Many cord-cutting Buffalo Sabers fans might have happily paid $9.99 to stream the National Hockey League team’s 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night if there had been a guarantee that the game would be this good.
Of course, there are no guarantees that the inconsistent Sabers will play this well in every game, so I can’t see many people being willing to pay that much to see a regular season game next season when a new streaming deal debuts.
Which brings me to the key question surrounding the recent announcement that MSG Networks will debut a streaming service this summer on MSG+ that will cover the MSG-produced Sabers games with New York Knicks games, available to Western New York viewers on cable – TV.
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Why is MSG charging so much that it makes it unlikely that many Sabers fans who cut the cord will be interested when the deal starts next season?
MSG said in a press release that Sabers or Knicks games will be streamed for $9.99 or a monthly cost of $29.99 or an annual fee of $309.99.
That’s quite a price to pay to see a team trying to end a long playoff drought this season, even if they continue to play an exciting brand of hockey next season.
I can see Sabers fans being willing to pay $1 a game, $10 a month or $50 a season to stream the games. But the pricing structure offered by MSG seems out of touch.
Why would MSG pay so much to stream Sabers games? The cost structure led one reader commenting on the original story to label it “a joke.”
After all, ESPN+, which has eight Sabers games exclusively this season, costs $9.99 monthly, and those games are also carried on Hulu. However, ESPN+ coverage of all non-exclusive Sabers games this season is blacked out locally when on MSG. (Some tech-savvy fans say they’ve managed to get around the blackouts by hiding where they live.)
According to sources, MSG’s pricing structure is designed to enter the direct-to-consumer streaming business in a way that protects its current lucrative contracts with cable and satellite providers. The sources explain that if MSG offered a more consumer-friendly streaming deal, it would jeopardize the lucrative deals where it gets most of its revenue.
If the streaming deals were more attractive to consumers, more of those who stick with providers because they can’t stream Sabers games would drop them and MSG would lose the revenue it receives per cable and satellite subscriber.
The new streaming service will be limited to regions whose cable operators have MSG Network, so a Sabers fan living in an area without MSG Network will not be able to stream the games.
In the long term, getting into the streaming business is a smart move for MSG as the number of people who have cut the cord and ditched traditional cable bundles for streaming services continues to rise.
MSG said the single-game option is the first of its kind among regional sports networks. The historical note is interesting. But it’s hard to see anyone wanting to pay $9.99 for a Sabers game unless a group of fans come together to split the cost of watching a game that could have playoff implications.
The streaming fee will help pay the fees that distributors pay teams for the rights to broadcast their games in the same way that cable and satellite send revenue to MSG.
The Sabers are fortunate to have a deal with MSG as other NHL and Major League Baseball teams deal with the fallout from deals with Diamond, the parent company of Bally Sports, which is on the brink of bankruptcy.
Bally Sports reportedly currently holds the local broadcast rights to 12 NHL clubs: Anaheim, Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.
According to sources, the Sabers are receiving an average of about $20 million a year in their current 11-year deal with MSG, which would be enough to pay for the recent multimillion-dollar deals made with Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozen and Mattias Samuelsson.
However, the Sabres-MSG deal ends after the 2027-28 season. The next deal is likely to be much more complicated given the changing TV landscape.