Is the dam finally about to break on sports streaming services?
Direct-to-consumer game feeds — what most every sports fanatic really wants — have always been illusory. Some of that is technological, some the result of business/marketing decisions by the teams and their leagues. The sports viewer has traditionally felt like a fifth wheel in the dynamic.
However, a future smorgasbord of live games — available everywhere fans want to watch — is starting to seem inevitable. Could this utopia be the future of sports packages?
Regional sports network New England Sports Network has announced an independent streaming sports package for its programming lineup — the major draw here being the Boston Red Sox baseball team and Boston Bruins hockey team.
The (suddenly) available service, called NESN 360, requires only an internet connection and streaming device or smartphone. No traditional cable service or satellite dish is required.
Programming will include more than just the games, however. NESN is touting pregame and post-game shows, other original programming along with some select college games, minor league baseball and hockey games and an archive of material including classic Red Sox and Bruins games.
It’s a bit pricey at $29.99 per month or $329.99 per year (a rate which adds some “free” Red Sox tickets to entice buyers for the annual commitment).
Content is available through Apple TV and iPhone, Roku, Android-based devices or directly via a computer, though more options may come.
Current NESN cable subscribers can make use of the service as well. It will provide greater game coverage than the standard cable package offers.
Location-based Streaming Rights
But there is one hitch — isn’t there always?
The package is only available to those located in New England, e.g. Massachusetts, Connecticut (except Fairfield County), Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Why? Because that is where New England Sports Network owns the streaming rights to the teams it will be streaming. It doesn’t own the national rights so BoSox and Bruin fans in other parts of the country can’t buy the package.
This “direct-to-consumer service” is considered to be the first of its kind by a regional sports network, but it’s unlikely to be the last.
Sinclair promises to launch its regional sports network patchwork quilt later this year, with $19.99 per month and $189.99 per year price points. That grouping, designated Bally Sports, is made up of the old Fox Sports collection, though Sinclair says it is actively soliciting new offerings. The group has games from teams in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. It serves “markets” in about half the country, putting it on almost a national scale.
Ultimately, we still have one more step to go before the nirvana of buying your favorite team’s games and news, no matter where you are. That future is probably a few more years away. Perhaps un-geofenced option will be possible when new TV contracts are renegotiated.
And that leads to the final hitch, the market/territory aspect that team owners and sports broadcasters have always lived in. Many of them can’t see the forest for the trees. The money trees. (The money trees always rule.)
One more bit of good news is that NESN has also made a 4K/HDR signal available for its games. Yeah, baby!
Currently it is available to DirecTV, Verizon FiOS and Fubo clients. However, this offering is not part of the NESN 360 package described above but is limited to the cable and satellite feed.
Baby steps, baby steps.
And of course, for the truly fanatic sports watcher, the league packages are always available for your (pricey) enjoyment.