Sports Leagues Take to the Stream

By Alex Weprin 

Sports leagues have long relied on television revenue to drive profits, but new technology has enabled them to skip the middleman and go directly to the fans.

Of course, owners and league executives are not about to bite the hand that feeds them, so most of the sports streaming options online don’t have the complete suite of games, usually blacking out games in-market that are readily available on their TV partners.

An article in Multichannel News by R. Thomas Umstead outlines the current state of league streaming:

“With streaming [the leagues] are putting markers on various platforms with the assumption that they will grow,” Lee Berke, president of sports consultancy LHB Inc., said. “The bulk of viewers are still watching live sports games on traditional linear platforms like cable and broadcast television, but it’s growing and eventually it’s going to be a major percentage of how people watch sports, so you have to make your presence felt now.”

Indeed, the leagues’ migration of their live sports products to the Web follows an overall growth trend of sports fans accessing the Internet for sports information. A record 81 million people in the U.S., on average, visited sports websites each month in 2009, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The most prominent effort is of course Major League baseball Advanced Media’s package, which streams all out of market games in high definition to computers, iPhones, iPad’s and TVs through the Sony Playstation 3.

The other leagues are still trying to play catchup. As we reported yesterday, DirecTV, which has the online rights to all of the NFL’s games, will offer a $350 streaming package to anyone, even if they are not DirecTV and “NFL Sunday Ticket” subscribers.

The MCN article drives home the point that concumers want to watch sports on their HD TVs, which is true, but as srtreaming technology improves, and boxes like Roku, Xbox and PS3 add more functionality, it might be possible to watch your favorite events in HD, without subscribing to cable.

As long as you are out of market, at least.