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Amazon will be a 'major disruptive force' to live sports rights in the next few years, analyst says

  • Amazon and Facebook are likely to become major players in the battle for sports rights thanks to their large audiences and deep pockets, Daniel Ives of GBH Research said.
  • He said the next 12 to 18 months is a "pivotal window" for both tech giants to secure rights to various professional sports programs.
  • Ives noted that Google and Apple remain "wild cards" in the battle for live sports content, with Snap and Twitter "tangentially in the mix."
Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.
Getty Images
Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

Amazon and Facebook are likely to become major players in the battle for sports rights thanks to their large audiences and deep pockets, according to an analyst.

Daniel Ives, head of technology research at GBH Insights, said in a note Tuesday that the next 12 to 18 months is a "pivotal window" for both tech giants to secure rights to various professional sports programs.

This story will play out over the next few years with Amazon and Facebook likely to become big contenders to win the right to stream games, he said.

"We note in 2021, the year when the NFL, MLB and NHL media rights deals mostly end, will be the first major opportunity for Amazon, Facebook and other major tech streaming platforms to potentially bid on some of these rights versus the likes of traditional entrenched media/cable players," Ives said.

Both Facebook and Amazon have been upping their spending on original content through their respective video streaming platforms, Facebook Watch and Prime Video.

Facebook, for example, is willing to spend as much as $1 billion this year, according to a Wall Street Journal report, while Ives estimated Amazon could spend upward of $5 billion.

The analyst sees much of this budget being directed towards sports, just as many sports rights deals come to an end, allowing tech companies the chance to get in on the action.

"We will be watching this sports content battle closely over the coming year, as well as the success/engagement from the Facebook MLB endeavor, as it could be a sign of things to come with streaming platforms playing a bigger role in global professional sports broadcasting rights in the years ahead and potentially shaking up this market, while adding a major notch on the content belts of Amazon, Facebook and other new tech entrants to this arena."

Ives is referencing the recently-announced deal that will see Facebook exclusively stream 25 Major League Baseball (MLB) games this season. Last year, the social networking giant secured the rights to some professional soccer games and earlier this year announced plans to stream pro-surfing.

Ives said that along with the MLB deals, the move shows that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is "in the early strategic steps of building out a massive wave of sports content spending over the coming few years."

Amazon has already streamed some NFL Thursday Night Football games and Ives said the e-commerce giant could also bid for the U.K.'s Premier League soccer rights against British incumbents Sky and BT.

Ives noted that Google and Apple remain "wild cards" in the battle for live sports content, with Snap and Twitter "tangentially in the mix."

Rising competition from the tech giants in the content space comes amid increasing consolidation in the media landscape. Disney is currently waiting for a deal to buy many parts of 21st Century Fox to close. And Comcast has put in a $31 billion bid for Sky. Both deals are seen to boost the acquirers sports offerings.

Ives said that Disney's acquisition of Fox will add 22 regional sports networks to its flagship ESPN network. Meanwhile, in the U.K., Sky is one of the dominant players in sports broadcasting.

Disney is also planning to launch its own streaming service that would compete with the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Facebook. Disney CEO Bob Iger told CNBC in February that the company's ESPN Plus sports streaming service would cost $4.99 a month.

Given the big moves from Disney, Ives said the next year and a half will be crucial for technology firms to get a foothold in live sports.

"To this point, we believe the next 12 to 18 months is a pivotal window for platforms like Facebook and Amazon, among others, to aggressively secure the rights to various professional sports programming, especially as the Disney/ESPN launch of ESPN Plus over the coming year will be at the epicenter to Iger's master streaming initiatives and 'raise the stakes' for securing future sports content in our opinion," Ives said.

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC and CNBC.com.