Local Sports Media: A National Issue

Local television is doing an admirable job holding its own against the stiff competition that is mobile and digital, but it still needs a lot of help. It’s an industry that has been on the decline ever since newspapers realized that advertising revenue wouldn’t be enough to support a team of writers to cover local sports teams. So when regional newspapers began to cut costs the sports desk was often the first to go – especially since national brands like ESPN were already offering similar content.4

Of course, no problem is ever as simple as having just one reason for it and so there are other mitigating factors. Contracts are one sticking point. In 2014, the Sharks – a Bay Area Hockey team – decided that its contract with Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area was giving them $7 million per season and still had 14 more seasons at that price to go. Thing is, as Mark Purdy, sports-blogger, pointed out “according to Forbes’ magazine and website, the Toronto Maple Leafs receive $41 million per season in local TV rights. Several other teams – the Rangers, Canadiens, Red Wings – bring in more than $30 million per season. The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks have $20 million-plus-per-season deals, as do Dallas and New Jersey and the New York Islanders.”1

Adds Purdy, “Needless to say, this puts the Sharks at a disadvantage. Do the math. Over the next five years alone, the Kings and Ducks will have a minimum of $65 million more than the Sharks to push payroll up to the salary cap limit and/or buy out contracts and/or turn a profit. The team says it isn’t making one now.”1

And according to Ben Koo “Combined with an expiring lease or a below average stadium or arena, bad television contracts now may destabilize a team to the point where they might have to flee the area. Or at least that’s what they’re selling the league and apparently in the Sharks scenario, it’s working.”2

Another sticking point is the lack of current options for local sports viewing.  Cord-cutters are abandoning cable TV (and, to a degree, local TV if they don’t have an HD antenna) in droves for the web. And cord-cutters are rewarded for that decision: Every major sports organization offers some kind of streaming package, from MLB.TV to NFL Live to NBA League Pass. These services are expensive compared to streaming subscriptions, and can cost between $100 and $200 per year.3

If you’re a die-hard sports fan in general, a cable subscription is probably worthwhile for that content alone. But if you follow only one or two teams in one or two sports, you can probably get away with paying $15 to $20 per month — much less than traditional paid TV.3

An interesting twist in the story appeared as recently as July 8, 2016, when TechCrunch reported on a new start-up called The Athletic. The athletic launched 6 months ago in Chicago – they hired the top sportswriters in the city on a full-time basis, and have them write a total of five to ten quality pieces of content a day. The startup is credentialed by all five sports teams in the city, and mixes in traditional sports reporting with inside access and exclusives from team executives and agents of the hottest players.4

But an even bigger twist comes in the form of Continuum; it’s a broadcaster solution that allows local TV stations to take control over their own destiny and not be slave to the business whims of countless cable companies and/or cord-cutters. If you’re a station, Continuum takes the sports, news and advertising you already have to automatically produce a polished 24/7 linear digital channel reaching new audiences across online, mobile + OTT.

Continuum allows you to load your local sports coverage up over three dynamic programming modes. It also communicates with master control/automation systems that can build go-to-air and/or streaming playlists. Combined with asset discovery and management solutions like CORE:sports, it’s a comprehensive foundation for local sports producers to remain relevant in today’s distributed media landscape.

However you decide to tackle it, local sports cannot take a back seat to this tech explosion.

Now let’s play catch (up).