Thomas: Greed of big leagues caused their downfall in fight against streamers

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UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman delivered the cleanest punch ever live streamed across the globe.

Fans of the UFC were given a treat this past weekend as Usman retained his title against Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal with what really was the cleanest punch I have ever seen delivered in a UFC octagon. Usman caught him square and Masdival dropped like it was a choreographed mega punch out of a Rocky movie.

This happened on the same night ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas emotionally claimed the UFC title in the women’s strawweight division with a devastating head kick.

For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, there were fans in the stands, and whether or not you agree with the UFC finding a place without restriction to hold an event, it was legal under local health orders, and it’s undeniable the atmosphere was electric.

Still, for Dana White and the UFC, it was anything but a perfect night as streamers again ignored White’s angry calls to stop what they were doing and pay up.

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White has recently been extremely outspoken about fans who illegally stream UFC events and their viewers. On one occasion, he claimed he had something cooked up for streamers, though nothing ultimately came of it.

At this point, it’s also worth noting, while it is illegal to redistribute or provide a live stream a copy-written event, it is absolutely not illegal to view this type of link. A viewer did not push a streamer to put their live stream up and whether or not they watch will have nothing to do with whether or not the streamer decides to break the law by redistributing the content. Their actions have no implications on whether or not a crime has been committed.

Essentially, there is no chance of a crackdown on anybody viewing the content. All anybody needs to do to find their desired contest from the National Hockey League, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, The Premier League , or really any of the major leagues across the globe Is to search Google for a working link.

In December, Forbes wrote TV ratings for major sports would take a hit due to the prevalence of online streaming. The article outlined how ratings plummeted in 2020 and would likely not recover in 2021.

Here comes the Ironic part. This is entirely the fault of all of the league’s affected by the streaming phenomenon. There is no greater example of this than the UFC.

There’s a popular picture circulating within fight circles on the cost of being a UFC fan which breaks the situation down nicely. A total of 12 annual Pay Per View events at $64.99 apiece puts the cost of simply watching those 12 events at $780.

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Then, if fans want to watch the multiple non PPV events every month, they need to subscribe to UFC Fight Pass for another $95.99 and even then, most of the time fans cannot watch live fights on Fight Pass.

So, to view an undercard live as it is happening, viewers in Canada need to subscribe to another service such as TSN direct, for another $7.99 a month. All said and done, fans are looking at nearly $1,000 a year to watch the UFC, or they can turn on their laptops and do it for free.

While the UFC is the example in the spotlight, the other leagues do not escape criticism. I wrote a column in college stating the NHL and Rogers did not get it with their regional blackouts which are designed to drive fans to the NHL Live and Gamecentre services. I stand by that column entirely today.

In essentially one fell swoop, the NHL went from showing games from across Canada as part of basic digital cable packages, to blacking out regions and only opening them up on Saturday’s. This was the result of a lucrative T.V deal the NHL signed with Rogers and through them, Sportnset. Fans went from paying their cable bill to being told they needed to pay an annual or monthly fee on top of their cable bill specifically to watch hockey. The service currently costs $29.99 a month.

The NFL went down a similar path with their TV deals and streaming services. It was the newest way to capitalize on the internet age and it worked in a big way. Capitalism at its finest.

Except it made it extremely expensive to be a sports fan, thus creating the extremely lucrative opportunity to pay for the streaming services, and then re-direct them toward the masses for free, asking only for voluntary donations to keep streaming services alive. Fans are more likely to donate $10 to a trusted streamer than pay big bucks for the official services. Even if one in 50 viewers donate, these streamers are likely turning a profit.

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Sports fandom is based on passion. The word fan is literally short for the word fanatic. These people have been sold a product based on that passion and have fallen in love with teams based on that passion. It is what has allowed leagues to raise ticket prices into the stratosphere for live events, and roll out new expensive lines of merchandise with slight variations from the previous versions people eat up every single year.

This passion is what has allowed sorts to become a billion dollar industry. There is always a limit, however. Eventually, there are going to be people who feel like their childhood hobbies turned lifelong passions are being taken advantage of.

Apparently, the limit for sports fans was simultaneously being gouged by any of the sports they were trying to enjoy. Once those limits were pushed, the niche online streaming market absolutely exploded.

When I was in college, It would take me 20 minutes to find a not great link to the Habs game which froze 60 times a period. It was certainly possible to stream sports, but it was not as prevalent, or as much of a sure thing. On big game nights, it was even more difficult to stream as fans crowded servers unable to handle the traffic at the time. I’ll never forget watching the Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather fight in essentially still frames because everybody and their brother was streaming the fight.

Now, I turn on my Xbox and find a stream five minutes before puck drop without fail, and it is delivered in High Definition to my living room. It is a guarantee a stream will be available, on multiple sites without issue. A good ad blocker ensures pop ups are manageable, and it doesn’t cost upwards of $300 a year to watch hockey. It is the same story with every single Green Bay Packers game.

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It is 100 per cent possible to follow teams in all of the major leagues for years without ever spending a cent on anything but a decent internet package.

Try as they might, these leagues cannot seem to get a handle on streaming. The platform they deliver their content on has sealed their fate, it is entirely too easy to broadcast your screen to a personal website after you’ve legally purchased both the service and the domain.

Sure, the leagues can crack down on prevalent streamers, but many receive multiple cease and desist letters before even receiving a slap on the wrist. The few who are caught receive minimal punishment before popping up under a new pseudonym and site a few days later. The sheer number of viewers — or potential donors — they pull in suggests it is still a profitable endeavour for streamers in the long run.

For many working class people who use sports as a way to unwind, it’s not realistic to be paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars every year to watch their favourite action, when it is available at the click of a button. It’s not a malicious decision. These people are not trying to stick it to the respective leagues. This is simply the most fiscally responsible decision for many.

Trust me when I tell you people watching streamed sports are not losing any sleep over finding a way around paying multiple monthly fees.

Regardless of Dana White’s opinion on the matter, the writing is on the wall. Unless governments start to worry about getting serious about cracking down on the practice, the streamers have won. It is unlikely we reach this point in the near future.

Due to their own greed, the live streaming problem has become a growing snow ball major sporting corporations cannot get ahead of.

jothomas@postmedia.com twitter.com/joshthomasrepex

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