Photo: Laurence Griffiths (Getty)

While most subscription streaming services are competing to snap up rights to live programming in an effort to attract paying viewers, Sports Illustrated, a publication that simply can’t compete with broadcast giants like ESPN or NBC Sports, has bought the rights to show replays of Liverpool matches, according to a report published by Digiday today.

The step might make sense given that SI TV’s current programming consists mostly of old sports movies and SI-produced web shows, but considering that the target demographic for these games are Liverpool fans, the idea that they would become paying SI TV customers in order to watch their team play on a significant delay (at least seven hours for Premier League matches, per Digiday) feels overly optimistic. There’s also the complicating fact that NBC Sports, which holds the rights for English Premier League matches through 2024 and streams them live, already offers subscription packages allows fans to watch live Liverpool games and full replays.

SI’s main selling point is that they will be able to show replays of Liverpool matches across all competitions as well as classic matches, so the thinking is that Liverpool fans can see all their favorite club’s matches, not just those played in the Premier League, while paying less money:

A combination of a full-season Premier League Pass on NBC Sports’ NBC Sports Gold service ($50), an annual subscription to Champions League games from Turner’s B/R Live ($80) and an annual subscription to ESPN+ ($50) would cost $180. For Liverpool fans willing to wait a few hours to watch full matches, SI TV, which costs $5 per month, would run them $60 for a full year.

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When reached for comment, SI, which is currently owned by Meredith Corp but is up for sale, would not say how much they are paying to Liverpool for the non-exclusive replay rights.

Putting aside the questionable business angle, SI’s deal with Liverpool raises some basic ethical questions. According to Digiday, SI will also air “a variety of original and exclusive content produced by SI or Liverpool.” A journalistic entity airing team-produced videos on their streaming service isn’t unheard of—last spring ESPN signed a content-sharing deal with Bayern Munich—but it still creates an obvious potential conflict of interest.

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“It will not change how we cover Liverpool or the Premier League
journalistically,” SI managing editor Ryan Hunt said. “We will not approach them any differently than we do Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United or any other club.”

Despite the pitfalls, there’s a readily available explanation for these types of deals: European soccer clubs are as eager as ever to gain traction in the U.S., and subscription streaming services like SI TV are hungry for more programming. It’s a win for Liverpool—they get paid and some number of people (SI fiercely guards its subscriber data) will see their matches—and it’s a gamble for Sports Illustrated—will some match replays and the promise of extra Liverpool content actually draw subscribers? It seems like a tough sell, especially when a competitor like ESPN+ is chock-full of live sports and also costs $5 per month.