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Is there room for niche sports in an already crowded sports media landscape? Streaming may just be the answer




Two men participate in an arm wrestling tournament at the North Dakota state fair on July 27, 2013 in Williston, North Dakota.
Two men participate in an arm wrestling tournament at the North Dakota state fair on July 27, 2013 in Williston, North Dakota.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

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While it might sound like something you’d find on the fictional channel ESPN 8 “The Ocho” from the 2004 cult classic “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” the World Armwrestling League (WAL) is not only an actual organization, but it recently signed a multi-year deal to air on B/R Live, a new streaming service from Turner and the well-known sports media shop Bleacher Report.

But professional arm wrestling is just one of a handful of niche sports that are looking to take advantage of a fragmented media consumption landscape in the hopes of gaining exposure.

New York Times sports business reporter Kevin Draper explains how this is happening in his latest piece for the Times and uses WAL and Karate Combat, a full-contact karate league that just launched this year. Its goal for getting people to watch its product is not putting rear ends in seats or trying to fight with major networks like CBS or NBC for a slice of their broadcast schedule in exchange for pennies on the dollar, chief exec Michael DePietro tells Draper.

Instead, they’re focusing on media deals, particularly through their live stream at karate.com. And with big players like Amazon and Facebook looking to get involved in streaming live sports, it’s a good time to be shopping one’s product around. However, there are still obvious hurdles. Many people are unaware that professional arm wrestling or Karate Combat even exist, and much of the guessing game that these sports leagues and the streaming services that might broadcast them are playing is what percentage of those people will actually be willing to pay to watch the content.

Today on AirTalk, guest host Libby Denkmann talks with Draper about the little-known sports that could be coming to a smartphone near you and business strategy behind the streaming services going after them.

With guest host Libby Denkmann.

Guests:

Kevin Draper, sports business reporter for The New York Times whose latest piece is “The Era of Streaming Niche Sports Dawns”; he tweets @kevinmdraper

Mark Floreani, co-founder and chief operating officer of FloSports, a digital sports media company based in Austin, Texas