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Who is winning the US sports streaming wars in 2022?

As another eventful year in the American sports streaming market reaches its end, SportsPro runs through the major networks and their subscription OTT platforms to see how they have performed and where they stand going into 2023.

2 December 2022 Ed Dixon

Getty Images / MLS

Wars often end up being attritional. This year has only reinforced that in the stateside battle for streaming supremacy, the major US networks are in it for the long haul.

Despite the differences, be it their content offering or price point, a common thread unites America’s major media players: a mission to attract new subscribers and find a way to make their streaming division profitable.

That has proved to be difficult in 2022. Even Netflix, for so long held up as the leader of the streaming revolution, has seen its share price hit by subscriber losses this year, prompting it to introduce an ad tier for the first time.

As consumers start to reevaluate their subscriptions amid the cost-of-living crisis, media companies looking to make their streaming platforms more appealing have been prepared to go head-to-head with their competitors for the last bastion of appointment viewing: live sport.

Recognising that demand, rights holders have been prepared to carve out more streaming-focused packages to go to market with, further increasing competition and driving rights fees. The National Basketball Association (NBA), for example, is reportedly looking to pocket at least US$1 billion from an exclusive streaming bundle as part of its next domestic broadcast agreements.

At this point, it is worth briefly reflecting on how far streaming has come in just the last four years. In the UK, Amazon’s landmark deal for a package of rights to English soccer’s Premier League from 2019/20 was greeted with both intrigue and skepticism. A little over two-and-a-half years later, the internet giant convinced the National Football League (NFL) to put an entire domestic package of games exclusively on an OTT platform, paying a cool US$1 billion per season for Thursday Night Football (TNF) until 2033.

Streaming may now be increasingly accepted as a reliable alternative to traditional broadcasting, but there is plenty more to come. Technical gremlins still occasionally rear their heads and, more broadly, networks are continuing to figure out the best way for their linear TV and DTC offerings to co-exist.

For now, SportsPro looks back on 2022 to break down how each of the major US streaming players fared over the last 12 months and to consider what their priorities might be heading into next year.

The NBA is the latest North American league looking to offer more streaming-focused packages


Streaming service: Paramount+

Subscribers: 46 million (global)

Key sports rights: NFL, Uefa Champions League, Big Ten, Southeastern Conference (SEC), Serie A, Coppa Italia

Biggest deal of 2022: CBS parent Paramount was expected to face a battle to retain its Uefa Champions League rights in the US given that several of the networks have been keen to make soccer content a key part of their streaming offerings. In the end, the network has agreed to shell out a reported US$250 million per season to secure coverage of Europe’s elite competition for another six years from the start of the 2024/25 season. The US$1.5 billion overall fee is a vast increase on the US$100 million currently paid annually by Paramount and Spanish-language broadcaster TelevisaUnivision.

Summary: Sport continued to be a key subscriber driver for Paramount+, with the start of the NFL and Champions League seasons contributing to the addition of 4.6 million global subs in Q3. Indeed, keeping hold of European club soccer’s elite competition was a big win for Paramount+. The tournament is considered the service’s crown jewel and the company reportedly beat off stiff competition from Amazon, with NBC, ESPN, Apple, Fox, Warner Bros Discovery and DAZN also holding talks.

CBS scored a six-year broadcast extension with Uefa for rights to the Champions League


Streaming service: ESPN+

Subscribers: 24.3 million (US only)

Key sports rights: NFL, MLB, National Hockey League (NHL), PGA Tour, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), College Football Playoff (CFP), Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open (tennis)

Biggest deal of 2022: Not a rights deal, but bringing back Bob Iger on a two-year contract was both a surprising and significant move. The 71-year-old was reappointed chief executive of Disney in November after the media titan saw its DTC operating losses nearly double to US$1.5 billion. As well as addressing that, Disney also has several noteworthy sports rights contracts coming up for renewal with ESPN+, including the UFC.

Summary: Despite Disney’s wider DTC losses, ESPN+ had a productive, albeit hectic, year. Global paid subscribers were up 42 per cent year-over-year (YoY) to reach 24.3 million at the end of Q3, the figure coming after Disney dismissed talk of plans to spin off the ESPN business. Prior to his departure as chief executive, Bob Chapek also confirmed the development of an ESPN sports betting app, in part to forge a more direct connection with the more digital-savvy under-35 age bracket. Whether Iger opts to pursue that idea remains to be seen.

What about Disney+ and Hulu?: The pair are an important part of the Disney streaming ecosystem due to being bundled with ESPN+. Together, the trio helped bring in a record US$9 billion in upfront advertisement sales for 2022/23, accounting for 40 per cent of total commitments. All told, Disney now has more than 253 million subscribers globally across its various streaming platforms.


Streaming service: Peacock

Subscribers: 30 million (US only)

Key sports rights: NFL, MLB, Premier League, Olympic Games, Big Ten, Nascar, IndyCar Series, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)

Biggest deal of 2022: April saw Comcast-owned NBC score a two-season deal to air 18 live Sunday morning MLB games per season exclusively on Peacock for a reported US$30 million a year. But perhaps more significant is its new seven-year media rights pact with the Big Ten college sports conference, which in August announced a reported US$7 billion deal split between NBC, Fox and CBS. Speaking to SportsPro earlier this year, NBC chief commercial officer Rick Cordella described the acquisition as the company’s biggest new deal since it acquired the NFL’s Sunday Night Football package in 2005.

Summary: Peacock may have the NFL, Olympic Games and the Premier League on its programming slate, but it does not plan to needlessly overload the platform with sports content. Jon Miller, NBC Sports’ president of programming, told SportsPro’s StreamTime Podcast in the spring that stockpiling content for the sake of it would “reach a point of diminishing returns”. NBC instead sees value in exclusivity, allowing it to package those rights into something it can make more appealing to viewers and advertisers, including those in the OTT space.

Disney has reappointed Bob Iger as chief executive having seen its DTC operating losses nearly double


Streaming service: Amazon Prime Video

Subscribers: 200 million (global)

Key US sports rights: NFL, Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), ONE Championship

Biggest deal of 2022: Having signed its NFL and WNBA pacts in 2021, Amazon entered the combat sports market this year with Singapore-based ONE Championship. The exclusive multi-year deal for the US and Canada will see Prime Video air 12 live events annually. It should be said that the US is just one part of Amazon’s sports broadcasting efforts. The internet giant continues to make significant strides in Europe, where this year it secured a package of Champions League rights in the UK, adding to its coverage of the Premier League and other premium soccer competitions in various markets across the continent.

Summary: 2022 saw Amazon makes its debut as the exclusive broadcaster of the NFL’s TNF. Despite a few teething problems on opening night, Prime Video’s inaugural broadcast attracted an average audience of 13 million people, according to Nielsen. The service also scored its biggest number of signups for a single day on record. As for future rights acquisitions, the NFL’s out-of-market Sunday Ticket package remains in Amazon’s sights, though it faces competition from Apple, among others. The company is also reportedly keen to add the NBA to its portfolio.


Streaming service: Apple TV+

Subscribers: 33.6 million (global)

Key sports rights: Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS)

Biggest deal of 2022: Apple’s initial investment in MLB was later dwarfed by its ten-year, US$2.5 billion tie-up with MLS to show all matches globally via Apple TV+. Kicking in from 2023, every game will be offered on a new, MLS-dedicated subscription streaming service available exclusively through the Apple TV app.

Summary: Apple’s entry into the live sports space had been long been mooted and while the MLB deal drew headlines, the nature of its arrangement with MLS suggests that sport is part of the company’s long-term plans. Apple is seeking flexibility with its rights, as opposed to being a standard broadcast partner, and intends to incorporate North America’s elite soccer league into its wider ecosystem to generate interest. That stance has reportedly slowed talks with the NFL over Sunday Ticket. But, as one of the world’s most valuable companies, Apple will likely be perfectly comfortable sticking to its guns and walking away from the negotiating table if a deal doesn’t meet its needs.

MLS will be broadcast on Apple TV from next season

Best of the rest

Warner Bros Discovery: Following its multibillion dollar merger, the company has bumped forward the launch of its combined HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming service from summer to spring next year.

Google: With NFL Sunday Ticket talks expected to drag on until early 2023, Google is believed to be entering the fray to bolster YouTube TV. A consumer study by The Streamable revealed that nearly a third of NFL fans said the platform was their preferred destination for the rights package.

DAZN: The streaming service remains an important player in the US boxing broadcast market and still has plans to diversify its revenue as a single digital platform by offering services such as betting, though its chief executive Shay Segev plans to take that slow in the US. FuboTV was another streaming service that deemed betting as a viable income stream, only for it to ditch its gaming business in October due to the macroeconomic environment.

Netflix: What of those not known for their live offering? Having previously baulked at the idea of buying live sports rights, regarding them as too expensive and fragmented, Netflix is reportedly thinking of testing the water in the UK with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). An acquisition of the World Surf League (WSL) has also been touted. Those may not open the Netflix floodgates for rights deals in the US, but they do reiterate sport’s appeal for streaming platforms trying to reverse subscriber decline.

This feature forms part of SportsPro’s Broadcast Week, a week of coverage assessing the state of play in sports broadcasting and streaming. Click here to access more exclusive content and sign up to the SportsPro Daily newsletter here to receive daily insights direct to your inbox.

To find out more about SportsPro’s future themed weeks, click here.

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