Report: Live Sports May Not Be That Big a Driver of Pay TV Subscriptions

Baltimore Ravens vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers on 'Thursday Night Football'
Amazon Prime Video’s NFL ‘Thursday Night Football’ is a big part of sports’ shift to streaming. (Image credit: Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

Sports fans may not punt away their pay TV subscriptions in big numbers should live NFL, MLB or NBA games move exclusively to streaming services, according to a new study from research company Aluma.

Only 8% of pay TV subscribers said they would definitely cancel their subscription if their favorite sport moved its games exclusively to a streaming service like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video, Aluma said. 

In terms of specific sports, 11% of National Football League fans would cancel their pay TV subscriptions if games moved exclusively to streaming, while 8% of National Basketball Association or Major League Baseball fans would abandon pay TV if those leagues went digital-only, according to Aluma.

Aluma founder and director of research Michael Greeson said that while live sports continues to be a major draw for pay TV, it’s not as big a factor in subscribers staying put as originally thought. One reason is that 80% of live TV sports viewers also subscribe to at least one of the top-five SVOD services.

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Also, one-third of subscribers who aren’t fully satisfied with their pay TV service continue to subscribe because they are used to having it, while only 18% do so as their main source for live sports programming, according to Aluma. 

“Perhaps live sports are less critical to pay TV's stickiness than we’ve long believed," Greeson said in a statement. “The findings are contrary to the dominant narrative that, without TV sports, pay TV couldn’t survive.”

While streaming services have made inroads in gaining exclusive rights to live pro and college sports events, including Prime Video’s multi-year exclusive deal for NFL Thursday Night Football, most major live sports events remain on linear television. Pay TV platforms should continue to secure live sports content, Greeson said, but he  warned that sports rights could eventually become too expensive for linear TV distributors.

“There is a point at which the exorbitant fees MVPDs pay to license sports are no longer worth the cost,” he said.■

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.