SAINT LOUIS PARK, Minn. — Nicholas Farris is what you'd call a cord-cutter.
Rather than subscribe to a cable or satellite package, he consumes television through Hulu Live, which runs as low as $70 per month.
"And that's pretty much all we go through," Farris said.
As a local Minnesota sports fan, though, his choice of Hulu Live places him in a tricky spot. Hulu Live and YouTube TV have not carried Bally Sports North for the past two years, meaning he cannot watch Twins, Wild, Lynx, Timberwolves, or United games at home.
"We'll usually go to a bar to watch it, where they have basic cable," Farris said. "Most of the time we just watch sports to watch sports, so it's on in the background."
Starting late next month, Farris and other cord-cutting fans will now have an option to stream Bally Sports North, without needing to go to the bar or purchase a cable or satellite bundle. Bally Sports+ will officially launch on Sept. 26 in 19 markets, including Minnesota, although here the Twins will not be included in the streaming service because there's not yet a league-wide agreement with Major League Baseball.
The Bally Sports+ model will cost $19.99 per month or $189.99 per year.
"I think for consumers, it's really exciting. It's the thing we've been waiting to break off the pay-TV bundle," said Daniel Frankel, who covers the business of streaming as managing editor of Next TV. "The bundle has been good for a long time, but it's expensive, and if you're not a heavy TV consumer but you are a sports fan, paying 20 bucks a month is a value."
Although fans in five markets have been able to access Bally Sports+ this summer through a soft launch, it's not clear yet how successful that early trial run has been.
Parent company Sinclair and Diamond Sports Group said during an earnings call on Thursday that it's been happy with the results so far and hopes to reach five to 10 million subscribers eventually.
"We don't know how many people are subscribing. We don't know much about the early uptake of these services," Frankel said. "Sinclair indicated today that they haven't even started marketing."
Bally Sports+ is not the only direct-to-consumer streaming option for local sports. New England Sports Network also implemented a streaming service this year for fans of the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins, and the YES Network has similar plans in the works for the New York Yankees.
Patrick Crakes, principal of Crakes Media and a former Fox Sports media executive, said streaming must work in tandem with the traditional model, not against it.
"I know folks are saying, 'Pat, is the pay-TV bundle, the old one, sustainable?' Probably not, but it's sustainable for longer than people think," Crakes said. "The trick is for the people who own the channels, and the teams, to work with the distributors to build these digital platforms in a way that's cooperative and incremental, instead of completely a zero-sum."
New England Sports Network, for example, is including live Red Sox batting practice as a part of its direct-to-consumer streaming service.
"If you want a way to get really in-depth with your teams, they're gonna create a lot of extra content there for you. It's really going to be for the hyper fan. The 20 bucks a month is expensive; if you don't have a pay-TV bundle, you will get the games. That's great," Crakes said of the Bally Sports+ model. "But at the same time, when the playoffs come, or when the games are elevated to national networks, you're not going to be able to see it without a cornucopia of other subscriptions."
When Bally Sports+ rolls out in late September, fans can experiment with a seven-day free trial.
"I don't think I would pay 20 dollars right off the bat. I'd want to see what it is first," said Nicholas Farris, the Hulu Live subscriber. "But I would be interested, absolutely."