Madness Beyond March: The State of Sports Streaming

Sports streaming during March Madness.

By Josh Terry | March 19, 2024

From tournaments like March Madness to major sports leagues like the NBA, MLS and everything in between, major players in sports entertainment are rethinking their streaming strategy. Here’s what that means for your digital content business.

The Ides of March have passed us, which can only mean one thing… It’s time for March Madness.

Hoops enthusiasts and casual gamblers have just a few days left to fill out their brackets before first round games start Thursday, March 21.

Following multiple rounds of tournament action and 67 total games, the two remaining teams will play in the Championship final on Monday, April 8.

The Big Dance always delivers thrilling highlights and tense moments of coworkers gathered around someone’s desk to watch a nail-bitting finish for a midday basketball game. Who can forget jaw droppers like Loyola Chicago’s improbable 2018 run to the Final Four, UNC and Villanova’s all-time great 2016 Final, and the 16th seeded Farleigh Dickinson overcoming one-seed Purdue in 2023 to make for the biggest upset in tournament history.

With millions tuning in and picking up intense, but short-lived fandoms, March Madness is always a cultural phenomenon and one of sports fans’ most beloved annual traditions.

So how are people watching these games? How does college basketball’s streaming and broadcasting strategy differ from other sports? And what lessons can this collegiate institution teach about what resonates with audiences? Read on to find out.

How to Watch March Madness

For many people, the easiest way to watch March Madness is with a cable subscription. Since 2011, the NCAA has partnered with CBS and Warner Bros. Discovery to broadcast games across CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV.

With cable, you can pair your TV provider and stream every game on The collegiate league also boasts an app that you can download on your Mac or Smart TV. It’s compatible with Roku, LG OLED, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Play, Xbox, and more.

Fortunately, a traditional cable package isn’t the only way to watch March Madness. You can stream every game in the college basketball tournament using two apps: Max and Paramount Plus with Showtime.

Max’s catalog features live sports from the Turner networks (TNT, TBS, TruTV) and will run you  $9.99 per month for its supported plan or $15.99 per month for its ad-free option. Paramount Plus with Showtime costs $12 per month and offers live CBS feeds so you can watch the games on the main channel. If you can the entire tournament for either $22 or $28, depending on your plan, and cancel immediately following the Final on Monday, April 8.

Tuesday, March 19, marks the first day of tournament action called the “First Four.” Composed of eight teams, these colleges are competing to the last four teams in the tournament. It’s worth watching because in 2011 and 2021, the VCU and UCLA squads respectively were 11-seeds that made it to the Final Four after starting in the First Four.

If you are waiting for the first full-day of official 64-team tournament action, that kicks off Thursday, March 21.

The demand is there for March Madness and for the past 13 years, it’s been convenient to watch on both television and the internet. With the historical prestige of the tournament, the dramatic games, and the 68-teams competing for glory, there are ample storylines and exciting reasons to tune in.

New Frontiers in Professional Sports Streaming

Though college basketball is the star during March and early April, sports streaming is a year-round, 24/7 market.

In 2024, everything from the dominating NFL to powerhouses like the NBA, MLB, and NHL, other leagues like NASCAR, MLS, F1 WNBA, professional tennis, and more are available on traditional national television broadcasts, RSN, OTT, and DTC services.

With television and streaming, you can watch an F1 race in the morning, move on to an English Premier League soccer game, turn on golf, NASCAR or college basketball, take in an MLB game, and close the day with offerings NBA, NHL, MLS, and college basketball. All that in a single day.

First, let’s take a step back and give a brief overview of the market and what its future looks like. Over the past decade, the U.S. sports market has changed dramatically thanks to the rise of streaming, cord-cutting disrupting the traditional cable market, once niche sports finding new audiences thanks to social media, and the decline of regional sports networks (RSN). These shifts have led to fierce competition for exclusive broadcasting and streaming rights.

Right now, the market is dominated by the NFL. The annual value of its rights contract is $12.9 billion compared to second-place NBA coming in at $3.7 billion. Right now, you can watch professional football through a traditional cable subscription: FOX, NBC, CBS, and ABC (as well as ESPN) all broadcast games.

Amazon has exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football, which average 11.86 million weekly viewers. You can also stream NFL games that air on NBC and CBS via Peacock and Paramount Plus with Showtime, respectively. The only way to stream out-of-market NFL games is through NFL Sunday Ticket, which is exclusively on YouTube TV. If you have a YouTube TV subscription ($72.99 per month), you can get every game for $349 per year. If you prefer the standalone NFL Sunday Ticket experience without a YouTube TV subscription, that will cost $449.

For the other big leagues like the NBA, MLB, and NHL, you’ll need to mix a cable subscription with digital out-of-market sports packages and over-the-top subscription services. The NBA offers a direct-to-consumer subscription-based product called NBA League Pass, which offers plans that run $14.99 a month and $22.99 a month. For NHL, you need to sign up for ESPN+, an n over-the-top (OTT) subscription video streaming service. The MLB offers MLB.TV for out-of-market games, which you can purchase for $149.99.

This might all change soon: ESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery are poised to launch a new standalone streaming app and experience that will offer live sports from just about every major sports league. While details are scarce, it could alter the entire live sports landscape.

How to Win Big in the Coming Year

What does all the drastic change and varied options for sports streaming mean for you? While the biggest names in pro sports take in billions for rights deals, audiences are hungry for alternatives, niche markets, and novel ways to watch sports. Let’s take a look at some success stories and consider how they might apply to your content business.

Look at emerging markets. Some of the fastest growing sports are Pickleball and women’s sports. Historic Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark is poised to reignite interest in the WNBA and last year, Nebraska set the world record in women’s sports attendance. The NWSL and WPL soccer leagues are also growing. When you know what your audience likes, you can effectively tailor your content to their needs.

Outside of traditional cable, the FAST channel space is thriving for sports content. FIFA+, the official channel of the governing body of world soccer, is available in 20 countries on multiple platforms. The Tennis Channel recently debuted their FAST network on Amazon Freevee and Fubo too. Experts expect more leagues and content to migrate to this growing space. Turns out, feeding passionate fans with their favorite over and over is a great business strategy.

Sports is one of the strongest, most fan-fevered industries in the world. There’s a built-in audience of devoted fanatics and others who would like to find the channel and content for their specific tastes.

So what can content owners learn from sports streaming success? We’re going to misquote Field of Dreams here and say, “If you build it, they will come.

Let’s Talk

If you want to learn about the quickest and easiest way to find new audiences for your content, schedule a demo and learn about Matchpoint’s innovative, end-to-end OTT solution.

Afterall, we did help Bob Ross Inc. and American Public Television rack up 4.7 BILLION views for the Bob Ross Channel

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