Video Streaming of Sports Is Changing the Ballgame
New players such as Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ have fans asking, 'Where's my game?'
Days before the April 7 opening of the 2022 Major League Baseball season, the New York Post reported that 21 New York Yankees baseball games would be broadcast exclusively on the Amazon Prime Video streaming service and solely available to Prime subscribers.
In the past those games likely would have aired for free on local television. The games won’t be shown on the YES regional sports network that broadcasts most other Yankees games on cable or satellite either, even though Amazon joined Sinclair Broadcast Group and others in taking an ownership stake in YES in 2019.
These “lost” Yankees games became a hot topic on sports talk radio and in the local press.
“When the masses realize the change, that’s when the chaos begins,” wrote Bob Raissman, New York Daily News sports media columnist. “Will fans even know where to find a Yankee game this season?”
That question can be asked of other teams and across other sports. Indeed, the increasing availability of streaming video is not a New York-centric story. But because it can replace traditional ways of watching games outside the stadiums, die-hard fans across the country may have to chase games from one service to another — or pay to watch sports on TV that used to be free.
“Baseball on TV has never been more complicated, confounding and costly,” says Phillip Swann, editor and publisher of the TVAnswerman.com site devoted to helping people “navigate the increasingly complex world of television.”
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Tough for older fans?
Older sports fans who collectively may be less tech-savvy than younger viewers — yes, it’s a stereotype — could find themselves disproportionately frustrated. Do they have the requisite smart TV, smartphone or set-top box that will let them watch? Can they set everything up?
Despite Amazon’s best efforts, at least some who spring for the annual $139 for Amazon Prime to get free shipping may not be aware that their additional benefits include access to Prime Video and other media content. That includes some of the sports they may love to watch.
Amazon Prime Video will become the exclusive home of NFL Thursday Night Football this coming season with 15 regular season games beginning Sept. 15. Fortunately for fans, games still will be available on local broadcast TV channels in the teams' home markets.
Apple got onto the field with a string of live MLB Friday Night Baseball games that started April 8 on its Apple TV+ streaming service, which costs $4.99 a month. Apple is offering games at least through the end of July for free to anyone with internet access, regardless of whether they subscribe to the pay Apple TV+ service.
Apple announced June 14 that it has inked a 10-year deal with Major League Soccer to stream every MLS match through the Apple TV app starting in 2023. Fans will have to subscribe to a new MLS streaming service that will be available exclusively via the app. No word yet on pricing. There will not be any local blackouts or need to subscribe to a pay TV bundle, Apple says.
The company added that a broad selection of MLS and Leagues Cup matches will also be made available at no additional cost to Apple TV+ subscribers, with a limited number of matches available for free.
“For the first time in the history of sports, fans will be able to access everything from a major professional sports league in one place,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services, said in a release.
But how long Apple will broadcast Friday Night Baseball gratis for nonsubscribers is unclear. Fans can watch on the free Apple TV app on an iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV box and on tv.apple.com, or through select smart TVs, Sony PlayStation Xbox gaming consoles, and through Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast and Roku set-top boxes and streaming devices.
NBCUniversal's Peacock streaming service and Major League Baseball also struck a deal for a package of 18 Sunday games that began May 8 that start at either 11:30 a.m. or noon EDT weekly. Seventeen of the 18 games will be available exclusively to Peacock Premium subscribers. Peacock Premium subscribers, who pay $4.99 a month to watch with ads, or $9.99 without them, can already watch Premier League soccer, World Wrestling Entertainment wrestling and Indycar racing
Paramount+ (starting at $4.99 a month) lets subscribers stream the Masters, PGA Tour and most of the sports that air on CBS, including the NFL.
You were also able to stream the 2022 Masters on ESPN+ as well as Masters.com. The extent of coverage varied on each site.
WarnerMedia’s HBO Max (starting at $9.99 a month) will be getting U.S. women’s and men’s national team soccer matches next year.
'Majority' of good stuff still free
“Not all of one sport, one league is in the same place anymore, whether that location is TV versus online or even a specific channel or network,” says Will Mao, a New York-based vice president at Octagon Global Media Rights Consulting sports marketing and talent management agency.
“The good news is the majority of the good stuff — the NCAA (basketball) championship, the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, World Series, etc. — will continue to be in the TV world and in most cases … will be free to air.” Free, of course, is relative since you’re still likely paying for cable or satellite, unless you use an over-the-air TV antenna.
But if you are a rabid fan of a sport “and want to watch every single game, that’s where it becomes a little bit more difficult and a little bit more expensive," Mao says. "You used to be able to watch a greater percentage of what was available without having to pay for multiple services, but the actual overall availability of content is so much greater now, and there are so many more convenient ways to access that content.”
Instead of being stuck in front of a TV, you can watch on your laptop, phone or tablet when you’re on the move.
“I would say there should be a premium or value placed on that kind of convenience and being able to watch whenever and wherever you want,” Mao says.
How do I know where my game is?
Having more to watch also means finding your game may be more difficult. The NCAA men's basketball semifinals and final used to air on CBS. This year they were on TBS. Hulu and ESPN+ stream National Hockey League games. But ABC, ESPN and TNT broadcast NHL games you might see through your cable package.
The best way may be to conduct a basic Google search. When it comes to baseball, cable TV and DirecTV remain the most reliable way to watch your local team, Swann says. They are the most likely to carry your regional sports network compared with other options.
“But if you go with cable or DirecTV, you’ll have to pay their prices, which are more than what live streaming services charge,” he says.
Die-hard baseball fans willing to cut the cord and give up other pay TV services may find it’s worth spending $139.99 annually to get the MLB.tv streaming subscription. The service lets you watch live and on-demand home and away broadcast feeds for every Major League game with one big catch: Unless you’re out of town, your home-market games are blacked out.
That may be too expensive if you’re more of a casual baseball fan or have limited income. Do you subscribe to the baseball package and give up, say, your $19.99 a month premium Netflix subscription, or perhaps your $14.99 a month tab to watch HBO Max in 4K without ads?
The NBA sells League Pass subscription packages to watch all its live basketball games for one team for $13.99 a month, with certain blackout restrictions, or $29.99 a month to stream all the teams ad free, again with restrictions.
Ways to reduce the cost
For its part, Disney is trying to placate consumers who love both sports and movies. It is bundling subscriptions for Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ for $13.99 a month to watch Hulu with ads or $19.99 without the ads. It’s a sweeter deal than buying any of the trio a la carte.
Plus, your existing cable subscriptions may come with streaming benefits. For example, certain Comcast Xfinity Flex and Xfinity X1 customers can get Peacock Premium at no additional cost; Comcast owns NBCUniversal.
If you pay for HBO as part of your traditional cable plan, you may be able to get HBO Max for free. And check with your credit card company to see if benefits include cash reward points or cash back bonuses when you use your card to pay for streaming services.
An updated baseball cliché seems appropriate: You can’t tell the streamers without a scorecard. And the bottom line? When it comes to streaming and watching sports nowadays, it’s a whole new ballgame.
This story, originally published, April 7, 2022, has been updated to reflect Apple's deal with Major League Soccer and to remove outdated information.
Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune and is the author of Macs for Dummies and the coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies.
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