The Future of Sports on Streaming Involves More Than Just Games

It's a busy category, and it's getting busier

Thursday Night Football
"Thursday Night Football" is one part of a much larger shift in how we watch sports.
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Peacock aired an NFL playoff game this season. To watch most Major League Soccer games, you’ll need to subscribe via Apple TV+. And Netflix just signed a massive agreement with WWE that has significant implications for wrestling fans both in the United States and internationally. The idea of sports on streaming services might have seemed bizarre a decade ago; now, it’s par for the course.

But sporting events themselves are only part of the equation. MLS and Leagues Cup matches aren’t the only soccer-related videos you can find on Apple TV+; there’s also the series Messi Meets America and the forthcoming Messi’s World Cup. And there’s far more where that came from, for virtually every sport. That, in turn, prompts a question: who’s the audience for these? Fans of an existing team or player, or newcomers looking to get up to speed?

It’s one of several questions that Parrot Analytics‘ Julia Alexander reckons with in a new article for Puck about what she dubs “sports-adjacent content.” (Think F1: Drive to Survive or Welcome to Wrexham.) Alexander offers a take that’s skeptical under certain circumstances and bullish under others.

“[V]ery few of these series charted on Nielsen,” she observes. But that doesn’t tell the whole story; she points out that, while the U.S. and Canada have reached a state of peak sports documentary, other international markets — including Brazil and South Korea — have more demand than supply. That suggests that there are large-scale deals still to be made.

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Alexander makes a case that sports themselves and sports documentaries are intertwined for streaming services. This, too, could have some implications for the industry: The Bulwark’s Sonny Bunch recently wrote, “it’s fair to say that some portion of the next NBA deal will be a streaming exclusive. AppleTV+ has a deal with MLB and MLS. It’s all about to happen and when it does happen it will be the end of linear cable.”

Should that happen, it’ll be fascinating to see what happens to the documentaries that flow around a given sport’s given season — and how that, in turn, alters how we watch sports even further.

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