Category Archives: ESPN Is The Devil

They strenuously object.

No doubt ESPN will take this under advisement.

AFCA executive director Todd Berry said FBS coaches are in “complete condemnation of Friday night games” and they will “push the powers that be in college football to leave that night sacred for high school football.”

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UPDATE:  And, today, in bullshit.

Student-athlete welfare?  Uh, riiiight.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil

Maybe that business model isn’t quite dead yet.

You keep asking why ESPN shells out the big bucks for college football.  ESPN sees the answer in numbers like this:

Consider the St. Petersburg Bowl (formerly the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl) that took place at 11 a.m. Eastern in St. Petersburg, Fla., on the Monday after Christmas. The setting was Tropicana Field, a baseball stadium that holds more than 40,000 fans. The game drew only 15,717 attendees and ended with 6-7 losing records for both Mississippi State and Miami of Ohio.

However, it garnered 2.045 million viewers for ESPN, which is close to what Comcast’s CMCSA, +0.40%  NBC managed for a rerun of “Hairspray Live” (2.45 million viewers) that night. Yes, a terrible bowl game that started at 8 a.m. on the West Coast put in a better prime-time performance than network shows that actually aired in prime time.

This wasn’t an anomaly, either. Between Dec. 17 and 26 — well before the college football playoffs — only one bowl game that ESPN and its Walt Disney Co. DIS, -0.06%  sibling networks ABC, ESPN2 and ESPNU aired failed to draw 1 million viewers.

We’re junkies.  It’s that simple.

What’s more interesting is that, for once, the NCAA and schools may be taking note of our addiction and reacting to it in real time.

… An audit of the 2012-2013 college bowl season by the NCAA found that 35 bowls gave out $300.8 million to conferences, while individual schools reported spending $90.3 million on bowl trips.

The NCAA report found that bowls received $445.6 million in gross receipts and spent 26% of that sum on operating expenses, keeping only 7% of the total. However, schools participating in bowls ate $12.1 million in unsold tickets, for an average of $173,479 in losses per team. While big-conference schools with major athletic revenue can take that hit — especially if they’re playing in one of the premier bowl games — it’s tougher for schools with less sports income to cover those costs. Unfortunately, it’s those schools that end up playing in lower-tier regional bowls.

However, starting in 2015, the NCAA began arguing that the new playoff system now functions as a sort of revenue-sharing model that helps take pressure off of the small-conference teams and the lesser bowls. That year, after receiving reports from the 39 post-season bowl games and the schools that took part in them, it was determined that the bowls distributed $505.9 million to participating conferences and schools. The schools, meanwhile, spent $100.2 million to take part in bowl games. The NCAA presented this as a net profit of $405.7 million. While there’s little evidence that any of the above makes it easier for smaller schools to travel to and participate in lower-tier bowls, it gave ESPN the go-ahead to streamline the process a bit.

Of ESPN Events’ 13 bowls, five — New Mexico, Bahamas, Boca Raton, Idaho and Camellia — pay out less than $500,000 per team, which is divided among all schools in that team’s conference. Only four of its bowls — Texas, Celebration, Las Vegas and Birmingham — pay out $1 million or more, and Birmingham only pays that to one team from the Southeastern Conference.

In other words, the economic structure of the postseason is shifting from focusing on asses in the seats to eyeballs on the tube.  ESPN is more than happy to bring that change of course to fruition, naturally, because that’s how Mickey gets paid.  And if the small fry don’t like it, tough shit.  They’re not where the money is.

However, if that number seems a little light, it’s likely because ESPN is paying a whole lot more for rights to the bigger college bowl games. It paid $7.2 billion for exclusive rights to college football’s playoffs through 2026. It pays another $80 million a year through 2026 for the Rose Bowl alone and billions more in deals with college football’s Atlantic Coast Conference ($3.6 billion), Southeast Conference ($2.3 billion), Big 12 ($2.5 billion), PAC-12 ($3 billion) and Big 10 (nearly $1.2 billion). Why pay so much for college football in particular, you ask? Because it’s one of the last safe bets.

In 2015, NFL games accounted for all of the top 25 broadcasts and 46 of the top 50. One of those outliers was a Michigan State-Alabama football playoff game shown by ESPN. That said, ESPN faces a whole lot of competition for those properties, with Fox paying for the other half of Big 10 rights, its pick of games and the rights to the Big 10 championship. But ESPN knows its future lies in the rights to live sports broadcasts, and it’s loading up on them no matter the cost to the rest of its programming.

In the short run, you might welcome that.  After all, are Keith Olbermann, Rachel Nichols, Jason Whitlock, Skip Bayless and Bill Simmons going to be missed?

But the next thing to consider is what happens when ESPN turns that same logic towards college football’s regular season.  The conferences and schools can mumble all they want about preserving the live fan experience, but money talks and the loudest money comes from their broadcast partners.  Just ask the NFL.

Sports attendance has been either flat or falling for much of the past decade, even as live sporting events continue to outperform other broadcast or streamed entertainment. After nearly having to take three playoff games off television in 2014 thanks to its blackout rule requiring 100% attendance, the National Football League owners began phasing out attendance-based blackouts team by team in 2014 before shelving them altogether in 2015. With total revenue of more than $10 billion — including $1 billion a year apiece in broadcast rights from NBC, CBS CBS, -0.40%  and Fox through 2022 and $1.5 billion a year from AT&T-owned T, -0.28%  NFL Sunday Ticket provider DirecTV, also through 2022 — the NFL and its owners are beginning to realize that attendance is becoming a smaller part of the game-day equation.

It’s just one more reason to acknowledge that the game as we know it is slipping away from us in its current form and there’s not much we can do about that, because we’re a part of the problem.  In other words, enjoy it while you’ve got it.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil, It's Just Bidness

Hitting the sweet spot

The numbers are in and it’s about the worst news ESPN could have gotten.

After a huge freshman year and a sophomore slump, the third edition of the College Football Playoff split the difference in the metered markets.

Coverage of the College Football Playoff semifinals delivered an 11.0 overnight on ESPN and ESPN2 Saturday, up 11% from last year (9.9), but still well below the 15+ the games averaged two years ago. ESPN alone averaged a 10.4, up 6%.

In particular, the Alabama/Washington Peach Bowl had a combined 11.5 overnight rating on ESPN and ESPN2 — up 17% from last year’s Clemson/Oklahoma Orange Bowl (9.8) but down 26% from the Oregon/Florida State Rose Bowl two years ago, which aired on ESPN alone (15.5). ESPN’s solo telecast had a 10.9 overnight (+12%).

Last year’s Houston/Florida State Peach Bowl, which was not a playoff game, had a 4.0 overnight.

In the nightcap, the Clemson/Ohio State Fiesta Bowl had a 10.5 overnight on ESPN and ESPN2 — up 5% from last year’s Alabama/Michigan State Cotton Bowl (10.0) but down 31% from Ohio State/Alabama in the Sugar Bowl two years ago, which aired on ESPN alone (15.3). ESPN’s solo coverage had a 10.0, up a tick from last year.

Last year’s Ohio State/Notre Dame Fiesta Bowl, also not part of the playoff, had a 6.2 overnight.

Up some, but not up to where things started, in other words.  Had the New Year’s Eve numbers tanked completely for a second straight year, Mickey could have gone with the full court press on abandoning the day for the semis.  Instead, Bill Hancock gets to provide the narrative that the fans are coming around to college football’s newest tradition.  It’ll give the CFP folks at least a couple more seasons before they have to respond to any push from their broadcast partner.

I bet there are a lot of smiling faces at Bristol this week.  Not.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil

“The athletes are not a property of the university.”

Good piece from Pete Thamel exploring the decision of players like Fournette and McCaffrey to pass on playing in bowl games in an era when there doesn’t seem to be an end to expanding the pool.  And why is that?  C’mon, you know why.

That corporate sprawl offered another reminder—if you needed one—just how much cash is at stake. There’s a reason ESPN televises 38 of the 41 games and owns and operates 13 of them. There’s a reason that 27 of the 41 bowl games didn’t exist 30 years ago.

In a suite high above FAU Stadium during the second quarter, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco recalled his time as an executive at CBS when they televised an Indiana-Butler game in 2012 that ended in an overtime upset of the No. 1 Hoosiers. Aresco was thrilled until he saw the Gildan New Mexico Bowl—between Arizona and Nevada—crush it in the ratings by 1.9 to 1.5. “That’s when I realized,” he said, “football had become king.”

If you’re ESPN, December is berry, berry good to you.

But bowl games have undeniably become the December background noise at your company holiday party, your December treadmill sprints and those cold nights when the Potato Bowl is more comforting than leaving the couch. Americans like watching football, as evidence by the 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl—between non-traditional powers Baylor and North Carolina—doing the same rating (2.6) as the top-rated regular season college basketball (UNC-Duke) last year. The December bowl orgy is annually one of the most flush ratings runs for ESPN every year…

Forget school spirit.  What about us couch potatoes on a cold weekday night needing the kind of fix only the Boca Raton Bowl can provide?

So, remember, kids — at least those rare and few of you gifted enough to have a chance to play on Sundays while being relegated to a lower-tier exhibition game for one last hurrah — if you’re not motivated to stick around for your teammates and dear old U, do it for all the college football junkies out there.  Otherwise, we’ll be stuck watching meaningless regular season college basketball games.  The horror!

ESPN and its advertisers are counting on you.  Don’t let them down.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil, It's Just Bidness

“People don’t want to pay for what they don’t want to get.”

It was the best of times for Mickey and it was the worst of times.

For the second year in a row, Disney is poised to have another “Star Wars” megahit on its hands with the company on track to sell $130 million in U.S. pre-release tickets for next week’s “Rogue One.”

But no matter how well it performs at the box office, the film’s success may be overshadowed by Disney investors’ rising alarm about another part of the Magic Kingdom: ESPN, which is shedding viewers in record numbers.

ESPN was thrust into the spotlight in November when the ratings company Nielsen predicted the sports juggernaut would lose 621,000 cable subscribers that month. Nielsen estimated the sports network would lose another 555,000 subscribers in December.

The staggering losses have led to calls by analysts for Disney to spin off or sell the beleaguered network, which has lost 9 million subscribers in three years, according to company filings.

Contrary to this incredibly well-researched suggestion, it appears that even the WWL is not immune to a growing number of viewers who don’t like paying for things they don’t use.

The challenges ahead are not unique to ESPN. The pay-TV industry as a whole has seen many consumers trim back their cable subscriptions in favor of online video services — or, fed up with the rising cost of TV, forgo cable altogether.
“There’s an underlying theme of the bundle being the problem,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.

Ummm… that’s kind of a problem, isn’t it?  Well, yeah, it is.

But ESPN remains one of the world’s most profitable sports networks, and its struggles raise troubling questions about the entire TV ecosystem. Long considered the linchpin of the traditional bundle, live sports is often what compels viewers to stay with their cable provider rather than cut the cord. But as more consumers defect in the face of growing cable bills, what is happening at ESPN could end up affecting channels up and down the lineup. And for Disney, one of the world’s most powerful media companies, the problems at ESPN risk dampening the success of its other brands, such as Star Wars, Marvel Studios and Pixar.

“Most of the Disney empire is healthy, but its stock price has been suffering to the downside because we have weak subscriber growth at ESPN,” said Laura Martin, a media analyst at Needham and Co. “So that weak subscriber growth is a shadow over the whole empire.”

That empire shit is kind of creepy, but we’ll save that for a later day.  The short term problem for Disney is that ESPN is bleeding subscribers, but the sports division is still it’s biggest revenue generator, and by a pretty wide margin.

ESPN and its siblings, such as ABC, account for the biggest chunk of Disney’s business by far, pulling in $24 billion in revenue this fiscal year. The company’s next biggest segment, theme parks, made $17 billion.

So while it would be an exaggeration to start tossing around expressions like death spiral, there’s no question that Disney’s stock price has taken a short-term hit.  Big companies like that don’t tend to take short-term hits in stock prices well.  What to do, then?

There’s only so much you can do to reduce internal overhead.  That only leaves one other area to generate savings.

ESPN is hardly the only programming company facing long-term pressure as consumers increasingly opt for Internet-based video streaming that undercuts the legacy cable bundle. TV providers such as Dish Network and AT&T have raced to offer packages of traditional channels as Internet-based apps; the outlook for those efforts is still uncertain, but some analysts say ESPN faces a steeper challenge than most because of the rapidly rising cost to the network of acquiring sports broadcasting rights.

“Let’s face it – sports has changed,” said Jim Hill, a longtime Disney analyst. “It’s gotten so expensive … it’s a scary time all around the barn right now for sports, and that’s another thing that Disney’s eyeballing.”

The rights to broadcast live sports cost cable companies a collective $16 billion last year, according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers — up 50 percent from 2011. That figure is expected to grow another 30 percent by 2020.

Disney is in better shape to weather that storm than most of its competitors for live sports programming are — as one media analyst puts it about the others, “They’re losing subscribers, but they don’t have theme parks to protect them.”   That doesn’t mean live sports will become a programming bargain as much as it means there may wind up being fewer interested buyers for the product if cable subscribers keep voting with their feet.

Which brings us to the tricky question:  if you’re a conference commissioner, or a school president telling said commissioner what to do, do you really want to live in a world where ESPN as the last buyer standing has an even more commanding presence over broadcasting contracts than it already enjoys?

It’s a question I figure the Delanys and Sankeys will worry about after it’s too late to do anything about it, except take what’s offered.  And if they think they’ll eventually be better off with their own home-grown media empires (to borrow a phrase), just remember that a few years ago, everybody thought Larry Scott was a genius.

Down the road, we may be using that best of times/worst of times reference to describe ourselves.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil, It's Just Bidness

Friday morning buffet

A few scraps rounded up for the buffet line…

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil, Georgia Football, Look For The Union Label, Pac-12 Football, Whoa, oh, Alabama

The Herbstreit Doctrine cannot fail. It can only be failed.

 

*Hot take a week ago:

Unfortunately for ol’ Herbie, Washington crushed Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game and finished the regular season with a 12-1 record.  That should be it, then, right?  I mean, only one loss and a conference title ought to count for something, right?

Not so fast, my friend.

Oh.  Man, what was I thinking of?

Oh, yeah, that.

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UPDATE:  GameDay, for the win.

Sure.  I mean, why not?

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil