Why Sports Fans Won’t Be Cheering the Rise of Internet TV

The $6 a month ESPN charges cable companies for the best of pro sports like football and basketball is starting to look like a bargain.

Walt Disney Co.’s sports network is the most expensive piece of the typical cable-TV package that costs about $64 a month, based on U.S. Federal Communications Commission and SNL Kagan data. Analysts say its cost is a primary motivation for customers who cancel TV service.

Viewers are getting more reasons to consider ending cable subscriptions this week after HBO, the premium cable channel owned by Time Warner Inc., and CBS said they would offer programming over the Internet to people without pay-TV accounts. Yet if saving money is the goal, cutting the cord isn’t for everyone, especially sports fans.

An online package that would include Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, plus three of the four major pro sports leagues, WWE wrestling, HBO, CBS and Tour de France racing would cost $102.54, according to Daniel Ernst, an analyst with Hudson Square Research. And that doesn’t include the $40 cost of broadband Internet service.

“If you want all the sports, you should just get cable TV,” Ernst said in an interview.

The streaming services available already are cheaper than any cable package: Netflix Inc., Hulu Plus and Amazon.com Inc. subscriptions combined cost less than $30 a month.

Beyond that, viewers will have to be choosy. HBO hasn’t said how much it will charge for its array of movies and original shows such as include “Game of Thrones” and “Silicon Valley.” Ernst estimates $16 a month.

Patched Together

CBS is charging $5.99 a month for Web access to network programs and a library of older shows, with live programming available in 14 markets. It won’t include NFL games, including the Thursday-night contests that cost the New York-based network more than $30 million a game to license, according to Kannan Venkateshwar, a Barclays Plc analyst in New York.

“You could patch together online programming yourself, but it will take a lot of work, create a lot of different bills to pay and a confusion of separate devices and separate apps to watch shows,” said Jan Dawson, an analyst with Jackdaw Research in Provo, Utah. “Eventually we’ll need someone to come along and bundle it all up again for us and make it easy to find our favorite content.”

Of course, putting the shows on the Web opens the door for some people to bend the rules, sharing passwords to watch for free. Most customers will still need to subscribe to services offered by the various leagues to get something that approaches a complete sports package. The price will add up.

The NFL’s Sunday Ticket package, which provides out-of-market games, costs fans $199 a year to start. NBA League Pass costs another $200.

Even with that, sports fans would be missing most of the live contests in their home markets.

“If you’re really a sports nut, you’re probably not going to subscribe to this package,” said Justin Nielson, senior research analyst at SNL Kagan.