Why the Cricket World Cup can change the way you see sport

By: Ubiratan Leal
February 7, 2015 at 4:22 pm

It will be Thursday night in Brazil, Friday morning in New Zealand. The local team will enter the field to face Sri Lanka and open the 11th edition of the Cricket World Cup. You probably won’t lift a finger to find out what’s going to happen in this tournament, but it could be the beginning of a new phase in sports broadcasts on TV.

The Cricket World Cup is one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. It is certainly smaller than the soccer World Cup and the Olympic Games, but it fights with the Rugby World Cup for the position of third largest. Sure, the fact that India’s most popular sport is shot helps, but it is also a very popular or relevant sport in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England, Pakistan and the Caribbean. So there is a lot of dispute over the broadcasting rights of the event, so much so that ESPN and Star Cricket (Fox group channel) paid $ 2 billion.

Much of the money disbursed by ESPN is used to serve the Indian market, where ESPN Star Sports will broadcast the entire tournament, exclusively for games that are not from India. But for the United States (where there is a huge Indian community that will follow the tournament), the Disney Group’s sports broadcaster has adopted a new strategy, and there is the novelty: subscription via the internet.

On the last day 3, the channel started selling the HD streaming service for $ 99.99. Those who buy the package will be able to watch all the games live (or in VT on demand) in English or Hindi on their computer, mobile phone or tablet. So far, it doesn’t seem like the biggest news on the planet. The North American leagues offer the possibility to watch the games on the internet, UEFA also with the Champions League and even Premiere FC for the Brasileirão. But for ESPN, doing that at the Cricket World Cup is the beginning of something bigger.

In league packages, such as the NBA League Pass, MLB.TV or Premiere FC, the streaming service serves to complement or plug holes in the TV coverage. There is no transmission of its own (the service over the Internet uses the transmissions made by TV channels) and, in the case of American leagues, the signal is blocked if there is an option to watch on TV. For example, a fan of the Knicks who lives in New York cannot see his team through the League Pass, as he will be blocked from being forced to watch by the hierarchically priority media (TV). For this New Yorker, the League Pass only works if he moves to a region of the country where the Knicks’ games are not broadcast on TV.

ESPN is studying to end this hierarchy in which TV is above the internet. The broadcaster has been streaming for years, Watch ESPN or ESPN3. But it is always aimed at those who are already subscribers to the channel. This time, the package is completely independent of the TV service. The intention is to test the market, as ESPN already has plans to expand this service, creating subscription packages for internet in the NBA and MLS. It would not be just a league creating an option over the internet to pass the games on to cities where they are not available. It would be a corporation transforming itself into a major sporting events channel by streaming and selling this product directly to the fans, taking the middleman out of the way (in this case, pay TV operators).

If successful, this path can substantially change the structure of this industry, as Netflix has changed in the series, cartoon and film market. ESPN can reach millions of people without having to rely on a cable or satellite provider.

In Brazil, the Cricket World Cup will be broadcast on Watch ESPN.