While streaming giants battle each other for live sports, fans are the true winners

Megumi Fujii and Cody Welchlin during an MMA fight. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Amazon Prime recently acquired broadcasting rights to ONE Championship, the Mixed Martial Arts world is getting an early taste of what much of the sports world will soon become:

Streaming Central.

The Singapore-based MMA promotion business signed a five-year deal with Amazon Prime last month that will consist of at least 12 live events every year and additional content for a burgeoning fan base.

As ESPN’s streaming relationship with the Ultimate Fighting Championship has proven over the last five years, fans gravitate to that type of technology. ONE Championship will try that same path.

In fact, this is a strategy that should soon reach every corner of the sports world, well beyond the “Big 5” leagues: NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and English Premier League.

Donn Davis, the founder of The Professional Fighter’s League, labeled live sports the “most scarce” and “best performing” pieces of global content. And there’s plenty of evidence this month alone. On the ESPN+ streaming service in May, in fact, fans can consume MLB regular-season games, UFC major primetime bouts, and oh by the way, playoff games in the NBA and NHL.

ESPN is going to have a lot of company soon, though. Amazon, Netflix and others already possess much content, and live sports are the next logical move.

This fierce race between streaming companies will benefit sports fans in the immediate future. Prices will become a talking point. The volume of content will be another. All of that will benefit the viewer.

The Professional Fighters League and Bellator, two lower-level MMA outfits, have found success in the United States despite UFC’s presence. ONE, however, has not found the same level, despite producing a similar level of fights to other UFC’s competitors.

ONE’s success in Asia has been enough to move past that, however, and helped the league present a sizable offer to Amazon Prime. And as a result, ONE can target the American audience differently and overwhelm this nation’s MMA crowd with additional streaming content.

In fact, Prime Video’s 12 ONE events will be shown live in prime time, and then will be archived — probably in a manner similar to ESPN+’s UFC content. This will address what was ONE’s biggest issue with American fans: inconvenient broadcasting hours.

There remains the question of how this will impact the promotion’s bread-and-butter fans in continental Asia. But creating windows of content for international audiences is one that the streaming world, overall, will have to conquer sooner than later. And that’s not a bad thing when you consider how many corners of the world the live sports content will soon land. In a sense, ONE is identifying as an experiment for not only MMA, but for other leagues like Formula One and World Wrestling Entertainment, outfits likely to soon connect with a streaming option.

ONE’s MMA pay-per-view broadcast costs will likely be absorbed by consumers’ monthly Amazon Prime membership fees. This could mean drastically reduced PPV costs, or even result in the elimination of extra prices altogether.

Discovery Inc.’s David Zaslav (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Discovery Inc. president David Zaslav realizes that sports are what kept many families and households attached to cable television. But for the franchise that owns TNT, Zaslav and his team know streaming is where sports are headed. And that’s all that matters. Zaslav has even said in regard to TNT’s super-lucrative NBA deal that it is “inevitable that some [games] will migrate to HBO Max.”

Major leagues like the NBA will never be delivered only through streaming. They are too strong, too smart and too fiscally responsible to not spread their content around. However, for the streaming giants that wish to enter this battle, choosing the right leagues and selling it at the right price is essential to make a dent in this crowded field.

Packages and bundles play into this as well, not only in the MMA world, but beyond. Including sports in packages of streaming subscriptions that people already buy as ESPN+’s does with Disney+ is a wave that the services must surf toward moving forward.

One of the biggest problems with ESPN+ connecting with UFC was that it was a separate subscription from anything else. Fans who just wanted to watch the UFC Fight Nights had to subscribe to a service they in some cases did not want.

But when ESPN+ was included in the Disney+ bundle, a whole new world was created. Including both services in one package may be enough to convince a fan who otherwise was not interested. And if that grows a sport’s audience, the services will have done their jobs.

Fans will continue to see this, if nothing else for the convenience it gives them, and the subscription dollars it gives the services. For a die-hard fan of only one league such as F1, for instance this direction may not be great. But it is where the streaming sphere is headed.

Indeed, one of the best things these streaming giants can do to supplement their live sports content is follow in the ESPN+ model. With shows like “Detail” and “30 for 30” available, sports fans get exclusive content to supplement their favorite sports, and step away from the live action, if desired.

If Amazon Prime can manage to go in the same direction with ONE offering analysis, documentaries, and behind-the-scenes reality footage the sky could be the limit.

It could create lanes for new fans in a generation that is ditching cable in droves. And lay out the blueprint of complete ownership in the sports streaming world, along the way.

Jared Parker is an American broadcast media student with an area of concentration in global and sociocultural studies. Parker hopes to work in sports journalism in the future. Parker has a special connection to amateur MMA and hopes to be known as someone who gave amateur fighters a platform before anyone else.