The Rise of Over-the-Air Sports: How Cord-Cutting is Changing the Game

Regional sports networks face challenges as cord-cutting reduces their reach, leading teams to explore free over-the-air TV options.

For years, being a dedicated fan of a basketball, hockey, or baseball team without cable or satellite TV was a challenge. Most matchups were exclusively available on regional sports networks, leaving those without pay TV subscriptions with limited options. However, the rise of cord-cutting and the shift towards streaming video has changed the game. Regional sports networks are now reaching only 40% of households or less in many markets, compared to 10 years ago. As a result, teams are looking for ways to make their games accessible to a wider audience, leading to partnerships with local TV stations and the resurgence of over-the-air sports broadcasts.

Local TV Stations Step Up to the Plate

As cable cord-cutting continues to impact regional sports networks, local TV stations are stepping in to fill the gap. Major TV companies are engaging in discussions with teams to acquire local rights to their games. This trend is evident in the recent deals struck between teams and TV stations. The NHL’s Arizona Coyotes have partnered with E.W. Scripps to air all but one of their 82 games on a Scottsdale outlet. Similarly, the NBA’s Phoenix Suns will broadcast the majority of their games on Gray Television’s stations in Arizona. The Utah Jazz have also secured a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group to air their games on a station in Salt Lake City.

Increased Exposure and Revenue Opportunities

While the rights fees paid by TV stations to teams are likely less than what regional sports networks paid, the trade-off is wider exposure and potential revenue growth. TV stations offer teams the opportunity to reach a larger audience, increasing the value of advertising and sponsorship deals. Ratings for games on over-the-air broadcast outlets are typically two to three times higher than on regional sports networks, as they have the potential to reach every home. This increased exposure can have a significant impact on merchandise and ticket sales, benefiting the teams in the long run.

The Changing Landscape of Sports Broadcasting

The bankruptcy of Diamond Sports, a group of regional networks owned by Sinclair, and the merger that created Warner Bros. Discovery have created opportunities for TV station owners. With the regional sports network business in flux, TV station owners are looking to secure valuable sports programming to retain viewership. Live sporting events remain a powerful tool for broadcasters to engage audiences, accounting for the majority of the most-watched shows. Recognizing the shift towards streaming, TV station companies are also working with teams to offer games direct-to-consumer via the internet, combining over-the-air and streaming platforms.

The Rise of “Beaming and Streaming”

TV station companies are embracing the “beaming and streaming” model to cater to the evolving viewing habits of sports fans. By offering games over the air and through streaming services, they can reach both traditional TV viewers and those who prefer to stream content. For example, the Arizona Coyotes have partnered with Scripps to develop a streaming product for fans in addition to over-the-air broadcasts. The Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz have also launched streaming services that allow fans to access games online. This hybrid approach ensures that teams can reach a broader audience and adapt to the changing media landscape.

As cord-cutting continues to reshape the media landscape, regional sports networks are facing challenges in reaching audiences. However, this shift has opened up opportunities for local TV stations to step in and provide over-the-air broadcasts of games. By partnering with teams, TV stations can offer wider exposure and revenue opportunities, while also adapting to the growing demand for streaming options. The rise of “beaming and streaming” is transforming the way sports are broadcasted, ensuring that fans can enjoy their favorite teams’ games, whether they prefer traditional TV or streaming platforms.