The televisual landscape has been slowly shifting over the last couple of years. Viewers no longer have to wait seven days for their favourite show to be aired, and they can now access virtually any program or broadcast on demand. Services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are overtaking more traditional cable operators, and our insatiable appetite for binge-watching has certainly helped this modern phenomenon. Increased access to wi-fi and faster connections have also benefited sports fans who are now able to watch highlights and live feeds of their favourite events online from virtually anywhere in the world.
While some competitions such as the Premier League and the NFL are largely kept behind a TV paywall, there are thousands of other sporting contests that can be accessed via streams. We’ve taken a look at five niche sports that have gained a legion of new fans as a result of being freely available online and easily accessible to the general public.
When was the last time that you turned on the TV and watched karate? Whilst the Karate World Championship does tend to get minimal coverage on a handful of television networks, it is often tucked away at an unsociable time of the day or generally condensed into a whirlwind ten-minute highlights package. The sport has an increasingly loyal band of followers and is currently enjoyed in 192 different countries. It has recently been added as an Olympic sport and will make its debut at Tokyo 2020, so you can expect to see plenty more of it in the future. KARATEWORLD.TV was one of the trailblazers of online streaming and has even been showing Premier League and European Championship football for a number of years.
Between live karate events, enthusiasts can access video footage of past match-ups and view archive footage at their leisure. The channel’s figures are currently fairly modest, but the numbers are likely to increase post-Olympics.
Trotting, more commonly known as Harness Racing, is extremely popular in a number of countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Whilst thoroughbred horse racing is regularly broadcast live, this strand of the sport gets very little coverage by comparison, and fans often have to go online in order to get their fix. There are almost 2,000 meetings held annually in Australia alone, which keep enthusiasts occupied throughout the year, and a number of online betting sites live-stream each and every race. Although many people are unaware of its presence, events such as the Inter Dominion Grand Final, which is contested between Australia and New Zealand, attracts a significant crowd every year. Tornado Valley was the 2018 winner, as tipped by Oddschecker, and that particular race attracted a healthy online audience once again.
You’d have to be pretty dedicated to the sport to tune into every single meeting on the calendar, but alongside the online bookmakers, sites such as harnessworld.co.nz offer live coverage and replays of the biggest races of the day. The excellently-named Trots TV is just one of their services that allow users to bypass standard TV coverage and head straight to their phone or tablet instead.
Arm wrestling is one of those sports that has significantly benefitted from the rise of online broadcasting. Very few TV networks would ever have taken a chance on an activity that has previously been largely restricted to pubs. However, in April 2018, the WAL (World Armwrestling League) teamed up with Turner Sports and Bleacher Report Live to showcase five local events alongside the Supermatch Showdown Championship. Despite the service broadcasting a number of other sports on its online channel, arm wrestling was given prime time slots on Thursday night, and the partnership has already helped its audience grow significantly.
After its previous collaboration with ESPN collapsed, WAL decided it was time to join the online revolution, and fans can now access highlights and on-demand video footage alongside the live events whenever they fancy. The sport also boasts a Youtube channel that has thousands of subscribers, and this unlikely phenomenon continues to go from strength to strength. Steve Kaplan, the president of WAL, put its success down to the appeal of “ordinary people doing ordinary things”, and technology has certainly brought this formerly-archaic past-time into the modern era.
The Roller Derby is an incredibly popular pursuit, and games are always hugely competitive and entertaining. Despite this, the sport has had very little exposure over the last decade. Online streams have changed all that, and fans are now slowly discovering the joys of this all-action, high-adrenaline activity. In the UK, major broadcasters such as the BBC now show highlights from the Roller Derby World Cup and the WFTDA European Continental Cup, but sites such as rollerderby.tv have taken it one step further and regularly broadcast live matches to their dedicated followers.
In the US, Blaze Streaming Media have teamed up with the governing body WFTDA and helped them establish a pay-per-view streaming service for each of the top two tiers. The long-term plan is to extend further, and the early reports are favourable. They have also set up their own on-demand Youtube channel that showcases highlights of recent games and aims to steer newcomers in the direction their subscription service.
Drifting is easily one of the most niche sports available online. It’s an activity that would never attract TV coverage, but has steadily built up a cult online following. It is essentially a motorsport in which a car must weave in and out of a series of turns with a second vehicle closely following their every move. The sport is highly competitive and extremely dangerous, but it is overseen by a regulatory body, and drivers must pass a series of stringent tests in order to participate.
The sport is regularly broadcast via online streaming site Daily Motion, and with each run taking less than a minute to complete, it is high-octane fun that is perfect for those who have a short attention span. It has become an international success, and there are events taking place in the US, Malaysia, Thailand and Melbourne. The Project Manager for Formula Drift Holding Tom Masiero believes that online streaming has been integral to its success, and he suggests that lifting the ban on people recording their own footage at the events has also increased interest in this niche sport.
Traditional television networks commanding extortionate subscription fees appear to be a thing of the past, and a new breed of online streaming services have helped breathe new life into a number of sports that had previously been marginalised by the channels’ thirst for bigger audiences. Although channels such as ESPN, Fox and Sky still exist and continue to attract customers, sports fans are increasingly heading online to get their fix, and live streaming appears to be the way to attract new fans to these less-exposed events and competitions.