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Soccer on US TV: Number of subscribers for each major channel

subscribers for each major TV channel

From January 2020 to January 2022, the number of subscribers for each major channel decreased on average. Of course, in that timeframe, the COVID-19 pandemic changed people’s TV viewing habits and hobbies in general.

Nielsen, the data and market measurement firm, recently reported its monthly estimates regarding television channel subscriptions. The findings look bleak for the networks. As a whole, multichannel services, meaning traditional cable, satellite, streaming, dropped more than 10% over the last two years.

Cord-cutting is not necessarily something new in the American television landscape. However, Americans rapidly switched from traditional forms of multichannel TV to specific paid-streaming services. Undoubtedly, this accelerated much faster than anticipated in recent years.

Big conventional entertainment television channels suffered a significant drop in subscriptions during this timeframe. For example, TBS, TNT, TruTV, and USA dropped mightily. However, as many soccer fans in the United States know, NBC switched its home of the Premier League over to USA Network. It will be interesting to see the channel’s numbers moving forward due to the potential increased traffic. Nevertheless, the massive sports networks are not losing customers at the same rate as these entertainment channels.

Although ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, and the now-defunct NBCSN are also down subscribers as well, they only dropped 2-4%. Comparatively the aforementioned entertainment channels dipped 6-9%. FS2 and beIN SPORTS, on the other hand, have actually seen an increase in viewers over the last two years.

One interesting thing to note is the drop in number of subscribers for each major channel in Spanish. While FS2 and beIN SPORTS both rose, FOX Deportes fell by 11% and beIN SPORTS en Español sunk by 24%. The same applies to ESPN Deportes, which collapsed the most at 31% down over the two years.

Number of subscribers for each major channel from 2020 to 2022

Graphic via Sports Business Journal

The differences in subscriber rate could partially be down to the necessity to watch sporting events live. Many viewers access television shows the following day via streaming services such as Hulu or Peacock Premium. Sure, some sports-specific streaming services offer next-day replays of games. Yet, the added-benefit of watching matches live is that much more important for the viewer.

Soccer on US TV

As far as soccer in America goes, there is a bit of a mix bag when looking at the data for the number of subscribers for each major channel. ESPN, FS1, FS2, NBCSN, and beIN SPORTS remain relatively steady under the circumstances. However, that contradicts the trends seen for Spanish-language channels beIN SPORTS en Español and ESPN Deportes.

The streaming service ESPN+ appears to be a major contributing factor to the decline of these two channels. ESPN acquired the rights to distribute Spain’s extremely popular LaLiga ahead of the current season. Generally speaking, all games are available solely through ESPN+. There are a handful of exceptions when games are on TV too, such as the season-opening game, but the trend of streaming-only remains the same. This was the case for El Clásico. Some LaLiga aficionados missed the game due to its broadcast on ESPN+ rather than one of ESPN’s linear channels.

beIN SPORTS previously held the U.S. television rights to La Liga. The Spanish-language sports channel, beIN SPORTS en Español, also aired many of the fixtures in previous years. Despite losing La Liga, beIN SPORTS still currently has rights to a number of competitions. For example, the French Ligue 1, Turkish Super Lig, African Champions League, African Cup of Nations, and the CAF Confederation Cup all run on beIN SPORTS. However, not having La Liga anymore clearly dented its total number of subscribers.

As even more soccer content, and obviously other live sporting events, transition to streaming services, traditional television networks will likely continue to see their subscribers fall.

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  1. Ra

    January 19, 2022 at 9:58 am

    What is the deal with CBS Sports? Just fold the thing into Paramount+ and call it a day.

  2. JP

    January 18, 2022 at 7:46 pm

    @Ra, that St Pauli match was great, made the right choice ignoring Juve’s Coppa Italia!

    I have no dog in the German Cup race, but for some reason mostly gravitated to Gladbach when 1st starting to follow the Bundesliga a bit when Fox got the rights in 2015. See they’re still alive so going with them.

  3. Ra

    January 18, 2022 at 7:35 pm

    @JP What a day in the German cup. I read somewhere that none of the winners in the last 26 years are still in the competition. For tomorrow, I’d like to see Freiburg and Union win, and the enery sports drink to lose. They should be bottling drinks instead.

  4. Michael F

    January 18, 2022 at 5:38 pm

    @Dave. Your quote that “cord cutting is more common among non-sports-watchers” is true. There was another article from the Streamable web site posted on January 11 highlighted this. The article was entitled “New Figures Reveal a Slower Erosion of Sports Channels When Compared to Non-Sports Channels”. It referenced what was reported by SBJ John Ourand.

  5. Michael F

    January 18, 2022 at 5:24 pm

    @Ra. Yea. That graphic listed January 2022 (a month we are in not completed as yet). Easy to surmise it’s the last set of statistics taken before the cable network went dark. But thanks for trying so desperately hard to provide some humor.

    @Mercator. That graphic does not list a 10% drop for the top cable network channels they list over the past 2 years, but I see you like to emphasize that % for great emphasis to educate me. And your quote: “This is exactly the decline we have all been telling you about…”.

    Who? You, @Ra and @Hans? Do you three regularly go out for beers? Just wondered. We always seem to hear from you three. Anyway, none of what it is presented from this article or what you are saying is an earth shattering surprise. One can debate till the cows come home on how rapid this decline is occurring. Not fast enough for some, was my point.

  6. dave

    January 18, 2022 at 5:08 pm

    Interesting data.

    I generally agree “core” sports channels down -4% (ESPN/2) and -2% (FS1/NBCSN) over 2 years even as the overall market is down -10% may be slight and directional evidence that cord cutting is more common among non-sports-watchers. Interesting that many specialty sports channels (including those in Spanish) are taking steeper declines. Suggestive of price sensitivity, perhaps.
    This data is much more favorable to Disney than I expected. A question is whether ESPN stays at -2% per year (probably can make up with price) or if they get to the more general -5% per year (brings the end game closer). This data suggest ESPN have gone from being on ~90% of packages in 2020 to ~96% of packages in 2022. With almost no remaining bundle customers who do not have ESPN, either bundle decline will slow or ESPN decline will accelerate.
    As always, fun to speculate and follow.

  7. JP

    January 18, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    @Ra, 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Ra

    January 18, 2022 at 2:53 pm

    @Michael F. You didn’t get my point. That number should be zero if it was discontinued in Dec 2021.
    On a different note – the hipster derby is promising with St Pauli now in front.

  9. JP

    January 18, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    @Mercator, yes beIN is effectively dead at this point. I dropped them (and cable) this summer too. Could easily add them for $7 or whatever, but don’t care enough about anything they have remaining. Handful of Ligue Un matches a season that might be watched (would have to be more compelling than Serie A, La Liga, Belgian Pro League, Eredivisie, and Bundesliga in that timeslot) not a huge draw.

    Kind of sad what has become of them, as I was one of their bigger cheerleaders in the 2014-2019 timeframe. Really was an amazing channel for soccer fans (and MotoGP!).

  10. Mercator

    January 18, 2022 at 1:56 pm

    @Michael F – 10% losses on a business this size are devastating. That’s $25 billion in cable TV revenues lost in just two years. It’s hard to think of any industry going backwards by tens of billions of dollars a year. Live TV streaming services are included in these numbers, so the decline is not people switching to Sling/Hulu? YTTV – those are paid subscribers who are included in all these numbers. This is exactly the decline we have all been telling you about, 10% in a matter of 2 years. Extrapolate that out and cable is non-viable by the end of the decade, it’s probably not profitable now when you consider the margins of some of these businesses – they don’t have a 10% cushion. More importantly its a reinforcing cycle – when the industry loses $25 billion in revenues in 2 years…they have less to spend on content, which means less content on cable, reinforcing the cycle. This is the biggest issue – not year on year declines but SIGNIFICANT declines which seem to be accelerating, not slowing down.

    Bein isn’t suprising. Their numbers are so low they would see a double digit increase if some small provider moved BEIN to a more basic plan and picked up an additional 865k “subscribers.” The channel is dead it’s just Qatar spinning its wheels until the 2022 world cup.

  11. Michael F

    January 17, 2022 at 6:41 pm

    @Ra. You are straining to be funny. No one will miss NBCSN, as it is not needed anymore. NBC lost the NHL and EPL moved to USA network. Pretty seamless transition. NBCSN didn’t have enough high profile sports programming to warrant its existence. It made perfect sense for them to demise it.

    Regarding this article and statistics, I guess I was somewhat surprised at the number of households for these cable networks is not as steep of a decline in last 2 years, in proportion to the ‘cable is dead’ rants being heard here.

    This is an interesting article from on cord cutting statistics. It surely is a transitioning landscape, and the the summary at the end provides interesting perspectives on where it might lead next.

  12. Ra

    January 17, 2022 at 6:22 pm

    @Michael F I am happy with these numbers. Being not the one that is being abused by cable, I enjoy status quo. Soccer and F1 – I can watch the sports I follow with relative unexpensive streaming services.
    Btw – Those people with access to NBCSN in Jan 2022 enjoy watching a blank screen? I agree it is probably better than 70% of their usual programming… 🙂

  13. Michael F

    January 17, 2022 at 5:43 pm

    The number of households subscribed to get these cable channels has not really declined that rapidly in the last two years – roughly less than 10%. As the article states, part of that is the transition of households from traditional cable to live tv stream services.

    Yes it’s declining, but not nearly as fast as some cord cutting “pundits” commenting here on this site are hoping for, as they claim the ‘death of cable is upon us.’ Again, I don’t care either way and am not advocating cable – I simply subscribe to stuff based on my viewership choices and needs. If/when cable does die, I certainly won’t mourn.

    Regarding BeIN sports, not surprised by them being in much fewer homes. Before I left traditional cable almost 5 years ago, didn’t even know what BeIN sports was practically. Was first introduced to it when I sighed up for FuBo TV stream service.

  14. JP

    January 17, 2022 at 2:07 pm

    Did not realize beIN was in that few homes. The big drop for beIN en Espanol is most definitely due to the loss of La Liga.

    Odd beIN gained a bit though. Would say it’s the Messi to PSG effect but Messi fans would’ve already been subscribers from his Barcelona days and beIN holding the rights at that point.

    Maybe beIN cheaper to access than en Espanol so prior La Liga fans (since en Espanol showed all matches while beIN cherry picked) who still wanted to see Messi switched to regular beIN?

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