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The NCAA Tournament Will Have Games Without Fans, and the NBA Suspends Its Season

By Billy Duberstein - Updated Mar 13, 2020 at 6:56AM

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Here are the losers, but potential winners too.

In light of the recent spread of the coronavirus, the NCAA announced the upcoming March Madness games will be played without fans at the stadium. Later on Wednesday, the NBA said that it would suspend games indefinitely, as a player on the Utah Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a statement, the NBA said: "The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight's schedule of games until further notice. ... The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic."

Obviously, this isn't good news for the leagues, or the stadiums that are home to these sports teams. Yet should the NCAA tournament and NBA playoffs (scheduled for mid-April) go forward as scheduled without fans, some cable companies could benefit.

Here are the potential winners and losers from these recent events as of now.

Twnety somethings root on a basketball game watching TV on the floor.

Image source: Getty Images.

Potential winners: high-yielding broadcast television

With many people staying home, not only from live sports events but also other events such as the Coachella music festival, which was postponed to October, there should be increased TV viewing for the games. That would be likely to benefit ViacomCBS (NASDAQ: VIAC), which will televise NCAA games on CBS, as well as AT&T (T 1.84%), which would air NCAA games on TNT, TBS, and TruTV. The need to stay home may not only keep people in the cable bundle, but it could also boost the CBS All-Access streaming service. ViacomCBS doesn't release CBS All-Access subscribers individually, but ViacomCBS did report a 56% year-over-year increase in streaming subscribers between both All-Access and Showtime, which CBS also owns. Combined, both services grew to 11.2 million streaming subs last quarter.

Unfortunately for AT&T, its own over-the-top streaming service, HBO Max, won't be launched until May, after the tournament is already over. Still, the "stay-at-home" economy probably means more viewership for the tournament on TNT and TBS on regular cable.

Of course, the risk is that if the NCAA decides to suspend the entire tournament as the NBA has, that would of course in turn hurt both companies. Therefore, investors should stay tuned as to whether the tournament will go on without fans (a potential positive) or be cancelled altogether (a negative).

After the sell-off, both stocks now have very high dividend yields, with ViacomCBS yielding 4.7% and AT&T yielding 5.8%, with both payouts well covered by net income. AT&T's results may also hang in fairly steadily because of its relatively coronavirus-proof mobile business, as well as the presence of Elliot Management as an activist investor.

Losers: Disney, and also AT&T again

The suspension of the NBA season could further hurt Disney (DIS 3.69%), which broadcasts the NBA on ABC and ESPN. Unfortunately for AT&T, it broadcasts the NBA as well as the NCAA, meaning it will lose viewership for the NBA season's suspended games, along with Disney.

As more consumers stay at home, Disney could potentially benefit from an uptake in subscribers for the new streaming service Disney+, just launched in November and off to a blazing start. However, unlike other media stocks, Disney also has outsize exposure to theme parks and theatrical exhibition, which means it may not benefit overall from increased TV viewership.

Of course, it's still possible the NBA could resume games at some point, perhaps in time for the playoffs, which would offer relief to both companies.

Speaking of cable

The stay-at-home economy could also benefit companies that sell high-speed broadband and cable packages to consumers. Winners in this space should be cable companies with large scale, and which don't rely on satellite technology. Cable and satellite companies are both are suffering from cord-cutting, but cable has been relatively less affected than satellite. 

The relative winners are thus likely to be Comcast (CMCSA 1.18%) and Charter Communications (CHTR 1.76%), the two largest high-speed cable companies in the U.S., along with the smaller cable rival Altice USA (ATUS 1.83%). All three companies are beginning to bundle their own mobile plans with broadband and video offerings, after Comcast and Charter entered into a wholesale agreement with partner Verizon (VZ -2.17%), and with Altice having done so with Sprint (S).

For dividend investors, Comcast is looking especially appealing with its 2.4% yield that is handsomely covered by free cash flow. Comcast also has media properties NBCUniversal, which should have mixed results in this environment, but Comcast still gets the majority of its profits from the broadband and cable division. Meanwhile, those who like stock buybacks may opt for Charter or Altice. Charter has been especially aggressive with share repurchases for the past three and a half years, and on its recent conference call with analysts Altice management said it plans to buy back $1.7 billion worth of stock this year, which amounts to over 10% of its current market cap.

The risks involved

Of course, no stock is completely without risks. While broadcasters may see an influx of viewership and delayed cord-cutting thanks to more people at home and glued to their TV sets, it remains to be seen how advertising revenue will hold up.

The beleaguered travel industry accounted for only some 8% of all ad spending in 2018, and the 2020 ad market was supposed to be great year because of the Olympics and political ad spend. However, should coronavirus lead to a broader recession, all sectors would be affected, which could curtail ad spend this year.

All stocks remain risky right now. However, the stay-at-home economy should allow for increased viewership for certain cable and media stocks to make it through to the other side of the crisis. Many of these potential winners have been hit hard by recent events, but they could also be good names to put on your shopping list once the dust settles.

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Stocks Mentioned

AT&T Inc. Stock Quote
AT&T Inc.
$20.99 (1.84%) $0.38
The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
The Walt Disney Company
$97.78 (3.69%) $3.48
Comcast Corporation Stock Quote
Comcast Corporation
$39.57 (1.18%) $0.46
Charter Communications, Inc. Stock Quote
Charter Communications, Inc.
$463.12 (1.76%) $7.99
Verizon Communications Inc. Stock Quote
Verizon Communications Inc.
$50.96 (-2.17%) $-1.13
Sprint Corporation Stock Quote
Sprint Corporation
Altice USA, Inc. Stock Quote
Altice USA, Inc.
$9.48 (1.83%) $0.17

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