March 4th, 2024

Analysts: Canada could see one-stop shop for sports streaming, but not in near future

By Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press on February 9, 2024.

While Canadian sports broadcasting powerbrokers have worked together on occasion in the past, it's unlikely they'd follow the path of their counterparts in the U.S. and team up again in the near future, sports media analysts said. Fans fill the stadium for the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers NHL Heritage Classic game in Edmonton on Sunday October 29, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

While Canadian sports broadcasting powerbrokers have worked together on occasion in the past, it’s unlikely they’d follow the path of their counterparts in the United States and team up again in the near future, sports media analysts said.

ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery announced plans this week to launch a sports streaming platform this fall. It would serve as a hub for fans who currently have to navigate multiple subscription services in the U.S. to livestream their favourite sports.

“The end goal is to re-bundle things,” said sports media analyst Adam Seaborn. “This is a step in the right direction from the U.S., but I wouldn’t hold your breath on there being an easy one-stop shop for sports (in Canada) any time soon.”

TSN and Sportsnet teamed up as part of Canada’s Olympic broadcast media consortium in 2010 to provide coverage of the Vancouver Winter Games. The longtime rivals also worked together on the Summer Games in London two years later.

Canadian fans currently have to turn to a number of different providers for prime sports content, with several streaming-only options in the mix.

Sportsnet’s main plums are the national NHL rights and the Toronto Blue Jays/MLB while TSN’s top content includes the NFL, CFL, Hockey Canada events and some regional NHL offerings. CBC has the rights to the Olympic Games while outlets like Fubo and DAZN are players on the streaming scene.

The new platform in the U.S., which is expected to cost $40-$50 per month, would include offerings from at least 15 networks and all four major professional sports leagues.

Seaborn, the head of partnerships at Toronto-based media company Playmaker Capital, said he doesn’t foresee the U.S. bundle deal changing current Canadian rights agreements in the short-term.

“This (U.S.) agreement is not going to supersede those deals,” he said. “But it does speak to a broader trend that doesn’t reflect the way the Canadian broadcast ecosystem is built up.

“So I would look at the trend right now in sports (as) leagues looking to go to global partners that no longer think of regional rights deals, they think of global rights deals.”

He pointed to two recent agreements — Apple TV landing Major League Soccer rights and World Wrestling Entertainment joining forces with Netflix — as examples of what could soon be more common in the Canadian market, pending clearance of any regulatory hurdles.

Mike Naraine, an assistant professor of sports management at Brock University, said having deep-pocketed streaming services on the scene may make a team approach more appealing for Canadian outlets in the future.

“The axis of traditional broadcasters seems to be a much more favourable option than trying to go into battle alone against some of these new players with the large influx of cash that they have,” he said.

In the U.S., the three companies would each share one-third ownership in the joint venture. Additional details are to be released later this year.

With power players like Apple, Amazon and others looking to make their mark by landing desirable live sports content, Seaborn said there may not be a need for Canadian broadcasters to be involved in their traditional way down the road.

“The distribution problem is no longer there for international companies,” he said. “You don’t need to go sign a bunch of deals with local cable or satellite operators in Canada anymore. You can just go straight through the internet to Canadian consumers.

“So there is definitely a world where the Canadian domestic broadcasters continue to get cut out. There’s no need for a Canadian company to just re-broadcast something that’s already being streamed over a streaming service that’s already being subscribed to.”

The announcement of the bundle comes as ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery are preparing to enter negotiations to renew their NBA rights, which expire at the end of next season.

In Canada, meanwhile, the NHL’s $5.2-billion, 12-year agreement with Rogers Communications Inc., (Sportsnet is part of the Rogers Sports & Media subsidiary) is set to expire after the 2025-26 season.

Adding to the murky future is some uncertainty on the domestic sports media scene.

Bell Media announced this week that it would end multiple TV newscasts and make other programming cuts after its parent company announced job reductions and the sale of 45 of its 103 regional radio stations.

TSN is a part of Bell Media but the impact on the network’s television and sports radio programming wasn’t immediately clear. A TSN spokesperson did not immediately return a message, but longtime SportsCentre anchor Cory Woron announced on social media that his 24-year run there had ended.

Last December, CBC and Radio-Canada said that 600 jobs would be cut and 200 vacancies won’t be replaced over the next year. Last July, Rogers Communications Inc., confirmed a small percentage of staff left involuntarily since Rogers combined with Shaw.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2024.

With files from The Associated Press. Follow @GregoryStrongCP on X.

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