Why Regional Sports Networks (RSN) Need to Prioritize Live Streaming Now

Blog 4 min read | Oct 3, 2023 | Francesco Montesanto


Linear TV isn’t dead, but it is dying a slow death.

It’s no secret that audiences are cutting the cord now more than ever. Even with rising subscription rates and streaming fatigue, it just doesn’t make financial sense for users to pay bloated cable bills for mostly unwanted content. That’s part of the reason cable providers are hemorrhaging customers to the tune of millions of viewers per quarter.

It was once thought that sports broadcasting was immune to this change, however, the tide is dramatically shifting. But what happens once the ESPN’s of the world bail?

An inflection point is rapidly approaching where industry monoliths will consider completely abandoning the linear TV model altogether in favor of streaming. It now seems more of a question of when, not if.

Which is why regional sports networks (RSN) need to start planning ahead.

What is a regional sports network (RSN)?

RSN’s are sports broadcast channels that serve local markets through linear or connected TV via cable subscriptions or a la carte. Some examples of RSN’s are YES, SNY, NESN, and Bally Sports.

Most RSN’s rely on a handful of local sports teams to generate demand. For example, Sportsnet New York (SNY) is the carrier for the New York Mets, thus Mets games are considered the flagship programming which supports the channel as a whole.

Cable providers have traditionally leaned on RSN’s to bolster cable subscription packages. Customers would often have to pay for expensive bloated subscriptions in order to access their preferred RSN. In exchange, customers would usually be left with a ton of channels they had no desire to watch.

But now that cable providers are struggling across the board, RSN’s are rethinking their growth strategy.

What is the current state of RSN’s?

Fortunately for some RSNs, demand isn’t necessarily the problem.

Sports viewership continues to grow, with sporting events typically occupying the top spots in yearly most-watched broadcast lists.

But for others, it’s not so simple.

Bally Sports, the largest RSN in the United States filed for bankruptcy in March 2023. Dozens of professional sports teams across major sports leagues were under the umbrella of Bally Sports.

Although there’s still much demand for linear broadcasting of live sports, with cable companies struggling with churn, broadcast conglomerates like Bally Sports stand to lose a ton of revenue by not catering to the streaming market.

Part of the issue comes down to demand for the sports organizations themselves. Flagship franchises like those in the New York, Boston, and Chicago markets, for the most part, all have their own streaming solutions to accompany their broadcast channels.

Then there’s the issue of industry conglomerates buying exclusive rights to stream every match in a given league via OTT apps.

Apple just recently partnered with Major League Soccer (MLS) for exclusive rights to stream all matches for the next 10 years. They also stream MLB games every Friday night, as well as Pac-12 games.

Amazon exclusively streams NFL Thursday Night Football games, while YouTube is the online home of NFL’s Season Ticket, usurping the previous position held by DirecTV.

This isn’t even to mention Disney-owned ESPN, which is expanding its reach in exclusivity with streaming NBA, NHL, MLB, global football, and NCAA College Football games.

What should RSNs do to stay afloat?

The most viable solution for RSNs is to prioritize streaming when forecasting growth models.

Right now, RSNs need to account for the wider distribution broadcast TV offers, so they can’t abandon linear TV completely. However, as we’ve seen with the trends, it’s only a matter of time until linear broadcast TV is heavily phased out for most consumers.

The good news is that partnering with a live streaming solution that’s tailor made for sports broadcasters will wind up saving countless wasted dollars and headaches when the broader market adopts streaming services for live sports.

That means launching your own direct-to-consumer streaming solution isn’t just for the biggest clubs and franchises in the world.

JW Player’s end-to-end solution for broadcasters ensures RSNs will have flexibility in forging their own growth strategy in several ways by:

  1. Delivering the highest quality broadcast with customized deployment and management
  2. Reducing time-to-market (TTM), deployment costs, and technical debt
  3. Boosting audience viewership and retention with customized players, live clipping, instant replay, and post-event engagement
  4. Offering multiple monetization models
  5. Ad monetization for live, VOD and Short Form content with SSAI and CSAI

There’s still plenty of time to get ahead of the curve for most RSNs if they prioritize live streaming over linear broadcasting now.