The race to buy up sports-streaming rights continues to heat up in 2018.
Amazon Prime spent $130 million to renew its deal with the NFL for two more seasons to stream 11 Thursday Night Football games. Google-owned YouTube TV cut a deal with Turner to add channels including TBS, TNT, and TruTV to its service, and added NBA TV, NBA League Pass, MLB.tv, and MLB Network. British media group Perform made a $1 billion deal with boxing promoter Eddie Hearn to bring its DAZN streaming service to the U.S. ESPN made a $1.5 billion deal to stream UFC, and also launched its first ever over-the-top subscription offering, ESPN Plus.
“You’re seeing a migration, but it’s going to take more time,” says George Pyne, CEO of investment firm Bruin Sports Capital. He says the WWE deal with Fox, UFC deal with ESPN, and Amazon deal with the NFL are, “all very robust, at a time when a lot of people thought that wasn’t going to be the case.”
Pyne is uniquely qualified to comment on the sports media rights landscape: He was the sports and entertainment president of mega-agency IMG, and left in 2014 after it merged with WME (the company is now called Endeavor). Before IMG, he was COO of Nascar.
Bruin, which Pyne launched in 2015 from a $250 million raise, has made more than a dozen acquisitions, including The Gamer Agency, which represents the top esports players, and Italian sports streaming company Deltatre. And Courtside Ventures, a sports investment fund that is a joint venture between Pyne, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, and ad giant WPP, has made early-stage investments in more than 25 startups.
“We’re betting on change,” Pyne says. “I think sports content’s going to remain valuable for a long time, it’s just going to be consumed differently, and the transition economically will shake out probably over five to 10 years, not 24 to 36 months. If you want to be relevant to young consumers, you have to be putting content out where they are. On the other hand, the money’s still in old media. So I think it’s going to take time for that to transition over.”
For the NFL to garner $130 million for the live-streaming rights to Thursday Night Football, Pyne says, “is impressive from very little a few years ago. Amazon winning the UK tennis rights. Facebook bid significantly for cricket in India. You see it coming that there’s going to be a Rupert Murdoch of digital.”
Who might that sports-streaming kingpin be? Amazon Prime and YouTube TV are early leaders in terms of buying up rights, but AT&T DirecTV Now, Sling TV from DISH, and Hulu all loom. Netflix so far hasn’t done much in sports streaming, but could jump in at any time. Then there’s Disney, which owns ESPN as well as BAM Tech, the spun-off video arm of MLB Advanced Media.
“Eventually somebody’s going to take a big bet on a new platform and it’s going to be a loss leader that drives awareness,” says Pyne. “It worked for CBS, it works for Fox, and some day it’s going to work for a new media platform.”