While it hasn’t precisely owned the headlines this week, Sports Media rights are currently up for debate in the United States Congress. To put it mildly, the live sports landscape is in flux, with leagues scrambling to find the right mix of streaming, pay- TV, and broadcast. And that’s just scratching the surface, considering the complexities of regional sports networks (RSNs).
A diverse panel of TV and sports media executives and experts from various sectors (pay-TV, broadcast, public interest) discussed the complex landscape of sports broadcasting today. This comes at a time where consumer frustration is at an all-time high, particularly off the heels of the Kansas City Chiefs—Miami Dolphins Wild Card game being aired exclusively on Peacock — except local markets — and has many left wondering if live sports behind a paywall is a new future for sports media rights.
That’s why the conversation has reached Congress, which saw congressional leadership like Chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio) Rep. and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) argue via TV Technology that the increasing number of sports streaming options is bringing benefits and challenges. While it offers consumers more choices and drives down costs, it also requires them to subscribe to multiple services and excludes some from popular games due to exclusivity deals. This raises concerns about the impact on legacy media, local news, and accessibility for low-income and rural communities, highlighting the need for solutions like broadband programs.
That’s where the sports media folks and their expertise come in. Scripps Sports president Brian Lawlor sees turmoil in regional sports as an opportunity to improve their profile in live local sports.
“Regional sports networks 10 years ago was a terrific business — it would reach 80% of all the households in the markets,” Lawlor said via TV Tech. “Today, when we’re meeting with teams, they talk about reaching 35-40% of all the households in the market. And so, to be an owner of an NHL or an NBA team and not be able to put your games in front of two-thirds of your fans in your home market is a dramatic change. And I think that’s the benefit of over-the-air broadcast—between cable, satellite, and our over-the-air platform, we’re able to reach every household in a DMA, and of course, it’s free over the air.”
During his testimony, Lawlor informed lawmakers that Scripps, like many broadcasters, relies on live sports to generate revenue to support local live journalism.
“For a long time, I thought the strongest part of the network affiliate model was live sports,” Lawlor said. “Over the last number of years, much of the entertainment programming has now navigated and shifted over to the direct-to-consumer platforms, but live sports has really been the foundation, and it’s a great economic benefit for our local TV stations. We’re very much concerned that the economics and the revenue we bring in from sports also help fund our local news operation. And most local news operations are not profitable by themselves. We need sports and other assets to be able to generate the revenue that allows us to fund that.”
Also among the panelists was Puck Media’s John Ourand, who characterized the current state of Sports TV as “chaos.” Ourand, formerly of the Sports Business Journal, emphasized the shift from traditional linear television to streaming platforms to lawmakers, reducing revenue for the sports marketplace. Despite concerns about live sports moving to streaming, Ourand expressed optimism that major sports leagues would remain accessible through broadcast television, citing examples such as NFL games, NBA rights negotiations, and the World Series, while acknowledging the growing competition from tech giants like Amazon, Netflix, and Apple TV+.
As live sports take center stage on streaming platforms, pay-TV battles, and traditional broadcasts, a captivating debate unfolds in the halls of Congress, reflecting the changing face of sports media.
Industry leaders grapple with the intricacies of this new landscape, and their discussions, once confined to boardrooms, now echo in legislative chambers. At the heart of the debate lies a potential move towards exclusive streaming deals, sparking concerns about accessibility, fan choice and the fate of local media. While some paint the situation as chaotic, experts also acknowledge the vital role live sports play in sustaining local journalism.
The key takeaways? We need innovative solutions to navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by this rapidly evolving media landscape, ensuring both a thriving sports industry and a healthy media ecosystem.