Is Streaming ruining Sports?

By Skye Slatcher

On 14 November 2023, Netflix held its first live-streamed sports event, the Netflix Cup. At Vegas’ Wynn Club, four pairings of F1 drivers and PGA golfers played golf, in what can only be described as a confusing and disjointed event. But despite the nearly three-hour event being so underwhelming, it renewed debate about the future of sports on streaming platforms. 

There was not a great deal of positive public opinion after the event, according to The Verge.  The almost unlistenable audio, combined with the seeming confusion of all the competitors about the rules, and the bizarre premises of some holes, all made for an unserious event. 

Perhaps Netflix does leave with some success – it has established itself as a strong presence in the realm of live sports coverage. This is important. The company is the largest streaming platform and this move to sports marks a big change in their reach. In 2018, the company’s head of business development, Maria Ferras, said that they had no plans to engage in live sports, as reported by Forbes. Clearly five years later, something has changed. 

A likely explanation is their recent shift towards advertisement, with the CEO calling the growth of their ad business the ‘number one priority’. Sports streaming makes up a big proportion of the advertising industry, so this move is likely an attempt by Netflix to boost revenue and attract new subscribers. 

It should be noted that currently Netflix does not seem to be close to acquiring any streaming rights, and will likely stick to its shows like ‘Full Swing’, ‘Drive to Survive’, and ‘Break Point’. They do, however, have another live event coming soon, with Nadal and Alcaraz set to face off in The Netflix Slam on 3 March. But some platforms already have extensive live sports coverage. Most notably, Amazon Prime with Premier League matches, and Apple TV with Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball, though these aren’t exclusive rights. 

This all marks a continuing change in televising sports. The big streaming platforms are grabbing live sports and the impacts of this are varied, for fans and leagues. For most, it means being a fan becomes more expensive. The patchwork of streaming services, all with different streaming rights, could result in a need for several subscriptions to catch all the action. 

Online streaming platforms also typically have around a one-minute lag, meaning social media or a text from a friend could ruin the thrill. Maybe, though, if leagues and streaming services can strike the right balance and improve their technologies, fan experience could be enhanced and people across the globe could access games in an unprecedented way. This has already proved important in encouraging teams to promote more social media content with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. 

Apple’s 2023 Worldwide Developers Conference saw Disney CEO Bob Iger discuss the VisionPro. He shared a look at how the mixed-reality headset could revolutionise the sports viewing experience with multiple angles, detailed stats, and in-depth replays simultaneously, according to Business Insider. It feels inevitable that this is the way things are going, that soon you will be able to really experience events without being in the stadium. What this means for sports practically remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that sports streaming is changing forever. 

For teams and organisations going through financial challenges, being bought out by streaming services could resolve some of their issues, as could be seen with MLB’s Diamond Sports (TV rights holder for 11 teams) and Amazon. It could mean that the reach of the sport is wider, and viewers would come from around the world. 

But does all of this justify the existing fanbase potentially suffering? While licensing agreements might bring profits for leagues and streaming companies, some argue that the fans should come first.

Maybe legacy media companies will soon be out of the picture when it comes to sports, and we will all be paying £30 per month per streaming platform to watch. It’s hard not to feel a bit of nostalgia for the days of having one TV bundle which had all of your channels on it. To some, cable is outdated and its downfall is welcome, but the impact this will have on sports should not be ignored. 

Illustration by Francesca Corno

The forays of streaming companies into the world of sport have become a steadily growing trend, yet the impact this will have on fans and sports remains unclear.


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