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Why 2021-2022 Could Be a Watershed for TV Sports

*Numbers are estimates; Sources: SportsBusiness Journal, FanGraphs, Press releases

America’s major sports leagues will be living large for the next three or four years, reaping the benefits of TV and radio deals that pay them more than $18 billion a year combined. But that may change in 2021 and 2022, when several of the biggest deals come up for renewal, including Major League Baseball’s TV contract and ESPN’s Monday Night Football (see above chart).

Those two years are shaping up to be a watershed moment in sports media. Tech companies like Amazon.com and Facebook will have a chance to grab those rights and establish themselves as destinations for live sports. But the traditional broadcasters will likely fight to retain them, paying even more than what they’re already paying. They have a big incentive. As the Super Bowl showed on Sunday night, when more than 100 million people tuned in, live sports still draw a big audience willing to sit through commercials.

But for now, there’s still upward pressure on rights fees, shrinking audience or not. More than 100 million people in the U.S. alone watched the Super Bowl on TV this past weekend. Live sports may not have the drawing power they once did, but they’re still king. And networks and tech companies continue to pay tribute.

Philip I. Thomas and Matt Whiffen commented on this article.
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