Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Major sports leagues are experimenting with airing single games on multiple TV, digital and social channels at the same time, giving rise to sports "multicasts" or different ways for the consumers to experience the same game.

Why it matters: In a traditional TV world, almost all sports coverage was delivered through one live, linear feed, with one set of announcers and analysts.

  • But now that media consumption is distributed across dozens of different feeds, coverage of a game on one platform could look and sound much different than coverage on another.
  • "It's just the new reality of how challenged legacy media is," says Rich Greenfield, Media Analyst and Partner at LightShed Partners.

Driving the news: In a new interview with Front Office Sports, NFL EVP of media Brian Rolapp said the league is considering expanding the multicast approach further from Thursday nights, because splitting the rights is leading to higher overall viewership.

  • Thursday Night games are currently simulcast on broadcast (Fox), cable (NFL Network) and Spanish-Language TV (Fox Deportes) plus streaming video (Amazon Prime Video).
  • Each rights-holder will air the game differently, with a different set of hosts, announcers, and analysts. Radio announcers and coverage on Amazon-owned Twitch also featured different coverage perspectives.

Other notable examples:

  • ESPN has already been experimenting with a “MegaCast”-like coverage of the College Football Playoff’s National Championship and would like to expand it to Monday Night Football.
  • The NBA inked a deal with the Amazon-owned Twitch to live-stream minor league games through last season. The deal allowed Twitch personalities to co-stream the games for their audience and provide their commentary.
  • Twitter and Turner Sports struck a deal with the NBA that will let users vote to choose a player to watch for part of the game via an isolated camera feed displayed on Twitter.

What's next: Betting has also created an opportunity for leagues and networks to multicast the same game. NBC Sports Washington, for example, experimented with some alternate broadcasts focused on live in-game betting this year.

Be smart: The price tags of the digital rights at this point are still much cheaper than traditional TV, because traditional TV is still the leagues' best bet for a reliable live audience.

Yes, but: A slew of upcoming TV rights expiration deals will pressure big leagues to think about making big changes to their TV contracts sooner rather than later.

  • And distributors are going to have to decide whether it's worth it to shell out big dollars for live rights when their live TV audiences keep shrinking.
  • Case-in-point: AT&T's COO said last week that it is considering dropping DirecTV's exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket deal.

Go deeper: Axios' Deep Dive into the business of sports

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