There’s a lot to like and even more to learn about Disney, Fox, and Warner Brothers Discovery’s announcement that they are banding together to form a sports-centric streaming service that will offer live games from several of the most prominent professional leagues and college conferences.
What we do know: The service will broadcast live competition from the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, PGA Tour, and UFC, plus tennis, soccer, and college sports, all of which have existing rights deals with networks under the three company’s umbrellas. Channels that will be available include ESPN, TNT, and Fox Sports 1.
In all, 14 channels will be available, not all involving sports. Existing streaming services will be folded into the plan, including ESPN+ and Max, the latter of which began streaming NBA games from other Warner Brothers Discovery channels, such as TNT and TBS, this season.
But this will not be an all-encompassing go-to for sports fans, many of whom have grown increasingly frustrated as their favorite sports and teams have been doled out in various rights deals to streaming services, making it impossible to watch as many games in one or two primary places as they could during the heyday of cable television.
Paramount (CBS’s parent company) and Comcast (NBC) are not involved in this deal, which means the assortment of major sporting events that they broadcast will not be part of this service.
As for what we don’t know … well, that includes some of the most important details, including the service’s name and the subscription cost. As we’ve been reminded numerous times as viewers have migrated away from cable and more and more live sports have moved to streaming services, the price point will go a long way to determining how it will be received by consumers.
ESPN+ currently costs $10.99 per month, with a $14.99 option for a bundle that includes ESPN+, Disney, and Hulu. Peacock, which recently carried the first NFL exclusive playoff game on a streaming service (the Chiefs-Dolphins matchup in the wild-card round), is $5.99 a month.
Locally, NESN took a lot of heat when it introduced its stand-alone app in June 2022 with a monthly subscription rate of $29.99. Somewhere in that range seems like a likely price point for whatever the Disney/Fox/WBD service costs, given the volume and quality of their collective rights deals.
In an ideal world, of course, all of the sports we want to watch would be available under one — OK, two at most — subscriptions. Once upon a time, that’s essentially how it worked with cable. Those days aren’t coming back. This deal appears about as close as we’ll ever be again to one-stop shopping for our favorite sports and leagues, and it’s not that close at all.
The pregame lineup
Excessive long ago became the norm for Super Bowl pregame programming, and, unsurprisingly, CBS has no plans for a more modest build-up Sunday.
The network’s pregame coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. — seven long hours before kickoff — with a half-hour “NFL Slimetime” show, designed to promote its kid-centric broadcast on Nickelodeon. “The Road to the Super Bowl” — NFL Film’s annual enjoyable sights-and-sounds look back at the regular season — airs for an hour beginning at noon.
The most interesting element of the pregame coverage begins at 1 p.m. — a documentary titled “You Are Looking Live!” a look back at the 1970s origins of the trailblazing “NFL Today” studio program.
The current “NFL Today,’’ hosted by James Brown and featuring five analysts (at least one too many) plus insider Jonathan Jones, will begin its four hours of coverage at 2 p.m., followed by a half-hour “kickoff” show leading into the actual game.
Jim Nantz, Tony Romo (hopefully the version that speaks in something more than sentence fragments), and Tracy Wolfson will be on the call for the third time, the 22d Super Bowl overall in CBS’s history, the most by any network.
Saban is no novice
The addition of Nick Saban to ESPN’s “College GameDay” was much less of a surprise than his retirement in January after 17 seasons at Alabama. Saban wasn’t perceived as media-friendly, but he made dozens of appearances on ESPN or adjacent properties over the years, including “GameDay,” “The Pat McAfee Show” (where he dismissed retirement rumors not long before … he retired), and the “SEC Network.” … Saban’s decision to take a television gig increased speculation that his friend Bill Belichick also will end up with a media role somewhere. As noted here previously, Belichick would be excellent on television, particularly if he is able to shape a role that amplifies his knowledge of football history and tactical acumen. Mike Vrabel, who, like Belichick, was left standing after this offseason game of NFL coaching musical chairs, would be a savvy pickup for one of the stale NFL studio shows … News that Netflix plans to chronicle the 2024 Red Sox season certainly is intriguing, even if the documentary series won’t air until 2025. But given how much overemphasis the Red Sox have put on their prospects this offseason, maybe this should be done with the Sea Dogs instead.