ESPN, any ratings system that has Tennessee coming out ahead of Alabama may be many things, but guesswork-free ain’t one of ’em.
Category Archives: ESPN Is The Devil
Remember when ESPN’s public editor asked, “Who’s expected to live by the traditional rules and ethics of journalism, and who isn’t?” and answered by saying,
“Expecting analysts to magically transform into journalists is not a realistic expectation — and, frankly, not the role they are being asked to play.”
Yeah, well, Todd McShay.
I heard from a lot of readers on Twitter looking for information on why ESPN college football reporter and NFL draft analyst Todd McShay was part of Michigan’s signing day event hosted by the Players’ Tribune on Feb. 3 at Hill Auditorium. The optics were odd given this was essentially a pep rally for Michigan and McShay had a formal role in the show. It was unclear if you were watching whether McShay was being paid by Michigan, which would really be odd given he’d have to report on them as a sideline reporter and draft analyst. Viewers clearly notice this stuff.
ESPN management said that McShay was not paid for the appearance and it did not know about his attendance prior to the event. To his credit, McShay answered the question when asked by SI. “I completely understand that I made a mistake and clearly should have discussed this appearance with ESPN in advance,” he said. “I will obviously learn from this situation, and in no way will this compromise the quality or objectivity of my work going forward.”
These guys aren’t even fucking trying anymore. Sure, Todd, I’ll respect your objectivity as much as you do.
ESPN’s Public Editor gives a pass to this:
One of the issues that most confounds ESPN’s audience is how to assess the differing roles played by its many on-camera personalities. What’s the difference between a SportsCenter anchor, an on-air reporter, an analyst or a sideline reporter? Who’s expected to live by the traditional rules and ethics of journalism, and who isn’t?
These questions run through much of the feedback I get from ESPN’s audience. It’s hot again this week, after Deadspin called out ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen for sending out sponsored tweets for a Domino’s Pizza deal that were not labeled as advertising. It was hot last week back when Mike Ditka responded to Al-Jazeera’s HGH report on Peyton Manning by calling the network “garbage.” It was hot back in November when it was revealed that ESPN NFL pregame analyst Ray Lewis had given a motivational speech to the Bills the night before a Monday Night Football game he was working.
What do I mean by a pass? This is what I mean: “Expecting analysts to magically transform into journalists is not a realistic expectation — and, frankly, not the role they are being asked to play.”
In other words, drop those expectations, kids, and remember what the “E” in ESPN stands for.
There’s a survey making the rounds that doesn’t contain a lot of happy news for Mickey’s Empire.
A survey of 1,582 consumers commissioned last week by BTIG Research found that 56 percent of respondents would remove ESPN and ESPN2 from their cable packages to save $8 per month, which is about the cost cable subscribers pay to receive the networks. Broken down by gender, 60 percent of female respondents and 49 percent of male respondents said they would remove the sports networks to save money.
“Even more interesting, results did not vary by age, with Millennials, Gen X’ers and Boomers all similar, adjusting for the survey’s margin of error,” BTIG Research’s Richard Greenfield wrote in a story about the survey results.
B-b-b-b-but I thought everybody loved sports!
Feed that information into ESPN’s existing trend lines…
Seven million U.S. households have dropped ESPN in the past two years, Disney said in a federal filing submitted in November. Its subscription base is down to 92 million homes, the lowest in nearly a decade, and the operating profit Disney expects to receive from ESPN — its most profitable cable channel — is expected to flatten this year, leading to a cost-cutting mandate from Disney.
… and it would appear that Disney is caught between a rock and a hard place with its business model.
To combat these losses, Disney chief executive Robert Iger has said ESPN is prepared to offer a direct-to-consumer subscription service, in which consumers would pay for ESPN programming by itself without subscribing to a cable package. However, this plan also presents a certain amount of risk. As The Post’s Drew Harwell noted last month, if 30 percent of ESPN’s current subscribers shifted to paying for the network via an online service, Disney would need to charge about $20 per month to make up for the revenue from lost cable subscribers.
BTIG Research also asked about this in its survey, and its results were similarly bleak for ESPN and Disney. The survey found that only 6 percent of respondents would subscribe to ESPN and ESPN2 at $20 per month, with 85 percent indicating they wouldn’t and 9 percent saying they weren’t sure.
“The reality is that ESPN would likely have to charge dramatically more than $20/month/sub in a direct-to-consumer model, given the dramatic reduction in penetration rates,” Greenfield writes, pointing out another strike against this plan: Many consumers wouldn’t subscribe to such a package on an annual basis, instead turning it off or on depending on the time of year (NFL fans only subscribing during football season, for instance).
Now, as the linked article goes on to note, talk is cheap and ESPN controls a ton of live sports programming, so if that’s what you want, you’re going to have to pay the piper, within reason, of course. And therein lies the rub: it’s an easy call when you’ve got the rest of the country subsidizing your sports hunger, but how much are you willing to pony up on your own?
And the obvious question to ask at that point is what happens to our buddies running college football – you know, the captains of industry running their own conference broadcast networks – get told that the next ESPN contract won’t be so lucrative? Here’s one thought:
The future impact of cord-cutting may be far more dramatic. Where does that leave college football? The sport’s present sugar daddy ESPN, at the very least, will be shelling out far less. The same cord-cutting that harms ESPN may kill off the viewer-less conference TV networks as constituted. College football may see a finite, diminished revenue pool, concurrent with increased business costs as it resolves its amateurism conundrum and perhaps deals with increased insurance premiums as medical research continues.
Projecting specifics is murky. But, the broad direction is clear. College Football will operate more like a business, optimizing itself to create revenue (rather than just distributing it). We can expect far greater centralization and collective action. Many of the sport’s lovable little inefficiencies may be cast aside.
Without cable, college football would be attracting viewers, not trying to collect what amounts to a college football tax over the largest population footprint. The focus would move toward producing the most quality games possible. That impetus could precipitate radical changes to scheduling and the way the sport is structured.
Eh, maybe. First off, there’s an implication there that the Scotts and Delanys running the show are capable of strategic thinking. If so, that’s something they haven’t demonstrated before, mainly because they’ve had the luxury of a broadcast market that’s been on steroids for the past decade.
But second, if there’s one way to make me skeptical about visions like this, it’s to say “perhaps with Notre Dame”. Notre Dame football doesn’t need a conference now. It has its own TV deal; more importantly, it has its own TV deal on NBC. It isn’t beholden to cable. If Notre Dame is good now, that’s certainly not going to change in an era of cord-cutting. In fact, it would be monumentally stupid to give up that advantage.
You know who else has that advantage? The SEC. Uncle Verne and Gary are free. But what happens when the current CBS deal expires and bold leadership dictates that all football product moves to the SEC Network? I guess we’d find out then how much Phyllis from Mulga would be willing to pay every month to listen to PAWWWLLL’s dulcet tones.
You don’t think the SEC would be dumb enough to make itself that vulnerable? Hey, this is the conference that expanded to fourteen schools to get out of a bad TV deal. It’s quite capable. After all, that’s what passes for strategic thinking.
Here are a couple of viewership tidbits from last night’s broadcast to digest.
I’m sure Baghdad Bill will do his usual fine job of dissembling with regard to those numbers, but here’s my question: what if they’re an indication of an inherent structural problem?
More specifically, I would suggest that both Disney and the brains behind the CFP have adopted a marketing strategy that amounts to converting college football’s regional brand into a more national one. After all, a bigger audience is where the money is.
But what if they’re wrong about being able to change public attitudes about college football? (New Year’s Eve wasn’t exactly a success in that department.) What if the sport’s regional appeal is as good as it gets? What if moving the title game from ABC to ESPN will always result in reduced viewership? How does matching teams up from small Southern college towns in a national title game ever resonate with the same kind of passion outside of the South that it does inside?
Most importantly, if this really is a reflection of reality, how long do the people running ESPN and college football keep beating their heads in a futile effort to create a market that will never exist? And how hard do they beat their heads doing so?
It’s not that I have an answer to any of that. It’s that I doubt people like Delany do, either.
UPDATE: Nick Saban has a related question.
And now it gets to lie in it.
Despite the efforts of the College Football Playoff committee and some media outlets downplaying the financial hit ESPN took by being forced to televise the two national championship semi-final games on New Year’s Eve, media buyers say the network owes upwards of $20 million in ad makegoods for ratings shortfalls for the two games.
ESPN may have gotten a bit greedy when setting its ratings estimates and offering higher guarantee levels to advertisers for the two games, knowing audiences might not flock to their TV sets, despite the optimism of the CFP committee. However, advertisers are concerned about next season’s potential audience levels for the games, which will also be televised on New Year’s Eve. Even if the ratings guarantees by ESPN are set lower, advertisers would prefer the games be moved to New Year’s Day or even on consecutive primetime nights, exclusive of New Year’s Eve, when more people would likely watch.
But CFP committee officials are on record as adamantly supporting the continued airing of the playoff series games on New Year’s Eve as scheduled, which will occur in seven of the remaining 10 years of the 12-year original deal. And that position has been taken even after the 36% combined ratings decline for the two games was disclosed.
So ESPN is caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, it has to keep its mouth shut and parrot the CFP’s belief that ratings will get better in subsequent New Year’s Eve telecasts, even though privately they believe that to be nonsense. It can’t been seen criticizing its long-term partner publicly. On the other hand, ESPN has to hear the wrath of its advertisers who saw their ad dollars spent on the severe under-delivery of the guaranteed audience for the two games.
There’s greed involved? I’m shocked, shocked to learn that. And before we get to next year’s telecasts, ESPN has to worry about Monday night.
Fast forward to Monday night’s college football championship game with many buyers not sure that the ratings will match last year’s record numbers. This time, unlike the New Year’s Eve debacle, it would not be because of when the game is airing, but because of the two teams participating.
While Clemson enters that game undefeated and ranked first in the nation, and Alabama is rated second in the polls, neither is from a major market. While Alabama might have more of a national following. Clemson has virtually none, although many may tune in to see if Clemson can complete its season undefeated.
But buyers are still concerned that shelling out as much as $1.3 million per 30 second spot might not get them the ratings they were guaranteed. And much like for the two semi-final games, ESPN did not leave much money on the table.
Last year’s game drew 33.4 million viewers and an 18.2 household rating, making it the most watched program in the history of cable. Buyers say in order for ESPN to bump up its asking price from $1 million per 30 for last year’s championship game to $1.3 million this year, it had to sizably increase its ratings guarantees.
None of which is apparently the concern of Baghdad Bill and his bosses, something that’s making some of the natives a bit restless.
Media buyers are sympathetic to ESPN’s situation and are also appalled and angry at the attitude of the NCAA and the College Football Playoff committee and the public comments being made by their executives.
The CFP’s Hancock told The New York Times this week, “We don’t make decisions based on television numbers. I don’t have a TV number that influences my measurable for success.”
Talk about a slap in the face to his media partner ESPN which is now some $20 million in the hole because of Hancock’s arrogance, after the network paid the CFP $600 million for the TV rights of the bowl games, including the two New Year’s Eve semi-finals.
One buyer is hoping that ESPN, which tried to get the committee to change the date away from New Year’s Eve this season to no avail, reapproaches the committee and makes another attempt for next season.
“If I were ESPN, I would have another conversation with the CFP and I would walk into that meeting with some of the major bowl sponsors and advertisers to demand the date be changed,” the buyer says.
Yeah, that’s gonna work like a charm.
One competing exec whose network carries both college and NFL games, sympathizes with ESPN, but says there is not much that can be done if the CFP sticks to its position.
“You do these long-term TV rights deals hoping that if an issue comes up that things can be altered, but if the content provider refuses, the network is stuck,” the exec says. “It’s like getting married and hoping you can change your partner. Most times you can’t.”
I think I detect a faint undertone of glee there. Not that I can blame whoever that is for a little gloating. He’s got good news for us fans, too.
The exec says ESPN, in addition to the units it held back in the college championship and NFL wild card games, can find ways to slip in extra commercials in during replay and injury timeouts, although even those are usually pre-sold with advertisers on a list. [Emphasis added.]
Yay for us!
So how does the long game play out here? Well, if this is what ESPN has to look forward to…
Meanwhile ESPN, despite its “partnership” with the CFP, finds itself alone on the island with no help from the committee or its leadership.
As Hancock told USA Today this week, “Let’s see what happens. We’re confident that every year will be different and over time these games will be ingrained into a part of the New Year’s Eve tradition.”
And while it waits for that to happen, ESPN can lower its ratings guarantees, charge less for its ads, and not cover the $600 million TV rights fee it is paying the CFP.
… the odds are that no broadcast partner is going to warmly embrace the next CFP opportunity in the same way that Mickey has. So if down the road Hancock’s bosses want to keep the money rolling in , there’s really only one way to sweeten that pot.
Boy, I like to think I blast Bill Hancock and his masters for their arrogance, but SI.com’s Richard Deitsch turns in a masterful performance here with his analysis of where things stand after the CFP’s significant drop in ratings on New Year’s Eve.
But College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock would not budge–you can’t spell hubris without the ‘H’ in Hancock–and there appears to be no immediate plans to change course based on what Hancock told the Associated Press on Saturday. “It’s too soon to know how much was due to the lopsided games or how much what I think we all thought would be an inevitable decline from the excitement of the first year or the semifinals on New Year’s Eve,” he said. “I suspect it’s a combination of those three, but I don’t have any idea what the weighting is. ESPN is studying the numbers and we’ll learn a lot more in the next few months.”
… The predicted increased ratings from Year 3 and 4 will change the narrative only briefly until the numbers sink again for Year 5 and beyond. But this isn’t just about ratings. Holding a primetime playoff game on New Years Eve is arguably the most viewer-unfriendly option in all sports for a major property. Given Hancock’s job is to bring his playoffs to the biggest audience, most CEOs who lost 40 percent of their customers would be out the door faster than Usain Bolt. As my colleague Pete Thamel wrote last week, the semifinals can’t be held on its logical place, New Year’s Day, because those time slots are, until 2026, already allotted to the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. “If there is one thing we’ve learned over the years about the conference commissioners who run college football, it’s that they care little about the greater good of the game if it means losing dollars from their own wallets,” Thamel wrote.
Deitsch advises the suits analyzing the situation to give up on changing viewer habits on December 31st.
I’m happy to save the TV research wonks some time: You will never change the paradigm of New Years Eve when it comes to how Americans celebrate. The arrogance of Hancock and his Power Five conference commissioner cronies knows no bounds as they are preventing many Americans from watching one of the signature sporting events of the year.
What should be even more depressing for ESPN, Hancock and the commissioners to consider is the market data for the playoff games.
1. The top 10 rated TV markets for Cotton Bowl (Alabama-Michigan State): 1. Birmingham (48.1), Greenville (21.3), Knoxville (21.2), Nashville (21.1), Atlanta (20.2), Detroit (20.0), Columbus (19.7), Jacksonville (15.9), Memphis (15.9), and New Orleans (15.7).
1a. The top 10 rated TV markets for Orange Bowl (Clemson-Oklahoma): Birmingham (35.6), Greenville (29.6), Oklahoma City (29.4) Tulsa (27.9), Knoxville (18.5), Atlanta (17.8), Columbus (17.6), Nashville (15.8), New Orleans (14.4), and Charlotte (14.2).
Take out Detroit and Columbus, whose audiences were interested in Michigan State’s fate and all you’re left with are viewers in the South/Sun Belt. No big West Coast or northeastern markets show up. If the strategy behind the CFP is to translate college football’s regional passion into a more generically national one – presumably because that’s where the money is – it’s failed to resonate so far.
But as Deitsch’s piece indicates, nobody’s backing down. And why should they? They’ve spent all this time believing they’re the smartest people in the room. This is hardly the place for that mindset to change.
What bugs me is that eventually the pressure behind the lagging ratings will cause the geniuses to panic, just as they did when they abandoned the BCS. These aren’t people who do panic well.