November 24, 2008

The Rise of Sports Media Networks

by Abdullah Faisal

What is a sports fan to do if they missed their favorite basketball team's game? After 1999, a fan could tune into NBA TV and watch highlights from that night of basketball games. The National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL) all have television networks broadcasting 24/7. The National Football League is by far the most profitable professional sports league in the United States. To tap into the profitable sports media industry, the NFL launched the NFL Network in 2003. The launch of the NFL Network continued a trend that NBA TV started in 1999. Sports leagues are creating and marketing their own networks and services to provide in-depth coverage to their fans and make a profit.

The creation of league-sponsored television networks and premium sports packages like DirecTV's NBA League Pass ™ and NFL Sunday Ticket ™ are a relatively new trend that benefits sports fans. These sports networks and packages benefit fans like me who live outside of their favorite team's market. I am a fan of the San Francisco Giants, San Francisco 49ers, and Golden State Warriors. Because I do not live in California, I cannot watch them play on a nightly basis. Before the creation of sports networks and packages, I would have to wait until there was a nationally televised game on the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) or Turner Network Television (TNT). Now, I can subscribe to NBA League Pass and watch Warriors' games on my computer. And, if I happen to miss a game, I could watch extended highlight clips of that game on NBA TV. Watching your favorite team no matter where you are is revolutionary and sports leagues other than the NBA, NHL, and NFL realize that there is a lot of money to be made in the sports media industry.

Major League Baseball is currently the only major professional sports league in the United States without a network. However, that is going to change on January 1, 2009. The new MLB Network will be different from other sports networks because it is partly owned by cable and satellite companies. As a result, the MLB Network will reach the most households out of any of the other sports networks. On the other hand, the NFL Network is not owned by any media companies so distribution has been an issue. The NFL wants its channel to be offered in a basic cable package without any extra charges, but cable companies like Comcast refuse. As a result, the NFL Network is struggling to reach a large potential audience. Although sports networks like the NFL Network have had some issues, they are in high demand and will have a tremendous impact on how people watch sports and sports news.

(Note: For viewers at American University, NBA TV is Channel 33 on the campus television system and the NFL Network is Channel 81. More information on the dispute between the NFL and the cable companies is also available on the iVoryTowerz blog.)

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