In the last year, professional sports leagues have embraced live-streaming to reach cord-cutting fans who have been desperate for access to their favorite games and events. Even so, many of these streaming packages aren’t quite what leagues chalked them up to be, leaving something to be desired for sports enthusiasts. Strict blackout rules and device restrictions kept many cord-cutters from catching the game from the comfort of their own home in 2016.
Despite the challenges cord-cutters face with watching live sports, they aren’t jumping back on the pay-TV bandwagon. More and more consumers are cutting the cord, even sports fans, as ESPN’s recent filing revealed, are saying good-bye to traditional TV subscriptions in favor of lower priced, over-the-top (OTT) options. Despite challenges with current OTT or streaming sports solutions, fans are willing to make it work to avoid paying the high-cost for cable packages, but we can’t expect them to deal with these issues forever.
Leagues need to spend more time and money on building better OTT and streaming solutions or eventually they’ll suffer the same fate as the once untouchable ESPN. I am part of this tech-savvy generation of sports fans and I along with many others won’t put up with low-tech solutions that are too expensive and riddled with problems. We’re rooting for the leagues, but we have a few demands for 2016, including:
1. Access Anywhere
Leagues need to think beyond delivering content to the TV. Consumers are accustomed to accessing content anytime and anywhere, so leagues need to develop comprehensive streaming packages that allow users to tune in on-the-go, across any device. Delivering content to fans’ phones and tablets will help leagues create a more complete viewing experience. Though some leagues have rolled out streaming packages for cross-device access including NBA’s League Pass, many still require users to log in via their cable subscription, so it’s virtually unusable for cord-cutters unless they use a friend or family members’ subscription.
2. A Solution for Local Blackouts
Without a doubt, sports fans’ primary complaint with current streaming services is the issue of local blackouts. These blackouts occur so leagues can restrict live access to local games in order to boost stadium ticket sales. Though, tech savvy cord-cutters have found plenty of workarounds. For example, we’re seeing people bring back the ancient technology known as “bunny ears” (TV antennas) or they’re running IP vanishing apps to trick the service, so it appears that their Internet traffic is coming from somewhere else. But these solutions can still be unreliable and the only tried and true option is going to a local bar or restaurant, which for most sports fans is not a preferable option week after week. Cord-cutters are looking to cut costs, but still have access to their favorite shows, games and movies. It may seem like they’re asking for a lot, but this is today’s reality and leagues should know that one way or another cord-cutters will find a solution and it probably won’t be the solution leagues want or need.
3. More Content, Old and New
As leagues continue to improve their own streaming platforms, they will inevitably join the content development business. Leagues will need to create strong wrap-up and highlight content, introducing sport personalities and giving fans more access to behind the scenes content. Leagues themselves must become content machines, likely in the form of mini creative studios, which house producers, creative directors, and development teams. In addition, it’s not just new content leagues need to focus on, they need to archive the older games and major sporting events that fans want to re-watch anytime and anywhere. This is how they’ll remain competitive amongst other OTT services that are doing this well right now.
Sports have, and will continue to be a major pain point for fans looking to cut-the-cord, and in the year ahead it’s likely we’ll begin to see leagues respond more directly to consumer challenges in order to create a more seamless viewer experience. Leagues don’t want to succumb to the same fate as networks like ESPN, and in order to remain competitive and retain fan attention they need to address these major issues within their current offerings. Let’s hope leagues take what us fans are saying to heart and create a solution that shows they’re in tune with today’s marketplace.
– Brandon Eatros, CEO & co-founder