Despite the fact that sport is considered universal, it’s one of the few things that doesn’t (always) take finances or social status into account.
Sport as a spectacle can still seem like an exclusive club.
Whether it’s watching games at a local stadium or on TV, there’s usually a financial barrier to entry for people hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite team.
Over the Top Content
The internet has provided a salve to this particular issue. Franchises such as the Philadelphia Eagles provide free access to their streaming content, while the YouTube and NBA websites are an endless repository of highlights, compilations, and press conferences for fans of every appetite.
The popularity of online sports hides a secret, though: namely, that viewers are happy to pay for their media.
Video site Vimeo claims that 56% of sports fans would be willing to part with more cash to view content online than on TV.
This interest is driven partly by the fact that the majority (64%) of self-described aficionados don’t live anywhere near their favorite teams.
With this in mind, there’s a sense that organizations like the NFL and NHL aren’t taking sufficient advantage of the appetite for sports media.
All of the above refers to what’s known as Over The Top (OTT) content, which describes programming that’s sent directly through the internet.
As with standard TV services like Prime Video and Netflix, content is highly segmented, meaning that fans who want to watch more than one league usually require more than one streaming package.
Unfortunately, this seems to be a necessary evil forced by licensing agreements.
The association of particular networks with individual sports seems to be evident in Google Trends popularity scores, which show a decline in generic searches like “streamed sports”. The ExpressVPN website notes that the search volume for this phrase fell by around half between 2017 and 2021.
Of course, there are other influences on the collective interest in sports that go beyond how and where they’re streamed.
ExpressVPN also reveals that the most important thing for UFC followers by far is Conor McGregor. While Sportskeeda seems to suggest McGregor isn’t all too popular anymore, given the Irishman’s quite remarkable fall from grace in recent times, the four most popular events since September 1, 2018, have been headlined by The Notorious.
This kind of discovery can make it easier to predict audience numbers in the future.
Supplementary content, i.e. sports content that isn’t related to games, matches, or races, can also increase the public’s interest in viewing official occasions.
A good 60% of sports fans state that supplementary content is important to them, again, according to Vimeo.
Interest in Formula 1 rocketed following the final season of Netflix Drive to Survive in February 2023.
Overall, while it’s difficult to view increased segmentation as a good thing, the willingness of fans to pay for their sport could increase the quality and quantity of material being offered by networks.