Accessing sport media through subscriptions isn’t a wholly new phenomenon. Paying for TV packages, whether that’s the good old days of Setanta Sports (remember them?!) alongside the omnipresent Sky Sports, as well as club-specific TV channels, have made the likes of the Premier League the powerhouse we know it to be today.
The emergence of digital in the past decade, and the resulting change in the way audiences consume media, has forced rights holders to reinvent the way their product is delivered. Sky left no stone unturned in this respect by creating an entirely new streaming platform, NOW TV, providing a mobile app and website for users to subscribe to TV, film and sports packages that were effectively made up of anything and everything that Sky had the rights to broadcast, but pulling in an audience totally separate to the standard Sky TV subscription.
Giving users access to sports content with subscription models in the digital sphere can help to offer a more immersive experience. In 2013, BT Sport entered the market as Sky’s main competitor in the UK by acquiring a portion of Premier League rights, before becoming the sole UK broadcaster of the UEFA Champions League. As the platform has grown, it has incorporated interactive features that allow users to change camera angles and even get alerts to switch to watch a goal in another match when matches are taking place simultaneously.
These changes in the way we consume sport media aren’t limited to broadcasting, either. The Athletic expanded into the UK back in 2019, poaching the best sports writers from a variety of publications and upsetting a lot of journalists on the way. To this day, The Sun football writer Neil Custis seemingly can’t post a tweet without someone trolling him about being overlooked by The Athletic, having been highly vocal about his opposition to them at the time.
Despite many initial doubters, the success of The Athletic can’t be denied. We’re always adamant that content is king, and with a wealth of cutting edge sports articles and podcasts all in one place, combined with enticing sign-up offers, the platform has pioneered in what was a disjointed and financially strained sector of journalism.
The future of sport media subscriptions
The financial issue is likely to shape how sport is packaged in broadcast media going forward too. Rights holders are increasingly haemorrhaging income as a result of illegal streaming, and while alternatives have been proposed such as season ticket-style subscriptions for specific teams, the industry is yet to find a solution.
It’s become apparent that the reasoning behind BT acquiring elite football rights in the first place was purely to bring in customers to its broadband offering. The same has been speculated about Amazon’s Prime Video, too, whose recent foray into Premier League coverage being the only flagship sports offering on its pre-existing streaming service in the UK.
BT Sport is set to sell its TV rights, and while Discovery is still in the running, the rights look most likely to be bought by the newest kid on the block when it comes to sport subscription services, DAZN. The launch of DAZN itself was big news at the time, but despite having rights to major European leagues to broadcast internationally, the brand is yet to establish a significant presence in the UK sport media market beyond its boxing coverage.
The word ‘transition’ has become something of a buzzword in sport recently, particularly in football, but it’s something that very much applies to the current state of sport media. There seems to be a necessity and a willingness to evolve, but we’re yet to land on a platform that will shape how we move forward. One thing is for sure, the appetite for live sport isn’t slowing down, and industry heads will be exploring a variety of avenues to ensure they’re not left behind.