The new Disney, Warner and Fox sports service is a huge salvo in the streaming wars

The seemingly endless fracturing of sports has made it exceedingly difficult to consume games as a fan since streaming became the predominant way people consume sports. Primetime NFL games are split across multiple services, the same is true of the NBA, MLB and NHL — and if you’re hoping to watch your local team … you might be searching forever before learning it’s locked behind a traditional tier of cable you don’t have.

That could all be getting simpler soon. Variety reported on Tuesday that Disney, Warner, and Fox are teaming up to launch their own sports-centric streaming service, which would unify the broadcast rights of three of the largest stakeholders in live sports. The yet-to-be-named service is expected to cost between $20-30 per month, which could be a boon for consumers, particularly those who pay exorbitant prices to ensure they have sports over cable, through Hulu + Live TV, or YouTube TV — all of which cost upwards of $75 per month.

While this could be the best thing to happen to sports fans since streaming took over, we’re left with a lot of lingering questions on what the future looks like.

Why are these companies launching a new service when they have existing properties?

It’s about cutting out the middle man. If we look at the existing structure on carriage fees (how much a broadcaster gets from a carrier), it’s a business which is built at scale. On average ESPN received $9.42 per customer, per month as part of a cable package in 2023.

The market for cable is drastically shrinking, so these three companies are gambling that existing sports fans will sign up for their new streaming service, as well as hoping the sports-only offerings will convince those who don’t have a service because of price, will sign up.

If we assume the service will cost $30 a month, then Disney, Warner and Fox will all make $10 each in carriage fees off the service. Essentially they’re paying themselves, instead of negotiating with a cable company over carriage fees.

What exactly would be included in this new service?

On the surface you might think that Disney, Warner and Fox don’t represent a large stake in sport — until you break down what these three networks bring to the table with their rights agreements.

  • Disney: The entire ESPN family of networks, which includes the SEC Network, Longhorn Network, and ACC Network. This includes the rights to Monday Night Football, NBA on ESPN, and MLB on ESPN.
  • Warner: The biggest element here is TNT and TBS, which hold rights to the NBA, NHL, MLB and March Madness.
  • Fox: Significant Sunday rights holder for the NFL, as well as NASCAR, MLB, and college basketball.

What does its main competition look like?

We can read the tea leaves and see the line being drawn in the sand by who isn’t in this unified service: Namely Amazon, NBC and CBS. All three have their own NFL rights, with Amazon routinely showing a growing interest in having a stake in live sports.

Traditionally CBS likes to operate more independently of other companies, which is where someone like Netflix could come in. Netflix is desperate to gain a bigger piece of the sports landscape, pairing its existing suite of reality sports documentaries with live sports — with the addition of WWE Monday Night Raw being its first true foray into weekly live streaming.

It’s unclear whether these companies could form a separate entity, decide to continue alone, or try to become a part of this new sports streaming service.

Could professional wrestling be a new battleground?

This is where the new service becomes quite fascinating, because professional wrestling is a major sports offering which does garner significant money. With Netflix signing WWE to a $5B deal, as well as other WWE programming airing on NBC’s Peacock, it opens the door for All Elite Wrestling to find a home on the new platform in direct competition.

AEW is rumored to be in the middle of rights negotiations with their existing partner Warner. Their two major shows, AEW Dynamite and AEW Collision air on TBS and TNT respectively, with their pay-per-views being offered in the United States through the Warner-owned Bleacher Report app.

If AEW were to re-sign with Warner, then their product would be available on this new streaming service. Therefore, it would behoove both ESPN and Fox to promote AEW as a means to drive subscriptions to their service, giving AEW exposure it previously hasn’t had.

It’s something to watch.

Is this new service good for sports fans?

It’s great, insofar that it appears to be cheaper and less confusing right now — with a heavy emphasis on the present tense. Streaming services have a tendency to routinely increase their prices at the drop of a hat, and as it stands $20-30 per month for the majority of professional sports in the U.S. feels a little too good to be true.

If this pricing holds, then it’ll be the best thing to happen to the industry. If we see these prices begin to creep, and/or a rival sports streaming service results in consumers needing to pay upwards of $50 a month just for sports, then this could all go bad.

Right now we can have cautious optimism about this, but there’s no doubt that the game has changed.

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