Streaming services and broadcasters need to step up to the plate for sports fans

Mike Trout’s Angels are amongst the local sports teams that Hulu customers are unable to watch. Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons

Services like Hulu and broadcasters like Sinclair have yet to agree, leaving local fans in the dark

Over the past few years, sports fans have found it increasingly difficult to readily view their favorite local teams. Angels baseball fans with YouTube TV are forced to look elsewhere since the service dropped Fox Sports West in March 2020, according to Variety. Streaming refugees were once again shut down in October 2020 when Hulu dropped all Fox Sports regional networks nationwide.

With that in mind, is it fair for Hulu to run extensive ad campaigns with basketball star Damian Lillard and baseball slugger Aaron Judge, alluding to some robust catalog of live sports broadcasts? Most customers are limited to national broadcasts, and that’s only if the game isn’t subject to backward regional blackout rules. In their current state, the Anaheim Angels and Ducks only receive very few national broadcast opportunities, and most of those are blacked out for Southern California residents.

Local broadcasts of baseball, basketball and hockey going off the air is a losing situation for everyone involved. Fanatics miss out on their favorite teams. Consequently, broadcasters and providers walk away empty-handed due to their hubris, and sports franchises suffer from a decline in fandom. 

In 2019, Forbes reported that cord-cutting was on the rise. If streaming services are unable to accompany incoming sports fans, the trend could begin to reverse. Some will return to cable subscriptions, and others will even take up piracy. For example, Yahoo reported in 2019 that a $75 pay-per-view boxing match was legally purchased by 325,000 viewers compared to about 1.9 million illegal streamers.

However, the blame is not solely on the middlemen as broadcasting giants like Sinclair have played a role in the negotiation stalemates. Between official statements and entire smear websites, the two sides have played the blame game instead of taking action. Sinclair has had disputes with Dish TV, Hulu, and YouTube TV, suggesting that they are an instigator.

With its 21 networks, Sinclair holds a monopoly on regional sports broadcasts. If their greed prevents them from doling out an adequate amount of coverage, sports franchises and leagues should take it upon themselves to not sign long-term broadcast contracts that are manipulated without repercussion. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Sinclair inked a monster deal in December 2020 to retain ownership of all the Fox Sports regional channels, showing that the company won’t be out of the picture in the foreseeable future.

If the coverage issue at hand remains unalleviated, it will conflate viewership decline to create the potential for a grand implosion. Morning Consult reported that Generation Z, the newest wave of consumers, is less interested in sports than millennials and other generations. The inaccessibility of sports broadcasts will cause any type of budding interest from Gen Z to flatline almost immediately, especially considering the group’s keenness for accessibility.

Amidst the winter sports season, Hulu and YouTube TV customers are largely missing out on basketball and hockey. Sinclair holds captive the broadcast rights to 16 of the 30 NBA teams and 12 of the 31 NHL teams. With baseball season around the corner, cord-cutters stand to miss out on 14 of the 30 teams plus the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network, which is not fully owned by Sinclair but is still unavailable on Hulu and YouTube TV.

Amongst the missing providers are Spectrum SportsNet, SportsNet LA, Fox Sports West, and Fox Sports Prime Ticket. Fans of the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels, Kings, and Ducks currently can’t watch their teams with Hulu or YouTube TV. According to Fabian Ardaya, Fox Sports West is broadcasting all 29 of the Angels spring training games, something many fans miss out on.

Broadcasters and providers are in crunch time, needing to strike a deal before it’s too late. If Sinclair can’t agree with Hulu and YouTube TV, both sides stand to miss out on an undeniable market share. Failure to be flexible with a changing market of customers will only create an irreversible snowball effect, leaving lasting damage to the industry.