as any of the other league’s packages, but you’re getting the entire regular season with those. Premier League fans *must* subscribe to cable/satellite/streaming in order to watch the televised matches.
The worst part is that this is slowly starting to creep into American sports. MLB has experimented (to much scorn and derision) with games exclusively streaming on Facebook and YouTube. The NFL is streaming games on Amazon and Yahoo, and has been blocked users from streaming games on mobile devices thanks to an exclusive deals with Verizon. College conferences are dumping hundreds of matches in non-revenue sports behind paywalls, most notably ESPN+. Hell, some colleges are even putting football games behind paywalls in 2019, including New Mexico State and UMass (who both have deals with FloSports).
The streaming bubble is not going to pop. But what will, and already is, happen is that the market will continue to expand and services will claim exclusivity on various sports, teams, shows, and movies. Instead of just subscribing to one or two services and getting everything you want, you’re going to need to subscribe to seven or eight streaming services…and even then, you’ll probably still be missing something you want to watch.
And with national TV deals nearing an end for MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL, you know that the leagues and networks are going to look at European soccer, use that as a model, and hack up their packages even more to make watching games even more of a struggle for fans. If you’re happy getting away with paying for just cable and MLB.tv, you’d better not get used to it, because change for the sake of change (disguised as technological advances) is probably coming.
Joe Lucia has been covering sports media since 2011, and is a fan of the Ravens, Braves, and Manchester City. He was born and raised in Harrisburg, PA, but now makes his home in southern California with his wife.