Amazon Wants Live-Streaming Sports Rights for Prime Video, But What Will It Really Be Able to Secure?

Todd Spangler
Variety

Amazon has dreams of crashing into the big leagues of televised sports, and it’s been quietly working to try to assemble a package of live-streaming sports that might be offered as part of its Prime membership program.

The most salient question, though, is what the internet retail giant will be able secure in the way of compelling sports programming — given that the TV and digital rights to the most popular sports around the world are locked up, in some cases for the next decade or beyond. Note that CBS and Turner clinched rights to the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament through 2032 in an $8.8 billion deal earlier this year.

Despite the high prices and paucity of available rights, Amazon has been making the rounds recently at a number of leagues and rights-holders about potential deals. According to a Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous sources, Amazon has met with the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball, as well as Major League Soccer, the ACC, and other smaller players to discuss licensing their content.

But the meetings may just be mostly talk.

The NBA, for one, turned down Amazon’s request to make the NBA League Pass out-of-market service available on an exclusive basis, according to the Journal. And even if leagues were interested in going digital-only, it’s hard to imagine Amazon forking over billions to outbid TV networks for exclusive broadcast rights to their games.

Sports leagues are interested in boosting their digital reach, but they don’t want to destroy their existing lucrative TV deals in the process. The NFL, for example, carved out a small subset of its live games for free digital distribution this season in a deal with Twitter. Under that pact, Twitter is streaming 10 “Thursday Night Football” matchups on the internet, redistributing the broadcasts of CBS and NBC. The NFL is looking at the Twitter deal as an experiment to see if it can fruitfully slice up broadcast rights among multiple parties.

The sports deals Amazon is able to get might end up looking like what ESPN has talked about for its forthcoming over-the-top “multi-sport” service, delivered via its partnership with MLB’s BAMTech streaming-video division. The ESPN-branded OTT package will feature some college sports, including football and basketball, as well as tennis, rugby and cricket, according to execs — but the most-watched games will remain only on TV and WatchESPN authenticated streaming services, according to ESPN president John Skipper.

An agglomeration of second- or third-tier sporting events might be appealing to some Amazon customers, but the bottom line is that the company is not in a position to be a seriously disruptive force in the market for TV sports rights.

Word of Amazon’s interest in live sports surfaced in September, when Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon said the network had been in talks with the e-commerce giant for more than a year on a distribution deal.

Amazon’s sports programming acquisition efforts are being led by James DeLorenzo, the former VP and GM of Sports Illustrated Digital, who joined the company earlier this year as head of sports video channels.

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