With ESPN today airing college football’s “Final Four” via the College Football Playoff, here are four things to look for in 2018 within the cable TV sports arena. While it’s virtually impossible to predict anything within a very fluid and uncertain TV sports marketplace that will be influenced by major business transactions (i.e. A&T/Time Warner and Disney/21st Century Fox) and the growing presence of digital media players (i.e Amazon, Facebook and Twitter), keep an eye on these key developments in 2018.
UFC, WWE will remain on cable
Fox Sports will renew its expiring television deal with UFC and NBCUniversal will pin down a new deal for the WWE’s weekly live Raw and SmackDown show which expires in 2019, but don’t be surprised if Turner Sports or another wild card digital media company pulls off an upset and secures rights to at least one of the popular ring sports/entertainment franchises.
Streaming services will aggressively pursue live sports rights
Online services such as Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, Twitter and Yahoo will continue to find ways to aggressively play in the live sports arena. With Verizon's recent deal to stream post-season NFL games in 2018 and the Super Bowl in years to come on its go90 service as well as its owned Yahoo and Yahoo Sports platforms, it’s inevitable that more marquee sports events will migrate to digital. Look for rights to local sports events and other lower-profile pro sports events to find their way to the web, similar to Amazon’s 2017 acquisition of live streaming rights to the Next Gen ATP Finals tennis tournament.
OTT, DTC will be in play for sports networks
ESPN, CBS Sports and Turner Sports will draw decent numbers for their respective over-the-top subscription services expected to launch this year. Look for cable sports services to experiment more with digital direct-to-consumer services on the regional level where possible, similar to NBC Regional Sports Networks’ package of 15 Portland Trailblazers’ NBA games launched this past December.
Ring sports to punch up more digital PPV purchases for live sports events
Digital buys for ring sports events will represent a higher percentage of the overall pay-per-view purchase numbers for boxing and mixed martial arts events. The blockbuster Aug. 26 Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor reportedly drew 10% to 12% of its whopping 4.3 million buys from online purchases through Showtime’s new PPV app and UFC’s Fight Pass service. Look for more PPV boxing matches to be available for purchase online in 2018 as the streaming technology for delivering such content continues to improve.