First, they came for Keith Olbermann.

You may have heard recently that ESPN is cutting the cords with some of its high-priced talent, like Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons.  It’s not because the WWL has a problem with their work.

It’s just the result of some good old-fashioned cost cutting.  There’s a piece up at the Wall Street Journal about ESPN’s bottom line, and while I don’t subscribe to the WSJ, I did run across a couple of tweets that get the message across.

That tension between on-line video service and cable broadcast service ain’t going away, and you can see how ESPN is rapidly moving to a spot twixt a rock and a hard place.  How rapidly? Well…

That’s not a positive trend.  And it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out what’ll eventually come if ESPN keeps taking the hit.

You may not care about the loss of Olbermann or Simmons.  (I don’t.)  But you are kidding yourself if you think it stops there.  If enough bleeding occurs, sooner or later that will impact rights fees.

Nobody – at least nobody dependent on conference broadcast network revenues – is going to like it when the 800-pound gorilla goes on a diet.  But I’m sure Greg Sankey is on the mother as I type this.

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UPDATE:  Speaking of Sankey, David Wunderlich sees one silver lining for the SEC in the approaching dark cloud.

If traditional pay TV collapses in the future, the SEC won’t be stuck with expensive studios and broadcast equipment to liquidate and contracts with talent to buy out. Its institutions will have to deal with a loss of revenue, but so will everyone else, and the conference won’t have to worry about writing off the considerable losses that winding down a TV network would mean. I’m sure that Greg Sankey is a good person to be running an athletic conference, but I don’t see anything in his background that suggests he’s the person to figure out the future of broadcasting where to date all others have failed.

That’s a fair point.  It’s also worth pondering whether further conference expansion is such a great idea right now.  We’ll see how pleased Jim Delany is with Rutgers and Maryland if the BTN business model falls apart.

85 Comments

Filed under ESPN Is The Devil

85 responses to “First, they came for Keith Olbermann.

  1. baitstand

    “And it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out what’ll eventually come if ESPN keeps taking the hit.”

    Not Linda Cohn!!!!!!

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    • JCDAWG83

      Could the dream of no noon kickoffs become a reality?

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      • Maybe…. Or perhaps more Wednesday and Thursday night kick offs to provide more attractive programming for the BarcaLounger fans so ratings and advertising rates go up.

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        • Chi-town Dawg

          I’m sure airing the first round of the CFP on New Year’s Eve will boost the TV ratings because everyone will be at home glued to their TV sets. If my better half wants to do something on NYE (which she usually does), I can assure you it won’t involve watching the CFP and that’s a battle I won’t even try to fight – LOL.

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  2. JCDAWG83

    Maybe some sanity is about to return to college sports? ESPN and the cable providers remind me, somewhat, of the land line telephone companies. They had a pretty strong monopoly and a hubris that came from the belief that people could not live without their service. Cell phones and a younger customer base knocked the phone companies down quite a bit and that same customer base and the internet are going to knock down the cable companies and ESPN.

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    • Alkaline

      A very similar scenario, JC, except I would add that it’s a harder fight this time because in the case of the telco’s they were basically selling the network infrastructure as the product, and didn’t have content providers to artificially prop them up like the cable co’s do. To this layman’s eyes it appears there is a huge amount of collusion between the content and the infrastructure providers, but since the relationship is vertical so far they have been able to get away with blaming each other as they laugh all the way to the bank.

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      • JCDAWG83

        Yes, I can’t wait to see the battles between the cable providers and the networks as they blame each other for the loss of subscribers and fight over who takes the cut in revenue. It will never occur to either one that maybe their customers simply aren’t willing to pay $150 a month to have access to more tv stations.

        I predict the next battle will be over internet service. Cable companies currently control most of that, but internet service is easier to distribute than television, so competition can more quickly react to market forces. I predict the next move by cable companies will be to lobby congress to pass laws making it harder for new companies to provide internet access.

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        • I predict the next battle will be over internet service.

          This is why net neutrality debate is so important. Regardless of where you stand on the rules, without net neutrality – there is an impact on the ability for new competitors to companies such as Netflix and Hulu to enter the marketplace.

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          • JCDAWG83

            The biggest threat to net neutrality is the govt. The govt doesn’t like the freedom the internet gives people. Free exchange of information, news and opinions is seen as a threat by all govts and any way they can find to restrict or control access to information is always one of govt’s goals. Combine this with a few large corporations desire to limit access to the internet market, and those corporations’ willingness to give money to politicians to further their goal, and you have the perfect recipe for control over access and content of the internet.

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            • The biggest threat to net neutrality is the govt. The govt doesn’t like the freedom the internet gives people.

              Huh? Are we talking about North Korea or China right now?

              Combine this with a few large corporations desire to limit access to the internet market, and those corporations’ willingness to give money to politicians to further their goal, and you have the perfect recipe for control over access and content of the internet.

              It’s amusing (while completely unsurprising at the same time) to me, but you do realize it’s the party of free market that is hiding behind “gov’t regulation is bad..DURRRR” rhetoric to allow the large corporations to accomplish the exact scenario you describe by killing any possibility of competition. They are actively working to ensure that the “free market” is rigged in favor of a select few companies. Free market for me, but not for thee, I guess. This honestly just strikes me as one of those times where a gov’t agency (FCC) is serving a positive role by providing oversight to protect both consumers and encourage a level playing field for competition.

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              • Not to mention that the government had a hand in creating the Internet in the first place.

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              • Mayor

                Government regulation is a threat, AD. History shows that when government regulation occurs the very free market rigging that you mentioned above happens with there being an employment pipeline established between the government agency doing the regulation and the major player(s) in the industry. I am one who believes that there is a legitimate role to be played by government in regulating commerce for the protection of the public. It is the abuse of that authority with “cozy” relationships between the regulator and the regulatees that poses the threat, IMHO. There is always the serious question of who regulates the regulator? That historically has been the responsibility of Congress when the regulator is a federal agency. Lately Congress’ performance has been less than stellar in just about every role that body is supposed to play. Hence my nervousness about government regulation generally and with this in particular.

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                • I agree with you that there is a threat from gov’t regulation providing cozy relationships. However, I believe there is equally large threat (if not larger) from deregulation encouraging crony capitalism (something Greenspan decries immensely in his book about the economic collapse from 2008) which has been a staple of both the Bush and Obama administrations.

                  Finding the sweet spot in the middle of over-regulation to is what prevents the vast majority of consumers / companies from being screwed over and I think the FCC is achieving that legitimate role with their ruling on net neutrality.

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                • Dammit – “finding a sweet spot in the middle of over-regulation and complete de-regulation” is what I meant to say.

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                  • paul

                    At the same time, government regulators also allow one cable company to dominate in most markets. Effectively giving the consumer no real choice. When your competition is required to bring their signal in over satellite or twisted wire, there is no real competition at all. For this reason, the United States has some of the slowest internet speeds on the planet and we pay far more for it.

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                    • Nobody’s blameless in how we got to the current situation we face. However, getting net neutrality right and keeping the marketplace fair for consumers and providers is a step in the right direction to have a truly free market.

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              • Dog in Fla

                +1

                “It also probably goes without saying that opponents of net neutrality and those who like it when AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are allowed to write protectionist telecom law aren’t taking the day’s events very well.”

                https://www.techdirt.com/blog/netneutrality/articles/20150226/07234230148/fccs-historic-day-voting-yes-net-neutrality-voting-no-protectionist-state-telecom-law.shtml

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              • JCDAWG83

                Both parties are equally bad when it comes to personal freedom. The type of person who chooses to go into politics does so because they feel they have the best idea of what is best for other people. They think if all the other “less enlightened” people will simply do what they think is best for them, the world will be a great place to live.

                As long as the FCC works to protect people’s right to information, they are doing a good job. The problem arises when the politicians push the FCC to restrict or regulate what information can be “responsibly” disseminated. After all, the govt has to protect people from harm. Denying access to information is for their own good. Sadly, our govt has lately been very busy taking away personal freedoms and piling on more and more regulations to protect us from ourselves.

                Once the business interests start tilting the scales with huge campaign donations, the helpful politicians will decide that net neutrality is something that can be done away with because they will be protecting us from terrorists who want to use the internet to “destroy our way of life”. Don’t think for a minute our politicians aren’t looking at China’s controls over the internet and thinking it would be a good thing to be able to do here.

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              • Russ

                Agreed again.

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          • Russ

            Amen. We need net neutrality.

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    • DawgPhan

      except now instead of 1 phone per family there are 4.

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    • Did Conrad Fink change his “Baby Bell’ line in his last days to “Google”

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  3. Walt

    I don’t think Olbermann’s occasionally sticking his foot in his mouth helped his cause, and its possible his more liberal sensitivities didn’t sit well with some of the more conservative viewers. I liked Olbermann to a certain degree, but at times he was too bombastic to be tolerable.

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    • Then why rehire him in the first place? ESPN knew what it was getting.

      And politics doesn’t explain Simmons’ departure.

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      • Irishdawg

        Simmons running his mouth about Roger Goodell may have, though.

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      • Walt

        I’m not disagreeing with you. They certainly knew what they were getting. I’m just pointing out that Olbermann made it kind of easy for ESPN to fire him. Did he even have a decent audience after ESPN rehired him and put him in crappy time slots? Seemed like he was doomed from the start.

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        • Putting Olbermann on at 5:30 on ESPN2 and OTL on at 2:30 in the afternoon showed that ESPN’s had less of a commitment to hard-hitting sports news than manufactured sports controversy debate shows. Both Simmons and Olbermann were very outspoken with their disdain for Roger Goodell. Olbermann’s critique of Goodell had validity. Simmons was mainly rooted in being ” fan” of the Patriots.

          I am not surprised that Olbermann is gone. It seemed like a weird situation from the beginning. An initial coup for ESPN – prodigal son returning – but he didn’t have an interest in doing SportsCenter and ESPN didn’t have an interest in giving him a big juicy timeslot. Add in the fact that they were spending big money to have him produce his afternoon show from Times Square and it only makes sense to not renew him when cost cutting.

          Simmons seemed to be pulling a 21st Century version of Keith Olbermann ESPN v 1.0. He is talented, but probably has run his course for now at ESPN. 30 for 30 was huge and Grantland is humming along with good to great content. Simmons wasn’t content anymore and he wanted to prove to the conscience of the sports fan for ESPN. But he isn’t nearly as intelligent as Olbermann nor does he have a broad interest in stuff beyond movies and Boston sports teams.

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          • Putting Olbermann on at 5:30 on ESPN2 and OTL on at 2:30 in the afternoon showed that ESPN’s had less of a commitment to hard-hitting sports news than manufactured sports controversy debate shows.

            Deadspin and Awful Announcing (and Richard Deitsch whom I loathe) have been banging this drum for years now. There is no longer any room for TRUTH at ESPN thanks to the barking carnival that is Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. There are two positions and you must debate it to reach a middle ground. Internally at ESPN, there are many rumblings that the true news talent despises what the company pushes to the forefront. Them shoving OTL to a bullshit time with no viewers shows how little they care about news. The part that makes it all so frustrating is that guys like Bob Ley and Jeremy Schaap are some of the best in the business at reporting. It’s also frustrating because the way they covered the Boston bombing and the recent FIFA scandal were AMAZINGLY GOOD examples of television journalism. It shows that ESPN can be great at journalism when it chooses to be. The problem is it more often than not chooses to reward loud yelling over real news.

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      • Ellis

        I don’t think politics explain Simmons departure but I do think it has much to do with the ratings drop. If espn would be about sports and not mix in the social commentary it would be much more tolerable to watch. Hearing someone spout off with a sports opinion on a sports network is understandable, maybe even enjoyable, even if I don’t agree with their position. Frankly, I enjoy Olbermann when he talks sports but have to change the channel when he veers back to msnbc mode, which he failed spectacularly at before returning to espn.

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        • If espn would be about sports and not mix in the social commentary it would be much more tolerable to watch.

          I’m going to piggyback off the Senator and surmise that if the social commentary that ESPN provided mirrored yours, you’d probably find it more tolerable to watch. 🙂

          Simply stated – I disagree with your position on this. Sports is a huge industry in our country and it inevitably clashes with current social events. If ESPN wants to have any shred of journalistic integrity (and it should given it is the single largest network dedicated to sports in this country and even the world), I argue it has a responsibility to report on events where sport and real life intersect.

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      • doofusdawg

        maybe they could just bring him back every off season.

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    • JTP

      The worst part of Olbermann is still better than the best part of people like Lou Holtz and Paul Finebaum.

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    • imho, good riddance to Olbermann. The worse person in the world… or whatever that stupid shtick he used to use.

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    • Hogbody Spradlin

      ESPN keeps itself finely tuned to au courant political trends, so it wouldn’t care if Olbermann pissed off conservatives.

      Olbermann is pretty repulsive though. Nice touch calling him ‘talent.’

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      • @gatriguy

        You can disagree with his politics, that’s fine. But there is no denying KO’s talent. Even places that he absolutely burned to the ground on the way out the door acknowledged how talented a writer and on-air talent he is. ESPN would not be where they are today without him and Dan Patrick on SC in the 90s. They largely built their 30-something viewer base.

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        • Gravidy

          As much as I despised seeing his smug mug on TV, I have to agree with you.

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        • Watch his monologue about Tony Gwynn’s death and tell me the guy doesn’t have talent.

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          • @gatriguy

            No doubt. He is the epitome of someone that is so smart intellectually that all he see around him is stupid, but that doesn’t have enough social skills to ask someone what time it is.

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            • Being a talented bullshitter does not equal intelligence.

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              • @gatriguy

                What about being admitted to Cornell at 16 and graduating at 19? Does that equal intelligence by your exacting standards?

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                • Ellis

                  Let’s not confuse book smarts and intelligence

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                  • Er, say what?

                    If you want to distinguish between book smarts and wisdom, okay, I can see that. But what’s the difference between book smarts and intelligence?

                    Somehow, I have the feeling that if Olbermann’s politics were more in line with yours, he’d be a lot smarter.

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                    • Ellis

                      There is some truth to that. But of course since his politics conflict with economic science and have been proven wrong time and time again it doesn’t say much about his intelligence.

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                    • @gatriguy

                      Senator drops mic, walks off stage

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                  • @gatriguy

                    Right, especially sense doing that shoots that argument to shit. The exact same people that think Olbermann is unintelligent think that an Oxy addicted, junior college dropout carnival barker on the radio is brilliant.

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                    • Ellis

                      Thanks for making my point gatriguy, you can’t argue with me on an intellectual level so you resort to illogical and childish name calling. There is a reason Olbermann failed spectacularly when he ventured into the social commentary realm. My guess is you were one of his 6 viewers. And the carnival barker you refer to, well his success speaks for itself. I’ll let you compare their ratings and bank accounts.

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                    • @gatriguy

                      He’s failed spectacularly everywhere he’s been (which I never argued that he didn’t) because he’s an asshole and by all accounts very difficult to work with, not because he isn’t intelligent. Not everyone can monetize being a dickhead. I go back to my original point: you don’t have to agree with his politics to recognize that he was as talented a writer and on air personally as ESPN has ever had.

                      Of course, maybe agreeing 100% with someone’s politics is the defining characteristic of someone’s worth in your eyes. Megadittos

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              • Shhh! Don’t let Donald Trump hear you say that or he’ll build a wall around you and make Mexico pay for it

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      • Dog in Fla

        At least he has enough talent to know that Condi is wide right

        “Special Comment: Condi goes too far”

        http://www.nbcnews.com/id/17351284/#.VZ_WzvlVhBd

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      • Hogbody Spradlin

        I started this so I’ll respond. It’s a standard insult to broadcast journalists to refer to them as “The Talent.” I don’t know any personally, but I imagine they fancy themselves as latter day Dutton Peabodys speaking the truth to Liberty Valance, with better hair and nicely tailored clothes of course.

        Sorry to rag on journalists. I just think they get to have it both ways.

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  4. 81Dog

    maybe the suits at ESPN thought that revenue was always only going to keep going up, so they could pretty much do or charge whatever they wanted. It’s Econ 101: raise the price enough, and you start to shed buyers. This is especially so when reasonable alternatives exist.

    there’s probably a lesson in this building wave of economic reality for college presidents and ADs, but some folks are slow learners. Some people thought the stock market would never go down, or the housing market, either. Reality is a harsh teacher.

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  5. Scorpio Jones, III

    So…when the money begins to run out, will ESPN begin to cut broadcasting of say….the ACC? Naw, FSU has too many delicious story lines…but Boysee?

    And we will be whining about how many games you used to be able to watch.

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    • Gravidy

      I’m not sure I agree with you there, Scorp. It may or may not be ESPN, but someone will still broadcast those games. They just won’t pay as much for the broadcast rights.

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      • Gaskilldawg

        Bingo. Live sports still provide the most desireable programming for providers.

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      • 81Dog

        somebody will see a way to make money off showing games, it just wont be as much money as at the peak of the market. And, since colleges used to the revenue of the peak market will presumably have a large hole in their wallets where the ESPN money used to be, they will eagerly look for ways to cut their losses in the newer, leaner market.

        If you think colleges were willing to pimp themselves playing at odd hours and on odd nights when the money was rolling in and they were all getting fat, wait until you see what they’re willing to do when it starts to become survival of the fittest as they all chase the few remaining bucks that are left.

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        • Gravidy

          Yes, in 10-20 years I think the most noticeable effect of all of this will not be a lack of college football game broadcasts. It will be a lack of new indoor practice facilities and teams with 50 “analysts” on staff.

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          • Scorpio Jones, III

            Ok, Ok, Ok…. You guys are proly right, somebody will broadcast anything, even Wake Forest vs. Duke football.

            My God, is it ever gonna be August? 😦

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  6. DawgPhan

    The real story here is that the conferences that are heavily invested in their own networks are going to have their throats slashed very quickly when the knives come out.

    You think Larry Scott has a better handle on this than the guys running Disney? What about Delaney? Those guys are going to get slaughtered.

    Sports programming still represents the best content available right now. Tough to time shift with dvrs and the interest is great.

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  7. Market forces always work to the customers’ benefit. Everything becomes commoditized eventually, even ESPN.

    The directv ncaa football package (season or daily purchases) was the best version and a precursor the future. The day is not far away where you will be able to make essentially any version of an on demand purchase of school/conference/date/etc televised football.

    That day can’t arrive soon enough. And it will likely allow you to have your homer announcer as part of the package.

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    • JCDAWG83

      Nature abhors a vacuum and the free market abhors a monopoly. It was a very short time ago that three networks determined what everyone saw on television and a handful of studios determined what movies people could see.

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  8. Dawgaholic

    Probably right War D Eagle – the other issue is that the SEC will likely take less of a hit than most as more people in the south will pony up for college football a la carte.

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  9. Mike Cooley

    A day in which that smug jackass Keith Olberman gets canned is a good day. I see your point on this but… I don’t see a way that some good doesn’t come from this. And it was just about inevitable. It wasn’t like they could just keep becoming more and more powerful without anything tripping them up. Life has a funny way of taking care of things like that.

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  10. MGW

    Regardless of how the internet/cable thing ultimately shakes out, they’re still going to own the most live sport of anyone, which is the only thing that you can sell ad space for that people have no choice but to watch. Which is obviously very valuable.

    They may be just preparing to weather the storm over the next few years through this transition.

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    • 81Dog

      ESPN is Saudi Arabia in the early 90s. They’re the most powerful member of the Sporting OPEC, and the best positioned to attract the declining income that will follow a market crash, because they have the biggest supply of the producers. They will take a hit, but it wont be fatal (at least, not for most of the suits. There may be a lot of mid level guys who get the heave ho, and a lot of the high priced “talent.” )

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  11. PTC DAWG

    I watch games on Espn…nothing else..I do not give two shits about any of their other programming.

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    • Mayor

      ^This. If ESPN didn’t broadcast games I wouldn’t ever turn my dial to any of their BS channels.

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      • JCDAWG83

        That sums up about 90% of people I know. In fact the vast majority of those people really only turn on ESPN to watch a select few games. I only watch Georgia games and a scarce few other teams that might impact Georgia and I hardly ever watch a full game of the other teams.

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        • Mayor

          I watch 3 or 4 full games every Saturday in season. Sometimes 5 if the PAC 12 late night game is between two good teams. Some are on one or more of the ESPNs. Like it or not I need the bastards.

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    • 81Dog

      I have to admit many of their 30 for 30 documentaries were well done. On the other hand, absent live football games, I probably watch the ESPN family of networks about as much as I watch the Food Network, which is to say about 10 minutes a year, tops.

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    • Monday Night Frotteur

      The problem, if there is one, is that ESPN actually produces some solid journalism and “historical”/documentary programming. That stuff is expensive, probably does not increase subscription rate or viewership, and will be the first on the chopping block (e.g. Olbermann, Simmons).

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  12. Monday Night Frotteur

    The obvious solution is to substantially expand the CFB playoffs.

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  13. Russ

    We will know the bubble has truly burst when we see a P5 team give their next head coach a 25% pay cut from the previous guy. Or maybe everyone will start hiring unknown assistants so they can pay them less. There’s a lot of money tied up in coaching salaries and servicing debt from facilities expansion. It’s going to be very hard to unwind.

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    • Russ

      Oh, and calling Olbermann and Simmons “talent” is very generous of you. Very.

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      • If you guys can’t see that Olbermann is talented, you need to open your eyes. There are many people where “being talented” and “being a dick” intersect in their personal Venn Diagram.

        Simmons is talented in that he recognized early on how much the rise of the Internet could level the playing field between the elite journalistic types and the average fan (if ya’ll remember that time Buzz Bissinger yelled loud things at Will Leitch, you know what I’m referring to) and certainly took advantage of that. Nobody’s going to mistake him for Bob Ley, but he clearly had an eye for what was coming down the pipe.

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        • @gatriguy

          Simmons kinda struck me as a man without a country. He saw the value in 30 for 30 and Grantland, but I think he never quite got that ESPN was the vehicle that made those possible.

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          • Absolutely agree on Simmons. He relished being the “anti-Company” cool dude and he got away with it for years because he was making lots of money for ESPN. However, management eventually had enough of his attitude and he never seemed to recognize that he was only able to build what he did because ESPN afforded him that opportunity. They had a symbiotic relationship in a sense, but ESPN just got sick of him.

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      • Olbermann is the only person who ever made me want to watch SportsCenter. If you don’t think that took talent…

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        • @gatriguy

          His eulogy for Mickey Mantle is still on YouTube. It was fantastic. The legend goes (and is collaborated in that ESPN book) that he wrote it in 15 minutes.

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  14. Wonder what happens if you filter IN ESPN3 and Sling TV numbers.

    My guess is Disney is on the sucker .

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  15. Macallanlover

    Who is the business analyst at ESPN? They have their foot squarely on the expense accelerator at a time of declining subscriptions. Sounds like the Big Brother approach to spending their way out of a tsunami of incoming/rising debt.

    On the other hand, it can’t be a bad day when Olberman is let go, even if it was for financial reasons. He rivals Granny in the credibility area. I am like Mike above, good riddance.

    The universities need to be very careful with long range spending plans based on the continued flow of cash from broadcasting monies, the model looks to be in serious jeopardy. Cable cutters and viewers looking for an alternative way to bring signals into their home are growing rapidly, and for good reason. I want to target my dollars, not underwrite some freeloaders; I do enough of that in other areas of my life.

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