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Expanded Livestreaming Options Are Changing How People Watch Sports

14 Jun, 2017

By: Michael Popke

More than 1.1 million people viewed the WNBA’s first livestreamed game on May 14 between the Dallas Wings and the Phoenix Mercury at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. The game was part of a new three-year deal with Twitter, which also livestreamed 10 Thursday night NFL games during the 2016-17 season. Those games each averaged 3.5 million unique viewers.

In April, Amazon won the rights to stream Thursday Night Football games to subscribers of its Prime service.

Additionally, Facebook recently started live streaming a slate of 20 Friday night Major League Baseball games, beginning with the May 19 game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver. Twitter also is livestreaming another 20 MLB games this season.

“Baseball games are uniquely engaging community experiences, as the chatter and rituals in the stands are often as meaningful to fans as the action on the diamond. By distributing a live game per week on Facebook, Major League Baseball can re-imagine this social experience on a national scale,” Dan Reed, Facebook’s head of Global Sports Partnerships, told SI.com.

The increasing number of livestreamed professional sporting events on major social networks — which can be watched on a computer or personal device — is another argument in favor of the “cord-cutting” trend, which (at least in part) led ESPN to lay off 100 on-air personalities and print journalists in April. The New York Times reports that ESPN has lost more than 10 million viewers over the past several years. 

“It seems folks are tiring of $200 monthly cable bills and would rather stream their favorite TV shows via cheaper options such as Hulu or Netflix. But live sports have largely remained immune from that trend,” writes Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker. “Until recently.”

After eight years of planning, ROOT Sports Northwest now offers Seattle Mariners fans who are “authenticated pay TV viewers” — that is, Seattle-based fans that pick up ROOT as part of a Comcast subscription — the opportunity to livestream games on their mobile phones. Baker calls it “Over the Top (OTT) streaming” and claims it “is the next frontier threatening to disrupt TV sports as we know it.”

He acknowledges, though, that watching baseball games on mobile devices translates to “transitional” viewership in which people might only watch a couple innings and will turn on the TV when they get home. But Baker warns that today’s teens, who are growing up watching sports on their phones, could be the generation that changes everything.

“And though their impact is years from being significant, the folks with business foresight know joining them will be easier than beating them,” Baker writes. “That’s why ROOT Sports just introduced streaming as a value-add for current customers. Sure, giving them extra options to watch games never hurts. But if streaming ever becomes the only option, you can bet billion-dollar TV companies want to be ahead of that curve.”

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