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

Graphic via Sports Business Journal

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.