From Stadiums to Streams

Using social listening data to show how viewers are increasingly angry about the availability of sports

Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst

Sports and streaming

We’ve written frequently at Infegy about how the streaming industry has transformed how people view scripted media like television and movies. Streaming companies, led by Netflix and followed by Amazon, Peacock, Hulu, Disney+, and HBO Max, upended the traditional cable bundle and gave users precisely what they wanted to watch without commercials or waiting for DVDs in the mail.

While scripted media availability has become increasingly accessible for a low monthly cost, sports and live events remain behind expensive cable contracts. Expensive licensing agreements explain this lack of content availability, as broadcasters like ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX pay sports teams vast sums of money for exclusive rights to broadcast their games. Despite the logistics associated with hosting events on streaming services, social media users have gotten increasingly angry about this lack of access. We’ll show you how upset those users are and showcase how a good social listening platform can key you into how people collectively feel about a topic.

Surging post volume

Post volume chart related to the difficulty of watching sports

Figure 1: Post volume related to the difficulty of watching sports (October 2020 through September 2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Over the last three years, sports viewers' complaints have surged on social media. We detected a 1,142% growth in posts relating to the difficulty of watching sports online, with most of this growth occurring within the last year. In fact, a Nielson report explained, "As a genre, sports has been slower to migrate to streaming platforms, but audiences' appetite for over-the-top content continues to grow. In August 2022, streaming captured 35% of total TV time, capping six consecutive months of viewership highs." We predict that consumers' demand for viewing easy, cable-free live sports has reached an inflection point, where fewer and fewer consumers will want to watch sports via an expensive cable package.

Selected themes relating to cable bundles

Figure 2: Selected themes relating to cable bundles (October 2018 through October 2023); Infegy Atlas data.

This surge in user complaints coincides with declining interest in cable bundles. While cable bundles revolutionized how much content people could access, consumers have turned away over the last decade. We detected a 313% increase in Intent-Churn, meaning more consumers turn to social media to express their frustration with their expensive packages and desire for a cheaper alternative. Consumers view them as bloated, expensive, and ad-filled. Often, consumers pay upwards of $150 per month for hundreds of channels they won’t watch. People have turned away in droves from cable bundles, but sports remain a significant hurdle for the last holdouts.

Emotions associated with sports viewing difficulty

We looked at how often people talk about the difficulty of watching sports games online. Next, we’ll look at how people feel about that difficulty. Understanding customer emotions is a cornerstone of a social listening tool, like Infegy Atlas. If you can understand your consumers’ emotions, you can build products and experiences that fulfill a need in the marketplace.

Emotions documents related to the difficulty of watching sports

Figure 3: Emotions documents related to the difficulty of watching sports (October 2020 through September 2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Our data tells us there is a clear need for accessible sports online. We detected sizable surges in negative customer emotions over the last year, specifically Anticipation, Anger, Hate, and Sadness. These emotions, specifically Anticipation and Anger, key us into the need for live sports democratization. Anticipatory posts, specifically posts by users looking for an alternative to the cable bundle, surged 5,605% over the last three years. Those numbers key us into a consumer need - specifically, consumers looking for something new and upset with the current offerings.

Negative keywords associated with sports viewing difficulty

Now that we’ve looked at aggregate metrics let’s look at the specific negative keywords consumers use to discuss their feelings about cable bundles, streaming, and sports. In Figure 4, cable rises to the top of the pile with very negative sentiment. On the other hand, streaming providers like YouTube TV and Apple TV take a predominant and more positive role. Apple is investing heavily in the space and made headlines with an exclusive partnership with American Major League Soccer.

On the other hand, consumers are especially price-sensitive. We detected many keywords relating to subscription, money, cost, pay, and cancel. We even found the conversation about digital media piracy - something ubiquitous within this space.

Negative keywords associated with the difficulty of watching sports

Figure 4: Negative keywords associated with the difficulty of watching sports (October 2020 through September 2023); Infegy custom dataset.

Entities associated with sports viewing difficulty

Now that we’ve looked at aggregate metrics, we wanted to useInfegy Atlas’s Entity detection to show which companies and platforms performed the best concerning sports viewing and fees. The Walt Disney Company, with their properties of Hulu, ESPN+, and Disney+, led far and away with high sentiment and growing post volume. Taking ESPN+ as an example, it’s had over 623% growth in post volume at an 84% positivity rate.

Network and the ACC Network, also owned by ESPN. These two college sports leagues have dispersed licensing across cable and streaming providers. These licensing agreements make them very difficult to watch, reflecting consumer sentiment. We detected only 13% positivity for each of these networks. We’ve found that when customers can’t get the content they want, they turn to digital piracy. The SEC and ACC Networks appear to be no different - we’ve detected a 1,110% increase in piracy-related post volume about these two specific leagues.

Entities associated with the difficulty of watching sports

Figure 5: Entities associated with the difficulty of watching sports (October 2020 through September 2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Takeaways for your social listening practice

It's clear from social listening data that many people are getting frustrated with how hard it is to watch sports online. While streaming services have made it easy to access scripted content, live sports remain tied to expensive cable contracts. This has led to a significant increase in complaints on social media, with users expressing their anger and dissatisfaction. As more people turn away from costly cable bundles, demand for affordable, cable-free access to live sports is on the rise. Emotions like Anticipation and Anger have surged, highlighting the need for a change in the way live sports are made available online.

Our data underscores the growing frustration of sports viewers and the need for more accessible, affordable options for watching live sports. As consumers continue to voice their concerns on social media, it's clear that the future of sports broadcasting is shifting, and providers must adapt to meet the changing demands of their audience. Utilizing a robust social listening tool is essential to understand trends like these. By harnessing the power of social listening, companies can not only understand customer emotions and sentiments but also identify emerging trends, pinpoint areas of improvement, and make informed decisions to better cater to their audience's demands. In the ever-evolving world of sports and streaming, businesses that listen and respond to their customers' voices are more likely to thrive in this dynamic market.

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