The National Football League (NFL) season is set to kick off, and it is seen as a reliable anchor for traditional media executives in a turbulent media landscape. However, the media landscape is shifting dramatically and unpredictably, undermining this anchor. While women’s sports, tennis, the U.S. Open, and innovative sports media platforms like ESPN’s Manning cast and Hang are gaining traction, there are cracks in the NFL’s dominance.
The escalating costs associated with the sports media game are becoming unsustainable. Franchise values have skyrocketed, with the New England Patriots being bought for $174 million in 1994 and now valued at $6.7 billion. The Baltimore Orioles’ owners have raised concerns about their ability to remain competitive without significant real estate development. Super-sized money from sovereign wealth funds, like Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, has entered the playing field, leading to a bidding war for premier talent in soccer/football.
Paying these escalating costs falls on advertisers, broadcasters, and streaming platforms. While the NFL’s TV rights are secured for years, they will require a significant payout from a declining traditional TV business. Deep-pocketed tech giants like Amazon, Apple, and Google are now serious players for sports rights, posing a threat to traditional media companies. At the same time, regional sports networks (RSNs) are collapsing, leaving a void in live broadcasting for MLB, NBA, and NHL regular seasons.
This uncertain landscape is fueling a movement back towards broadcasting, but it is still reliant on advertising revenue, which is declining as subscribers decrease. College football, known for its tradition and passionate fanbase, is also facing turmoil. While massive deals have been made with broadcast networks and ESPN, the scramble for the biggest payday has led to conference realignment and player dissatisfaction.
Overall, sports may still serve as an anchor for traditional TV, but it speaks more to the challenges faced by traditional media rather than the strength of the sports industry.