Online retailer and streaming video provider Amazon is reportedly talking with professional and college sports leagues in an attempt to put together a live sports streaming offering.
The National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer are among the pro leagues that Amazon has met with in recent months to talk about broadcast rights, according to a report Monday in The Wall Street Journal.
Amazon is looking to create a premium sports programming package for its Prime subscribers, people familiar with the situation told The Journal. Among the programming that Amazon sought to get an exclusive deal for is NBA League Pass, which offers out-of-market games. But the NBA preferred its current method of offering that packages games via multiple outlets, a person told the Journal.
Amazon has shown interest in live NFL games in recent years, a person familiar with the discussions told USA TODAY. The person would not provide their name because they were not able to comment publicly about the issue.
Sports leagues have expanded their online streaming offerings recently with the NFL streaming games on Yahoo and Twitter. Twitter also has deals to begin streaming Major League Baseball and National Hockey League games.
"The NFL has already dabbled with Yahoo and Twitter – why not Amazon? But I would not expect any major changes to the NFL contracts in the near future," said Bruce Leichtman, president of the Leichtman Research Group. Even if Amazon begins to stream out-of-market pro games, he said, "I don’t think that there would be any 'big blow' to pay-TV coming from Amazon via live sports in the near future."
Live sports has been one of the bulwarks protecting pay-TV providers against cord cutting. Pay-TV providers have lost about 755,000 subscribers over the past year, compared to a loss of about 445,000 the previous year, according to Leichtman Research Group. Overall, about 82% of U.S. homes with TVs subscribe to pay TV, down from 87% in 2011, but similar to the 82% of subscribing homes in 2005, the research firm says.
A move to stream sports makes sense, says Joel Espelien, senior analyst with The Diffusion Group. "Amazon is looking for content that will drive subscription revenue," he said.
And live sports -- something Netflix so far has shied away from -- would help Amazon Prime's video offering stand out, Espelien said. "The world is becoming saturated with original dramas and movies are a commodity. Sports is one of the few areas where it is possible to differentiate."
Amazon's reported interest in international sports such as curfing, lacrosse and cricket rings true, too, he said. "The play here is likely to be global. The U.S. sports market is incredibly crowded ... (but) other markets have been dominated by one local sport (such as soccer, cricket), with a lot more room for interest to grow," he said. "Look at how well the NFL is doing down in Mexico with their Monday Night game tonight. I was in Colombia recently and saw a surprising amount of interest in American football. The NFL has a lot more flexibility internationally and Amazon could potentially grow that market for them with less risk of channel conflict with other distribution partners like Fox."
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