As Sports Fandom Moves Online, will Sports Desert TV Deals?

Television has always been the go-to way to watch live sports if you couldn’t make it to the game yourself. Of course, TVs can reach more people than stadiums can sell tickets, so television broadcasts became the lifeblood of sports leagues and major competitions. The fandom for the world’s biggest sports and teams drove broadcast rights prices through the roof, pumping cash into those contests to create even better products.

For decades, TV was the only remote way to watch and interact with sports, be it at home or a local watering hole. You’d need to go to the stadium to get tickets or merchandise, even travel to the nearest bookmakers to back predictions, but, very suddenly, sports fans have become far more digitally oriented. Social media, apps, games, and now online streaming are being utilised by local fans and those far-flung from the action.

In an almost perfect storm of the internet improving in power and broadcast companies overplaying their exclusivity hand with increasing prices, online viewership is rising while TV ratings continue to drop. Sports aren’t any less popular, but the way that people engage with sports across the world is shifting.

TV vs streaming in the battle for sports viewers

Source: Unsplash

Television has provided easy access to sports programming for decades because the hardware has become a staple of just about every home in the developed world and increasingly so in the developing world. However, the main sticking point has been that, to watch the biggest and most popular competitions, you’ll have to pay a company to hook up your TV to their cable lines or satellite dishes, with you needing to pay a subscription fee that’s inflated by bundled products. As this was the only way outside of going out to watch the live action, people bought into it, growing the sports TV industry to massive figures.

As internet adoption rose, people found ways to watch live sport via online portals, streaming from countries where the same games perhaps weren’t charged to people for an excessive fee. When the iPhone arrived in 2007, causing mobile technology to surge to prominence, convenience and ease of use became key for users. Now, we debate Apple vs Android at, as smartphones have become more essential than TVs.

It’s been well documented that, especially in the United States, premium TV customers are “cord-cutting” in favour of the convenient, on-demand programme services offered over the internet. The likes of Netflix and Prime Video offer huge libraries of content at a fraction of the subscription price and conveniently to computers, smartphones, and even straight to smart TV screens. ESPN is said to have lost over 10 million subscribers in recent years, but its streaming arm, ESPN+, is noted as an increasingly popular option.

In India, one of the biggest domestic sports competitions in the world, the Indian Premier League, saw its live streaming hit new heights for the 2020 season. While the Star Sports Network’s live telecast performed well, live streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar soared, seeing revenue rise from ₹1,123 crores to ₹1,628 crores. In the fourth quarter of 2017, it was found that sports viewership online accounted for 39 per cent of the total. So, while TV still dominated with a 61 per cent share globally, in those 14 quarters since, streaming has only grown.

Shift to streaming follows sports fandom trends

If there’s one place to see the massive uprising of the internet as the new primary platform for watching live sport, it’s the ever-growing scene of eSports. The industry is now worth over $1.1 billion, having shown massive +15.7 percent year-on-year growth, with media rights and sponsorship accounting for a good 75 per cent of revenues. The main platform for watching these is, seeing monthly desktop and mobile web traffic of 1.1 billion in January 2021 alone. The sport is online-based, and so are its viewers, even with TV companies attempting to weigh in and broadcast major tournaments.

Looking beyond the competitions themselves and watching live, much of the rest of sports fandom has shifted online. It used to be that you’d either need to go down to a bookmakers’ store to place a bet or just go without if you didn’t live close enough. Now, online betting platforms are surging, so much so that there are hundreds offering odds on just about every professional event. The scene’s become so popular that specialised hubs have been built through necessity, such as, which grades the sites, shows welcome offers, and shows readers, regardless of their region, which sites are permitted for use.

Even though digitising the experience was around beforehand, last year supercharged the adoption of online-based forms of interactions with fans, particularly virtual attendances. While many see this as something that will be cast aside by next year, back in 2017, was discussing the upcoming use of streaming live events to VR headsets, saying that it’ll allow everyone to attend the Super Bowl. While most who had the choice would likely want to go to the stadium, these virtual seats could be around for the long term, especially if VR gets thrown into the mix.

Much like the online sports betting scene, sports streaming online has already become wildly popular, with there also being some brands that offer a more reputable service than others. The likes of grade and rank the services, and just among the top picks, there is Dazn, Hulu, Prime Video, Peacock, YouTube TV, Fubo TV, CBS, ESPN+, and several others. Social media platforms have also been able to weigh in, with accounts offering highlights and even some live clips, building on the already massive communities that teams have cultured on the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even YouTube.

Online viewing and online engagement have already become second nature to most sports fans. With TV ratings sinking while streaming brands like Prime Video and Dazn are currying favour, it seems inevitable that streaming platforms will continue to muscle in on TV’s turf.

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