This week, the streaming service Max becomes the new coverage home for a large chunk of bike racing for American cycling fans, largely replacing the now-shuttered GCN+ platform. But don’t get too comfortable with the new setup.
On Tuesday, Max’s owner, Warner Bros Discovery, announced a sprawling new sports streaming joint venture that could upend how all sports in the U.S. are shown, including cycling. The new platform, which doesn’t have a name (but we think it should be called “Cable”), will be a three-way partnership between WBD, ESPN, and Fox, bringing together three of the largest American rightsholders for sports of all kinds.
As it isn’t set to launch until autumn, there will be no changes to streaming for the 2024 road cycling season at least. But the sheer size and reach of the players involved suggest when it does debut the new platform will reshape sports viewing. Between them, WBD, ESPN, and Fox own non-exclusive U.S. rights to the NFL, NBA, MLB, and college football, plus the FIFA World Cup, Formula 1, and a host of games and events from other sports and leagues.
But tucked into the press release is a line that specifically reads “cycling,” and lists the Giro d’Italia, Giro Donne, and mountain bike World Cup. Those are but a few of the many races to which WBD holds U.S. streaming rights, which suggests said other races will be part of the new service too. WBD officials declined to share specifics, but for now, there appears to be no change to the current plan to stream racing on Max. All bets are off come autumn, however.
Much about the new venture is TBD, including pricing (likely not cheap), a full rundown of events, and the exact launch date (which, of course, could always be postponed). In fact, the whole thing isn’t even yet guaranteed to happen; the press release notes that the three parties, which would own equal shares of the new venture, have “reached an understanding on principal terms,” which is PR-speak for “could still fall apart for 100 different reasons, including that a CEO felt the chicken salad at the contract signing was disrespectful.”
As cable companies lose subscribers and streamers fight for profitability, live sports has held its place as the most lucrative property in media. A whopping 44 of the 50 most-watched television events of 2023 in the U.S. were sports programs, with the annual Oscars motion picture awards the only non-sports telecast to crack the top 20.
But even sports hasn’t been enough to stem the secular decline in television’s financial health, as Disney reportedly has explored selling a stake in its one-time cash cow, ESPN. A joint venture between three of the largest sports rightsholders in the U.S. creates a behemoth new player in the streaming game in an attempt to change platforms’ fortunes, and it seems like cycling is, for now, along for the ride.
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