Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Carnage and Opportunity

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 5.23.2017


It’s what they call in Washington a ‘True Fact’ that cord cutting is affecting the sports world in a major way. North America’s biggest sport rights holder, ESPN, is front and center in this battle of the cord cutting and the traditional way things have been done.  Subscribers are fleeing at a rapid rate (down 12% since 2010) and ESPN along with the sports leagues are trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding or profit from the change. While the traditional powers are nervous, small leagues and up and coming sports are rejoicing.

ESPN has spent billions on sports rights between the NFL, NBA, MLB, college football and others. To give you an idea of how much they do spend a year, they spend over a billion dollars on the NFL alone and they only get one game a week! With the old cable and satellite model being blown up, the network and the leagues are looking at every option available to them which is partially why ESPN’s parent company, Disney, bought into MLB Advanced Media last summer.

The NFL, MLB, MLS, PGA and NBA are already reaching out in different ways to get their live programing to their fans. Whether it is the NFL cutting a deal with Amazon or MLB and MLS signing deals with Facebook, the sports leagues are already preparing for the day when they see a decrease in the value of their sports rights. Gone are the days of multi-billion dollar deals for the exclusive right to show a sport. In the near future the leagues and big time college conferences will have to spread the costs among several outlets.

ESPN is approaching this transition a little discombobulated. The fact is that live streaming on platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter will not replace the loss of dollars from the traditional cable/satellite/TV world. However, these new platforms are a life saver to niche or relatively new entities like eSports, MMA and others.

ESports were born online and are thriving on platforms like Twitch, YouTube and even Facebook. These OTT platforms are also paying a whole lot less for the sports rights than ESPN, NBCSports and Fox Sports are paying for traditional sports like the NFL and NBA. These new platforms also provide these niche or newer sports the right demographic and a ton of exposure.

What does this mean? A lot more exposure for League or Legends, Overwatch and even the UFC if they play their cards right.

Remember, these niche and newer sports and starting from scratch in a way. An mid eight figure deal for an eSports league or new MMA organization is a windfall for them. The same can be said for a non-power five conference like the Mountain West who floated the idea earlier this year of going to straight OTT model.

The fact is that Disney, Comcast, and Fox are unlikely to retract the amount of cable outlets they have. And if they are unwilling to play these huge amounts for the rights to the NFL, NBA and others then they’ll have to fill the hours on their networks somehow. That could give newer, cheaper sports entities like Riot Games League or Legends or the UFC an opportunity to swoop in provide quality content that pull desirable demos for a reasonable price.

The winds of change are upon the sports networks and leagues. You are already seeing layoffs because of these changes and you are going to see more. But these changes are inevitable and disrupting but not the end all be all. Opportunity does exist for the traditional sports networks and leagues but the have to accept the fact their options may not be as beneficial to them as things were in the past. For the newcomers, get ready for a windfall of money and a lot more exposure. Here’s to hoping that you know how to scale.

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Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Labor Day

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


I cut the cord last November. While addicted to sports, it made little sense to pay Comcast $150+ a month so I could watch various college football games and receive NFL RedZone. I began looking into other options. I found Sling TV and a plain, old fashion over the air antenna. This is the football season where I will be a full fledged ‘sports cord cutter’ and this is how it’s going.

Labor Day Weekend

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FSU vs Ole Miss via Sling TV over an LTE network.

Labor Day weekend is a college football fanatics wet dream. Games start Thursday and run all the way thru Monday night. Lately, more teams have chosen to play tougher/big named opponents as opposed to the “cream puffs” they’ve scheduled in the past which means that there are very few games you want to miss. It used to mean that you held your couch down for a couple of days but now you can be mobile and still watch the games at a high quality. It can be cumbersome but it’s also cheaper.

Over The Top (OTT) providers have a lot of variables to consider. The client side device (phone, tablet, laptop, etc) and bandwidth are the two major variables. While at a Starbucks eating breakfast I was able to stream ESPN via Sling TV and get a very clear picture. I jumped between a couple of channels on Sling and didn’t see a drop off in image quality.

When I switched over to ESPN3 to watch the Oklahoma vs Houston game, the video was throttled way down and the picture was very pixelated. After a few minutes the picture improved but there still was a noticeable difference between Sling’s compression and ESPN3’s. It wasn’t bad enough to discourage you from watching the game but it could sway a user from watching the game if they are really retentive about that kind of thing.

OU vs UH on ESPN3
OU vs UH on ESPN3

Another issue for OTT providers to solve is how cumbersome it is to switch between apps and ever within the app itself. What this does do is prevent you from flipping back and forth between games, a practice some remote control specialists like myself are all to accustomed too. You in sense become forced to watch the game you select and sit through any and all ads. I doubt that the content providers thought of this because they have enough to worry about with their own application much less how easy it is to switch between video apps.

The biggest downside of course is that not all networks offer games online. Or more specifically, they do not have a lot of providers streaming the channel.

Perfect example is CBS Sports Network. An underrated channel that carries Conference USA, Army, Navy and the Mountain West games. If you are a cord cutter like myself then you are kind of out of luck when it comes to streaming this channel. They had three cable providers with the authority to stream games and unless you know someone with a cable subscription to one of those three providers than you were up the creek without a paddle. At which point you have to make the decision, ‘do I go to the sports bar and ask for them to turn on the Northern Illinois vs Wyoming game or do I just listen to the radio call?’

imageWhile being able to watch games wherever you want like on your home wifi while cooking dinner or via the Verizon LTE network while walking home from dinner. The resolution via Sling TV was pretty impressive. It didn’t waver although you might get a black screen.

Cord cutting does still involve, and probably always will, a lot of password sharing. Some OTT providers work around this with a limited number of users at a time. Others don’t seem to care. It is an issue that may never be solved because at some level it’s just un-American.

Yes you can safely and reliably watch college football while being a cord cutter. It’s cumbersome at times but much cheaper than the current alternatives. Not all the channels are available and you may have to sweet talk your family members into giving you their password so you can get other games. Overall the initial weekend of college football viewing was a success but there are still 16 weeks left in the season. Let’s see if this holds up.

Another Step Closer

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Sling TV continues to slash and burn it’s way through the jungle of sports rights. Last week it announced that you can now get a FOX package on the service. This includes FS1 and FOX Regional Sports Networks, giving cord cutters another reason to move to Sling TV.

NEW SLING TV OFFERINGThe announcement kind of came in under the radar. It was all of a sudden…there and according to The Verge, you can get this new ‘FOX’ package (which is in beta) along with the original Sling TV package that has all of the ESPN channels including ESPN3.

The big thing here is the FOX Regional Sports Networks (FSN). So if you live in New York and cannot get the Yankees because you are a Comcast subscriber, well now you have an option. This of course depends on if you live in the footprint of the YES Network. While I have yet to confirm it, I am confident that you can cut the cord in Tennessee and get FSN Tennessee with this new package (someone in Nashville confirm this for me please).

I have always made the argument that cord cutting is really possible for the sports fan but this addition only adds to the argument. Now there are still a lot of caveats to cutting the cord. NBC Sports is still not available without a cable or satellite subscription which makes watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs a bit of a problem. There is also the issue of watching local teams in a market like Denver or San Francisco.

None the less, this move by Sling TV is welcome news to the cord cutting sports fan.

The Local Darkside of Cord-Cutting

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


A few months ago I wrote about how cord-cutting has become a real option for sports fan with the introduction of Sling.tv and other OTT services. A few months into the switch I have uncovered one downfall of cord-cutting, not being able to watch local teams.

If you live in a region where there is no local sports team foot print (and good luck finding one) then you should be fine. If you live in Colorado Springs and cut the cord then also say goodbye to Avalanche, Nuggets, Rapids and Rockies games while sitting in the comfort of your own home.

Penguins Map
Pittsburgh Penguins Regional Sports Network Map. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The current setup stipulates that if you live in a teams broadcast footprint then you have to watch those teams over their regional sports network (RSN). This is done for good reason too. The RSN’s have paid an absurd amount of money for the rights to these games. For example, the Dodgers received $8.35 billion from Time Warner for their deal and the Padres got $50 million a year from Fox and they haven’t been close to the playoffs since 1999. The last thing these big cable folks would want is to have MLB.tv or NHL.tv jump in and offer  much lower prices for the cord-cutters.

The downside of course is that the local fan who is not seeing their wage increase in this economy (which is a pretty common event) is left out on the cold. The options are to go to the game (not economically practical), spend the money for cable or satellite or go old school, listen to it on the radio.

Is there a viable alternative? Not right now. The facts are this, the costs of sports rights have gone up while incomes have gone sideways. Until RSN’s see a bigger decline in viewership which forces them to seek other profit generators like live streaming then cord-cutters are out of luck. It’s also good to remember that the digital rights of these games are probably still held by the league and the vast majority of these deals are locked up for a large period of time.

Needless to say, cord-cutters…break out the radio. An actual one too because the online radio rights are held by the leagues.

Skipper In The Storm

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


The head of ESPN, John Skipper, did an interview with the Wall Street Journal where he talked about cord-cutting, Apple, and ESPN’s plans.

John SkipperSkipper says that Apple is close to being a bigger player in the TV service realm but are ‘frustrated by their ability to construct something which works for them with programmers.’ The Q & A goes on to touch on Sling TV and sports rights.

The major hurdle Skipper and ESPN have, along with other outlets, is the handoff from traditional distribution to digital combined with the rising cost of sports rights.

The fact is this, digital doesn’t pull in the dollars like traditional cable and satellite distribution does. Hence people are reluctant to do anything that could effect the cash cow because that cow is how ESPN affords the $1.9 billion a year for NFL rights.

Skipper has a tough job, ‘how do you make the handoff and maintain or increase revenue at the same time?’ Not sure there is an answer until but you are at some point going to be forced to make decision. That moment is coming closer with the evidence being the 7 millions subscribers ESPN has lost over the last two years.

I think Skipper very much understands the situation and see’s the gathering storm. Some sign makers on College GameDay differ and they could be right but Skipper doesn’t sound to me like someone who is panicking. The next questions becomes, will the Disney board panic if subscribers continue to decline?

Cord Cutting Is Here For The Sports Fan

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


“Cord Cutting” is one of the hip terms thrown around in the cable, satellite and broadcast world. The real question is, is this a viable option for the true sports fan. The sports fan is, after all, why entities like ESPN, CBS, FOX and NBC write checks with three commas in them to leagues to acquire their rights. So the answer is YES you can cut the cord…almost.

SECN on SLING
SEC Network via Sling TV on an iPad.

Dish Network launched Sling TV earlier this year. They keys for Sling TV are as follows: there is no contract, it is $25 a month with the “sports extra” package that includes the ESPN family of networks and is device agnostic. Yes, it is a viable option for the sports fan. While the speed of your internet connection is a factor in how good your picture quality is, overall it’s an easy to use service that allows you to watch all of the ESPN channels anywhere you want on just about any device.

Outside of the ESPN channels, the sports package isn’t anything to scream about. The package also offers beIN sports, Outdoor Channel, Univision IDN and the now defunct Universal Sports. I am not sure that these really qualify for a “sports package” but you get them none the less. So in reality you are paying $5 a month for ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, SEC Network, and ESPN3. ESPN3 is kind of a hidden gem because it can allow you to watch games on ABC which is awesome if you have a bad over the air signal. You can also use ESPN3 and the WATCH ESPN app to watch a second game because your Sling TV account is a single sign on. That means one account, one screen at a time.

Sling TV doesn’t offer rewind functionality or a DVR. These can be annoying but not deal breakers by any stretch of the imagination.

SLING TV
Sling TV on the Roku 3.

If you live out of market then you are still paying for the league apps like MLS Live, NHL Gamecenter, MLB.TV, etc. You can also get NFL Sunday Ticket online in certain markets. The cost is the same as DirecTV but if you have the money it’s an awesome package. All of these apps available on virtually all of the OTT devices, Do your homework though to make sure that the app your looking for is available on the device you are thinking about purchasing.

Twitter

On the positive side, Sling TV’s customer service is pretty awesome especially if you go through Twitter to do it. It’s a pay as you go service but if you pre pay a few months ahead of time then they will give you deal on an OTT player like a Roku or Amazon Fire. I went with the Roku 3 after watching a review by Lon Seidman and despite some minor drawbacks, it’s working out pretty well.

There are drawbacks of course to cutting the cord. If you go the Sling TV route and dump your cable or satellite subscription then you do not get FS1, CBS Sports Network, NBCSN, NFL Network. NHLN, NBA TV, MLBN or your regional sports channels. This means that if you live in a market like San Francisco, Phoenix, Houston, Pittsburgh, etc then you won’t be able to see your local teams in baseball, basketball, hockey and so forth. You’ll also be blocked out by the league packages offered by MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS and be forced to head to your local sports bar or the game itself.

The other drawback is that you are back on over the air TV. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because, well, it’s free. However, if you live in a place with a bad signal then you may not get your basic network channels like ABC or CBS which isn’t a problem until Sunday NFL games roll around.

Something that you may not have thought about ( I didn’t) is the ability to switch quickly between games. On a college football Saturday, I will swap between three or four games at a time. That is very difficult to do if you cut the cord. Instead of changing channels, you are jumping in and out of apps and swapping sources on your TV. It can be annoying but not impossible.

There are work arounds for all of these issues of course. First, grab someones log in so that you can stream games from apps like NBCSN and FOX SPORTS GO. Research and invest in a super strong indoor antenna for your local channels. It may sound hokey in 2015 but if you want your local Sunday NFL games then you’ll definitely need one.

Finally you have to address your internet connection. You’ll want the fastest possible speed you can get and no matter what your cable company tells you, you do have a cap. I haven’t hit it yet but even if I do go over it’s a $10 change. That is still significantly cheaper than a $150 cable bill.

The fact is that you can cut the cord and still watch sports. It’s cumbersome but not as impossible as it was say five years ago. It’s cheaper in the long run but the short term costs and hit you pretty good. The fact remains that true sports fans can now be cord cutters too and it’s is only going to get better.

The NFL Embraces Cord Cutting

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

NFL & Verizon Wireless

This past Tuesday the NFL signed an exclusive deal with Verizon Wireless to stream not just Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games (along with the NFL Network & NFL RedZone) but also Sunday games starting in 2014. The cost to Verizon, a cool $1 billion over 4 years. This represents the first sports league to truly embrace cord cutting.

The NFL’s deal will gives fans access to Sunday games which are the local games. (If you live in Atlanta you see the Atlanta Falcons for example.) This is the first sports league to embrace this model. Other sports leagues like the NBA, MLB, NHL and even MLS blackout local games due to contracts with regional sports networks (RSNs). The NFL doesn’t have this problem. All of their tv rights are with national broadcasters or cable companies and not with RSNs.

What does this do for the average sports fan? Well it allows them access to their local game along with the Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games without the cost of a cable or satellite bill. This is unprecedented.

This is not free though. It is only available on the NFL app on Verizon which costs $5 a month plus whatever data you use. This could make for a hefty mobile bill if you have a data limit on your smartphone. It is also not available on your tablet however there does not appear to be any effort to block you from switching the game from your smartphone to your TV via Apple TV (if you have the Apple TV device).

The NFL may be the only league to be able to get away with this kind of deal. With the amount of money that RSNs are paying out to their local teams it doesn’t seem likely that another league would be able to cut out the local RSNs without a significant battle. How much are the RSNs paying out? Well earlier this year the LA Dodgers signed a 25-year $7 billion deal with Time Warner Cable and a new RSN was formed, SportsNet LA.

The NFL has taken the first step in recognizing where their fans are going and making sure that their product is in front of them anywhere and everywhere. It’s not free but for the price it is not a bad option if you truly want to be a cord cutter.