Scott O’Neil Has Big Ones

Photo credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I genuinely love how most all Sixers interviews are done with business reporters and not sports reporters. The streak continued when Scott O’Neil spoke to the Inquirer’s David Sell about his vision for the future, off the court, which includes streaming games directly to fans without the need for, say, Comcast SportsNet:

Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil said he imagines a day when the Sixers’ on-court success could be live-streamed over the Internet directly to paying fans/customers, while skipping the regional sports network. For now, and through 2029, the Sixers are tied to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

“The basic backbone of sports has been built on media deals,” O’Neil said in a recent interview in his office at the Navy Yard. “If you look at the viewing habits over the last five years and those projected over the next five years, you can make an argument that sports will be the one piece holding the current infrastructure of television and cable together.”

“What’s interesting for us is that the local RSN [regional sports network] will come under more pressure than the national (provider), I think,” O’Neil said. “If they do, at some point, something is going to break.”

Scott O’Neil does. not. give. a. shit. Publicly rip into Wells Fargo for not being a team sponsor? Swish. Not-so-subtly explain his vision for partner Draft Kings’ future? Buckets. Tell the Inquirer that broadcast partner CSN is basically dispensable? THROW IT DOWN, BIG MAN!

Prediction: The Sixers, whose games are currently streamed online by CSN*, try to wiggle out of their deal before 2029 and eventually stream their own broadcasts.** Say what you will about the Sixers – all the losing hasn’t stopped the team’s value from rising to an estimated $700 million, up from the $287 million Joshua Harris and Co. paid for it – but they’ve been out ahead of the curve in a lot of areas: Analytics (or, if you’d prefer, tanking), daily fantasy, streaming.

What Scott envisions is pretty much the sort of thing I envisioned for the Phillies in 2012, commenting on a piece by Matt Gelb about their upcoming TV deal. [Gelb shredded Rhea Hughes on Twitter for having me on the radio to talk about his piece, and in an email told me my idea about sports not being on cable was more or less stupid.] We’re still probably some years away from teams broadcasting their own games – online – but I’m not sure I can recall a team exec speaking so candidly about, almost cheerleading for, the demise of regional sports TV. Balls out, Scott. Balls out.

*CSN only got 45,000 streams for the entirety of last season. Sounds like a lot… until you realize that, say, this website gets more page views on a typical weekday. There’s still a huge gap in viewership between TV and online. But then again, the Sixers stink. So that figure would be more massive if this were the Flyers, or even Phillies.

**Alternate theory: O’Neil wants to renegotiate current deal to get a chunk of streaming revenue, which currently rolls up to Comcast.

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13 Responses

  1. It’s an interesting issue.

    Fact 1 – Live sports is one of the main drivers preventing people from cutting the cord

    Fact 2 – With today’s tech, it would be simple for the 76ers to broadcast their own games.

    Some issues that currently stop this from being a reality:

    1) Because Comcast et al know that live sports are keeping people hooked up, they are over-paying for the rights. They can lose money on the sports deal if it means keeping more of their overall subscriber base. The 76ers don’t have that advantage. For it to make sense to them, they will have to earn as much, if not more than what Comcast is willing to pay. In order to do that, they will need to incur a lot of expenses to take that shot. It’s easier for them to just get paid by Comcast.

    2) More than just sports, the other thing keeping people from cutting the cord is convenience. It does take some work and tech-savvy to cut the cord and not feel a loss. Yeah you can stream netflix and hulu or get SlingTV etc, but it’s not without its hiccups right now, and when you add up all of the varied services you need (if you want to have real comprehensive TV available to you) you’re not saving a whole lot of money.

    1. Let me add, I have mostly cut the cord and have saved about $50/mos, but I do cheat. I know my sister’s comcast password, so I can access some things I normally wouldn’t be able to and chromecast it to my TV.

      Plus I have 2 small kids, so I get about 6 hours of TV time per week.

    2. Re: Fact #2 – You severely underestimate the cost/complexity of broadcasting a live event. Of course the tech keeps getting better, but if anything, only adds more variables to the production. Not to mention it’s not simply coordinating home broadcasts, but also the away games with different venues/teams to coordinate with.

  2. Cord cutters, primarily, are not big sports fans. I am an exception to this, because I have my workarounds (folks log ins for all apps, VPN for MLB.TV Phillies games). That’s why live sports rights are so valuable, it’s the 1 thing people watch that they can’t DVR or watch 1 year later on Netflix. It’s in the moment stuff, which means they consume commercials.

    It would be crazy for the Sixers to remove their games from cable now, or for the foreseeable future. But 2029 is a different story. However, by then, I don’t anticipate O’Neill being associated with the team or even the same ownership being there. But this is the way things are going. It’s a smart thing to get on it before it hits, rather than after.

    At least the NBA offers a live stream. I think it would help if CSN offered one, for a charge I suppose, to non-cable subscribers. MLB offers no in market streaming right now. Comcast and them are in a fight over who would actually do the streaming (both have the capabilities). As usual, the customers lose.

    P.S. fire Jim and Innes is a fat slob.

  3. Sixers management/ownwrship would show me something if they built their own arena downtown where it belongs..

  4. Scott O’ Neil is such scum, if paid enough, he’d happily sell the “positives” of 19th Cent Slavery to blacks… But that is why he works for the Sixers, isn’t it? He is just a minor scumbag compared to the owner Josh Harris, that Wall Street Vulture Capitalist billionaire piece of… If anyone deserved battery packed snowballs continually thrown at them, it is Harris

  5. Live streaming is the direction things are heading in. The Eagles already stream a ton of stuff live to their website.

  6. Kyle,

    I read this blog but seldom post a comment. I have a simple question – do the Sixers pay you? They have a vastly sub standard product yet O’Neill truly thinks he comes from a power position in regards to their partners. How about winning 30 games first before thinking you are a dynasty?

    This franchise is a disgrace. They will be extremely fortunate to win even 25 games this year. Your shilling for Hinkie and O’Neill would be humorous if it didn’t completely destroy your creditability.

  7. Creditability? What are you one those hook-nosed moneylenders? Credibility, cracker.

  8. So if we ever get to a world where sports are routinely streamed online and the technology is reliable enough that people will actually be OK to watch it that way (I tried to stream the Bills-Jags game on my ultra high speed FiOS connection on Sunday and it hung for 5 minutes and then I gave up and did something else), why wouldn’t the ISP just charge you the same shitload of money that your cable company does?

    Right now my bundled cable/internet bill runs $180+ every month when DVR and HD and additional STBs + the HBO premium package is factored in. I think the costs break down to like $60 for internet and $120 for the rest + fees and taxes.

    So I think we’ll just be creating a cost shift off of TV and onto Internet once this becomes a reality. So yay more convenience to stream online wherever, but do I really want to watch a football game on tablet when I have a 50 inch HDTV 20 feet away? (yeah I know hookups exist, more expensive web TVs are already out there). But I would compare this shift more to landline to cell phone shift over the last 15 years. People used phones, they just did it differently in a more convenient way. And gee who are those main cell phone providers – Verizon, AT&T, MCI, Sprint…the same companies we used to pay for landlines, just with a few new competitors. And instead of paying $20-30 a month for a landline, now I’m paying $60+ a month for a smart phone so I can take pictures of my dinner and tweet about it.

    So I seriously doubt there will be huge financial savings for consumers, so I’m not really sure what is driving this train to cut the cord. The middle men will find another way to stay middle men or a new middle man will come in seemingly as the great savior and just become another horrendous middle man monopoly a few years later. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

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