by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Good afternoon sports media fans. Things have been quiet in local sports media news lately. No changes to the radio line-ups. No changes to the local print media line-ups. Mostly the same faces on your TV to start the hockey and basketball seasons.
But behind the scenes there have been some pretty major changes in the last month. First, Bell moved on from their head of sports radio operations. Rob Gray was at TSN1040 in Vancouver, came to Toronto to launch TSN1050 and then went on to manage their national operations. Second, Scott Moore left Sportsnet and no replacement has been named as of yet.
The incumbents in both jobs face some pretty big decisions and each will presumably want to put their own stamps on the operations. This could mean some big staffing changes across radio, TV, and the web. We will be covering this story in more depth as it evolves.
The biggest news in recent weeks is that both TSN and Sportsnet lost English Premier League rights. The two networks have split these high profile games over the last several years. Streaming upstart DAZN (da-zone) pried the EPL rights away for 2019-20, reportedly on a 3 year deal. They will add these games to their existing line-up of MLS, Champions League, and several other European leagues and tournaments. TSN still has the rights to the World Cup and Euro championships.
In case you need it spelled out: this is a major development. Starting in 2019 the major international soccer events that people have been getting up early to watch on TSN and SN for the last decade will no longer be available. In order to watch them fans will need to pay $150 per year or $20 per month and learn how to stream to their TVs.
The technological obstacle is real, but surmountable. Most people find watching Netflix rather easy at this point in life. Once the DAZN app is on their smart TV or “over the top” device they will adjust as well.
The implications for traditional EPL viewers are deeper than just learning a new app. The monthly cost for DAZN will be on top of the roughly $100-120 per month people are already paying for cable service and equipment. That means they will need to pay for something they are used to getting “for free” with their existing cable package. While this is not the fault of TSN/SN, that’s where the anger will be focused. Why can’t I watch what I want to watch? What am I paying all this money for? Maybe it’s time to cut the cord?
Joshua Kloke of The Athletic was all over this story. According to his article:
All 380 Premier League matches will be available on DAZN. That would be the first time in Canada that every single Premier League match will be available on a single platform.
I reached out to follow up on some of the angles he touched on in the story. Here is our conversation.
Q: Would it be fair to say that, outside of the World Cup and Euro, the EPL is the most valuable international soccer package in Canadian TV?
JK: It’s certainly the most popular soccer league in the world in terms of audience numbers. Terms of this recent Canadian broadcast have not yet been released.
Q: How much crossover is there between TFC fans and international soccer fans? Are most TFC fans — the kind who buy tickets and watch games on TV — also fans of European soccer?
JK: It’s not uncommon to see Toronto FC fans who are dedicated to and passionate about MLS and MLS alone. But I’d say those fans are in the minority. Because there are more and more European players playing in MLS, more and more TFC fans are intently aware of what’s happening in European soccer. TFC has had its fair share of top European talent sign for the team in the recent past. It became a talking point when midfielder Victor Vazquez signed ahead of the 2017 season: He was a product of the Barcelona academy. So when these players sign for TFC, you have to expect that some fans will become aware of the clubs they played for, and maybe make some connections to teams they’d watched on TV previously, etc.
I think it should also be noted that, regardless of how you feel about the quality of play within the Premier League compared to other European leagues, the Premier League is in its own stratosphere in terms of worldwide popularity. Per Forbes, six of the 10 most valuable soccer franchises in the world are in the Premier League. Premier League clubs are able to go on pre-season tours throughout Asia and North America and play meaningless games and have thousands of people attend. Premier League club shirts are worn on every corner of the Earth, including every TFC game. I always see a few from the press box at BMO Field. These clubs, and therefore the Premier League itself, have such an incredible reach.
Q: It is unclear whether either network will continue with their studio shows if they are no longer carrying the broadcasts. In my opinion studio shows don’t add much value in 2018. In your opinion, how important are studio shows specifically to Canadian viewers of international soccer?
JK: In my opinion, studio shows and the way that games are presented are very important to Canadian viewers. TSN and Sportsnet should be commended for presenting games that may have appeared strange and foreign in an accessible manner. Both networks presented an excellent blend of in-depth analysis and entertaining commentary with humorous but knowledgeable personalities. With former Canadian players and great hosts, well-executed studio shows can connect a foreign game to local viewers.
Q: With so many channels to fill it’s hard to believe that TSN and SN were outbid, especially if there was a chance to be the exclusive home of the EPL in Canada. Did your sources provide any insight into how this deal came about?
JK: My understanding is bidding for the Premier League rights was decided a few weeks ago. The bidding went to two rounds. Sportsnet and TSN teamed up again but after the second round of bidding, the Premier League partnered with DAZN.
Q: More generally, given where the MLS is in Canada right now in terms of growth, how much should the team (and league) be invested in trying to woo international soccer fans living in North America to watch. Is the domestic fanbase big enough to support the league going forward?
JK: This is, again, my opinion but given that soccer is a sport driven by its stars, the more young talent that MLS teams develop, the more popular the league will become domestically. Again, this is my opinion, but children playing a sport generally want to emulate the stars they see on TV. The more young domestic players that are produced by clubs, the more likely that the young domestic fanbase will grow. Young Canadians might have watched Alphonso Davies have an incredible season for the Whitecaps and thought ‘I want to be like him.’ And when it becomes evident that young players from Canadian youth soccer organizations can succeed in MLS, that will only increase the fanbase.
Thanks to Josh for taking the time to answer my questions. Follow him on Twitter and read him at The Athletic.
The Bigger Picture
This is a really interesting development. The Leafs, Raps, and Jays will always be on conventional cable because they are owned by MLSE (Bell and Rogers). For smaller leagues, direct to consumer streaming makes sense. I am shocked that neither TSN nor SN managed to lock down the rights. It says something about their bidding strategy but it might also say something about the EPL. Perhaps they see streaming as the future and are just as happy to cut the cord themselves.
As more and more sports are available on a free-standing basis the appeal of cable will shrink for single sports fans. If you just want baseball then you can pay $150 for MLB.TV instead of over $1000. Yes, you will miss out on lots of channels, but chances are you won’t actually miss them. Most popular shows are easily available via streaming from the network websites.
There’s something odd about sports fans thinking they are paying too much for cable. Many have pointed out that the cost of sports on cable is subsidized by people who just want to watch the Bachelor but have no real choice to opt out of paying for TSN and SN. This will only get worse as sports fans switch to streaming services. There has been a steady increase in carriage fees going to TSN and SN. Even if their core audience shrinks, premium channels will still have the leverage to demand more from cable companies. This, in turn, will motivate the Bachelor watchers to cut the cord and seek out other ways of watching.
Then there’s the looming spectre of Apple launching their own TV service to compete with Netflix, Amazon, and Disney. Once you get used to watching your shows and sports through apps on your Apple TV or other OTT-box it’s easy to reconsider the big monthly outlay for cable TV.
It’s worth noting that Sportsnet recently lowered ($20 for basic) and raised ($28 for premium) the price for their own standalone streaming service. TSN sits in the middle at $25. These are good prices if you can get by with only one of them. Once you are paying for both then it might make sense just to stick with cable, or go with neither.
Last point: it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that everyone out there has the same habits as you do. As far as I can see, most people fall into one of two categories: 1) couch-first viewers or 2) mobile-first viewers. Most older folks are in category 1. Younger viewers are in the category 2. The biggest problem for Bell and Rogers is that mobile first viewers are increasingly “cord-nevers”. What this means is that as they age and become more domestic they will need to be convinced that cable is the answer rather than just continuing to stream shows as needed. Right now the monthly price of cable is a deal-breaker in terms of value, when you compare it to single sport subscriptions, DAZN, or to other streaming services like Netflix.
One more thought: another published story notes that DAZN runs pre and post game shows as well as a RedZone-style live highlights program for its Champions League coverage.
On Wednesday, DAZN Canada announced programming details in support of its game coverage and included are pre and post-matchday shows. In addition to having a choice of watching any of the matches live, subscribers will be able to take in all six games that kick off at 3:00 ET by tuning in to “Box to Box.” DAZN’s Colin Murray will host “Box to Box” a program and concept new to Canadian soccer fans. “Box to Box” will show all the goals and key moments and incidents from the six matches running concurrently.
It therefore seems likely they will do the same for the EPL. It will be very interesting to see if TSN and SN keep their soccer panel personalities around given that they won’t have access to the broadcasts. Many of these people are synonymous with the sport in Canada, and DAZN might eventually come calling.
A few questions for you to ponder and comment on below:
- What’s the right price for cable given your own viewing habits?
- What’s the right price for a single sport subscription?
- What’s the right price for DAZN (assuming it will never have Jays, Raps, Leafs, and TFC)?
- How difficult is it for you to stream in your household?
- Do you watch panel shows before and after games or would be just as well served if these disappeared?
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)