Study: Sports Streaming Subscribers on the Rise as Traditional Sports Network Subs Decline

As the digital shift in professional sports continue, the number of subscribers to sports streaming platforms are rising, while subscribers to traditional networks are on the decline, according to a research posting by Dataxis senior analyst Guillaume Perrin.  Perrin’s research shows that ESPN subscribers decreased to around 76 million in 2021, which is down by 10% when compared to 2020’s 84 million. However, the research shows that ESPN+ saw significant growth over that span, as it entered 2020 well under 20 million subscribers and surpassed 21 million by 2021.

ESPN+’s increase in subscribers could also be contributed to The Disney Bundle and the decision to include the platform into Hulu + Live TV subscriptions late last year. This could also create problems when compared to the network’s revenue, with Perrin’s article stating the following:

Sports networks still resist the pressure from streaming services when it comes to revenues: indeed, affiliate fees for ESPN and ESPN2 still amount to around 10 dollars, while ESPN+’s ARPU is lower than 6$

Below is Perrin’s graph comparing ESPN, FS1 subscribers to streaming services ESPN+ and fuboTV.

What the Digital Shift in Sports Could Mean for Fans and the Future of Streaming

As more platforms step into the sports arena, they will continue to bid against traditional media companies for the rights to broadcast sports, which means those fees could be passed down to consumers with Perrin stating: “The entry of these new actors on the sports broadcasting market might strengthen even further the trend of inflating costs for sports rights.”

MLB and Apple reached a deal that will bring Friday Night Baseball to Apple TV+ once the 2022 season begins. Apple TV+ reportedly paid $85 million per year, for 7 years, to bring Friday night doubleheaders to the platform. So far, the MLB deal is the biggest live sports deal for Apple, which reportedly wants to spend billions on live sports over the next four years. However, for the MLB, Apple was the first of its streaming deals, with the league in talks with NBC Sports to stream live games on Peacock. The league and Peacock are finalizing a deal, which is reportedly worth $60 million over 2 years, and will bring 18 Sunday morning games to the streamer.

The MLB move will help Peacock strengthen their live offerings after NBC agreed to a 6-year rights extension with the Premier League. Along with the EPL, Peacock is the exclusive home of the WWE Network in the United States, and the streamer is also coming off the most-streamed Winter Olympics in history. 

Major League Soccer is looking to secure a rights deal worth $300 million per year with streaming being a big part of the league’s vision for the futute. Amazon, and Apple have reportedly shown interested, but without U.S. Soccer, who reached an 8-year deal with Turner Sports, the MLS may not reach its $300 million goal, but the league still has a number of suitors who could strike a deal.

As part of the U.S. Soccer deal, Turner Sports will have rights to air games across linear channels TNT and TBS, and HBO Max will stream more than 20 US men’s and women’s national team games per year. NHL games are expected to stream on the platform in the upcoming years, and the NBA could be coming to the streaming platform by 2025.

With streaming services eyeing for NFL Sunday Ticket, another bidding war could emerge that could increase subscription fees to cover the costs. Streamers could also add another tier for sports fans in an effort to keep subscriptions low for everyone else. DAZN recently announced they will make select fights pay-per-view on top of a monthly subscription, similar to big UFC fights on ESPN.

As more people decide to cut the cord, traditional ways to watch sports is seeing a decline. One things is for sure, digital media has turned acquiring rights to sports into a competition that traditional media does not want to lose.