The sports investment world is changing a lot. Technology, media, and telecommunications companies that are involved in sports have been some of the most resistant sectors, even through economic ups and downs and shifts in business strategies, based on research by Morgan Stanley.
The rights to broadcast some significant U. S. professional sports teams will end in the next two years. This could lead to a clash between old media companies that are losing money and wealthy tech businesses trying to increase profits. The change is being driven by a surge of foreign capital into major U. S. sports, a big sports distributor’s plan to alter its business model, and the merger of two strong media and promotions firms that concentrate on live sports events.
This upheaval might present investors with a chance. “Consumer spending on sports has gone up due to the popularity of live games and branded merchandise. The legalization of sports betting in the United States has further boosted this trend,” explains Ben Swinburne, a media analyst at Morgan Stanley. “As a result, sports provide a constant growth in revenue, boost asset value, and often offer better return on net operating assets.” Recent poor performance of these stocks reflects uncertainty but provides an appealing entry point, according to Swinburne. He believes that sports assets and sports rights will continue to appreciate despite these factors.
Traditional Media Companies Are Rethinking the Bundle
For years, traditional broadcasters have dominated sports monetization, controlling over 80% of sports rights contracts. They are expected to have a total average annual value of $24.5 billion in 2023 and 2024.
The scarcity of professional team franchises, as well as the relatively fixed supply of content, has fed the rising value of rights to air or stream games and matches. Programming rights fees in the U.S., including professional and college sports, grew at an annual rate of 6.3% to go from $15.5 billion in 2018 to $19.8 billion in 2022, and are expected to reach $31.6 billion by 2030. Broadcasters have passed along the increased costs with higher advertising rates, distribution fees and viewers’ cost to tune in. But consumers have pushed back, “cutting the cord” by getting rid of bundled cable packages in favor of streaming services.
“There are more consumers that don’t consume enough sports on TV to continue to prop up cable bundles,” says Swinburne. “Cord-cutting has reached a level where subscriber losses more than offset price increases, sending down distribution revenues for national networks.”
Still, a full transition to streaming will happen more slowly than the market thinks, Swinburne says, with an estimated 50 million pay-TV households expected to remain by 2030, down 25% from today and 45% below a peak in 2014. Linear TV should also maintain a stronger share of consumer spending than streaming through at least the end of this decade.
To stay competitive in the rights market during this transition, the traditional media industry will need to consolidate, though perhaps at valuations lower than current levels. Broadcasters could also consider a specialized bundle created to appeal to a growing and passionate audiences of sports fans whose demand for content isn’t likely to be affected by price.
“This approach would allow a robust, consumer-friendly sports offering to scale profitably while allowing general entertainment services to continue serving non-sports fans at attractive price points,” Swinburne says.
Opportunity for Big Tech
If legacy broadcasters aren’t able to pivot to streaming and continue to see revenues diminish, they may not have the appetite or ability to boost their investments in broadcast rights for sports. This could create an opening for big tech companies to move in, including market-leading streaming services. In fact, Swinburne expects tech companies to claim a bigger portion of sports rights ownership and distribution over time. Especially since sports entertainment has consistently demonstrated a capacity to be translated and consumed via established and emerging digital platforms such as social media, broadening sports assets’ appeal for potential distributors as an opportunity to extend reach.
“We would be less bullish on sports rights, in the near term at least, if not for the emergence of big tech companies as legitimate buyers, especially in the U.S.,” says Swinburne. “Owners of sports assets will increasingly need these well-resourced firms to step in to sustain asset and earnings inflation,” concluded.