Link to home

News from the open internet


How sports could be a global gold mine for streamers and advertisers

A soccer ball sits on a brass globe stand.

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Getty / The Current

Soccer has never been more popular in the United States. Not just on youth soccer fields across the nation, but also on screens small and large. To take one prime example, England’s Premier League has seen record viewership and there’s little doubt that streaming simulcasts on Peacock is helping build fandom.

The Premier League’s success in the U.S. reflects how some sports, not just soccer, are growing beyond their main markets with the help of streaming. In recent years, CTV set off a global content arms race, with companies investing in programming that could attract viewers around the world.

Now, as sports rights increasingly shift to premium streaming video platforms, and as those platforms focus on advertising, some experts say the global appeal of sports could define the next phase of streaming. Platforms with a global presence can widen the reach of both major and niche sports; engagement with and affinity for sports is high with consumers, which would be a boon for advertisers, according to industry experts who spoke with The Current.

For instance, plenty of advertisers have found success advertising during the World Cup over the years, and not just athletic-related sponsors like Nike or Adidas; Beats by Dre’s 2014 “The Game Before the Game” ad resulted in robust headphone sales growth for the brand. Even luxury brands like Prada got in on the action during last year’s Women’s World Cup, showing how the sport is gaining traction among a wide array of advertisers.

“Sports can drive the interest across territories [for streaming platforms],” says George Pyne, founder and CEO of Bruin Capital. “[And streaming] will enhance the global appeal of different sports, leagues, clubs and athletes.”

In short, sports and streaming are synching up in several ways that could benefit both parties on the global stage. Most recently, for instance, Disney+ acquired the rights to UEFA Europa and Conference Leagues in Denmark and Sweden, building up its sports portfolio.

Regarding that deal, Daniel Harraghy, a senior analyst at Ampere Analysis, wrote in a recent report that the platform could be looking to expand its demographics. The recent Ampere Sport Consumer Survey found that nearly a third of sports fans only care about watching sports, yet this segment of fans was low for Disney+, according to Harraghy.

“As with most sports rights acquisitions from global entertainment streamers up to now, the deal signifies the intent to assess how live sport can play a role in the streaming strategy in years to come,” Harraghy wrote.

Perhaps one of the biggest indicators of the success of sports for a global streaming strategy will be Netflix. It hasn’t yet gone after pricey sports rights for major leagues like some of its rivals. But it did recently land the rights to WWE’s Raw starting next year.

“Netflix users are 13% more likely than the average sports fan to follow wrestling, so it seems like there’s a natural synergy there,” says GWI Trends Manager Matt Smith.

With over 260 million subscribers worldwide, the streamer has the largest global presence of any major streaming platform. Pyne believes the company will go after more sports content and rights, largely because of its burgeoning advertising business.

“What Netflix will find is that nothing engages consumers the way that sports does; sports aggregates large audiences of people in a way that nothing else does,” he says. “As they continue to explore the advertising model, I think sports will become more and more valuable to them. I think they’ll go towards more traditional sports at some point and advertising will be an inflection point that pushes them across the line.”

For streamers building an advertising business, not just Netflix, sports content seems like an obvious programming goal. According to Smith, four in five consumers now prefer to watch professional sports online.

Streamers with a global presence might find it prudent to look at the sports that are gaining traction around the world. For instance, basketball is quickly growing in popularity in Germany, with 33% year-over-year growth in interest, according to Smith, followed by Japan at 22%. The Premier League’s popularity in South Korea has grown 16% in that time.

The NFL is also growing its appeal internationally. For instance, engagement with the league in the U.K. was up 21% from 2022 to 2023, according to GWI, which surveys consumers online each quarter in dozens of global markets.

In the U.S., Pyne says to keep an eye on soccer — and not just because of the Premier League. He notes that the U.S., along with Canada and Mexico, will host the World Cup in 2026.

Major League Soccer’s VP of Brand Marketing previously told The Current Podcast that he’s already preparing for the day after the event ends: “I think that’s really the incredible opportunity for us to seize because [of] that kind of World Cup fever that everybody’s going to catch,” he said.

A GWI survey last year found that the most-watched sports around the world — based on a survey of 18 markets — were soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis and swimming. And yes, 68% of respondents said they watch these sports on TV or online, as opposed to in person. It suggests that more niche sports could also be popular for streamers.

“There’s no limit for more immature sports [on streaming],” Pyne says, also noting less traditional sports like surfing. “There’s a whole bunch that don’t justify a linear television experience today. Streaming can let those sports reach consumers in a way they never could before.”