After the demise of the cable bundle (see our post last week), conditions are ripe for a revolution in watching sports online. The sports viewing online category breaks down nicely into three groups: the nostalgic, the niche, and the new.
The nostalgic are traditional broadcasters locked into the past and struggling to escape the way they have always done things.
The “+” sign in the name of a streaming service exposes old-world broadcasters trying to present themselves in a new hat. Nostalgic sports broadcasters expect their audience to tune in like they always have and watch whatever is fed to them. The US Open Tennis and the Olympics, are representative of this category. The nostalgic broadcaster will cut away from one event to another event at their whim because they expect the audience to happily consume whatever is served.
The niche are driven by passion for their sport and have the most experience presenting directly to the audience. Often these broadcasters are amateur or come from within the sport itself.
They are “lucky” to be unburdened by any exclusives or other restrictive rights agreements and therefore free to present their events any way the audience may want. With very little advertising revenue, they are funded by subscriptions or donations. Ultimate TV has been live streaming ultimate frisbee matches on YouTube since 2011. The American Ultimate Disc League, started streaming the next year, in 2012. World Billiard TV, has been streaming on YouTube since 2014. Also that year, the Pickleball Channel started streaming. The productions are bare bones, but often have colorful commentary. They are streamed live, but also available on demand afterwards. These channels might take a decade to accumulate as many views as a single super bowl, but the audience is passionate and loyal.
The new are paving another path all together.
Consider The Kings League in Spain. Started by the famous Barcelona footballer, Gerard Pique in 2022. The Kings League has accumulated 140 million views on YouTube in just one year. In the Kings League, players play soccer on a field, but most everything else has changed. There are only seven players on a side, they are paid nominal fees per match, and the ticket prices are also very low starting at $10. Some would call the first year a building year – but even though they were starting from a dead stop 92,000 fans turned up to watch a match in Barcelona recently. The sport of soccer has been refit to be more fun to watch. Shorter (40 mins), and penalties cause players to sit in a box (like ice hockey), and each coach gets a “secret weapon” to use at any time. Secret weapons can include 2 point goals for 2 minutes, pulling an opposing player from the field for a time, or midfield penalty kicks.
The Kings League matches are free to stream on YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok. Using partnerships with streaming influencers on each platform, the Kings League drew 800,000 views for the very first match. The league generated 238 million views in January 2023 alone. More than all other European football leagues combined.
It will be interesting to see what comes next from these new sports broadcasters. The niche will likely borrow some of their ideas, and in no time, no one will even remember the nostalgic.