You can’t say that Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is not thinking outside the box. The New York Post reports that Ballmer has turned down an offer from Fox Sports to retain the team’s local media rights. According to the Post’s Claire Atkinson, the Clippers elected not to accept Fox’s proposal of a $60 million annual rights fee and could opt for an over-the-top streaming direct-to-consumer service.
The Clippers’ current deal with Fox Sports Prime Ticket runs through the 2015-16 season and is paid $25 million per year. Should Ballmer proceed with his OTT idea, it would mark the first professional team to go this route. Observers say the Clippers would have to make its service expensive plus produce and market the games to consumers in hopes of making a profit.
If Ballmer succeeds, expect other teams to follow, but if the concept fails to draw fans paying monthly fees, then it could set back the over-the-top movement which has been gaining momentum with cord cutters.
Fox’s exclusive negotiating window with the Clippers expired in June which allows Ballmer to discuss deals with anyone. A team spokesperson says all options are on the table:
“Steve Ballmer is exploring any and all options, including a new deal with Fox.”
But let’s say Ballmer has his heart set on establishing his own digital subscription service. The key would be luring fans to pay for it and attracting enough viewers so the venture could be profitable. And in this case, the team would need the infrastructure and negotiate with Apple, Google and Microsoft for apps on their mobiles and tablets, then find welcoming consoles like Apple TV, Roku, Sony Playstation, Xbox and others to stream their games.
If Ballmer can do that and find enough people to watch online, he will be considered a pioneer. If Balmer can’t and fails miserably, the team over-the-top subscription model could go the way of the Fox glowing puck, the NBC Olympics Triplecast and ESPN the Phone as ideas that were rejected by the American people.
Should Ballmer decide to go this route, not just other teams will be watching, but so will NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who will want to get a piece of the national pie.
This is a bold concept, but there’s no way to predict where it will go.