Category Archives: ESPN Is The Devil

Thursday morning buffet

Buffetwise, I’m on a roll.

  • Regarding the early signing period, I think Kirby Smart is on to something here:  “I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on whatever you call them, middle-range, not the elite, elite guys that’s waiting till signing day. But all those other guys are going to get hammered.”
  • If you pay the players, think what will happen to all those poor associate athletic directors for new and creative media.
  • Here’s a look at ESPN’s early college football broadcast schedule.
  • Andy Staples mentions something I wonder about if the NCAA goes ahead and puts a cap on the size of coaching support staffs, namely, how would that survive an antitrust challenge?
  • Arrogance or ignorance?  SEC coaches claim to be stunned by the new NCAA recruiting rules.  It’s only your livelihood, control freaks, and you’re not paying attention?
  • Kirby Smart’s gonna take his sweet time adding a tenth assistant coach.
  • If playing a conference championship game after a round robin schedule sounds like a stupid belt-and-suspenders approach to the problem of having a team make the CFP, the Big 12 isn’t listening“Nobody else in college football can say that they can guarantee their two best teams will play each other at the end of the year.”  That nobody else thinks it’s necessary should be a clue, Bob.
  • Seth Emerson counts roster numbers and finds Georgia just under the 85-man limit.
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Filed under Big 12 Football, ESPN Is The Devil, Georgia Football, It's Just Bidness, Recruiting, The NCAA

Adventures in cord-cutting, part one

Apologies for the lack of posting this weekend, but between power outages on Saturday and Sunday and retooling our home Internet service then, there wasn’t much of an opportunity for me to sit down at the computer and blog.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my initial thoughts on dumping my satellite TV provider and my first baby steps cutting the cord.  Technically speaking, I should probably say I’ve quasi-cord cut, as I’ve switched my Internet service to Comcast as part of a package that includes basic cable, as in local channels only.  I’ve supplemented that with Sling TV’s Orange package, which provides three ESPN channels.

Here’s what I’ve noticed in the first two days:

  • Cost.  I was spending $175/month on Dish and Earthlink.  I’ve cut that by $60/month, even with ESPN still on the roster.  Hard to see that as anything other than a plus.
  • Available product.  From Comcast, I have access to all the local stations, plus HBO.  From Sling, I’ve got ESPN, as I mentioned, plus about another 20 channels, several of which I watch.  Biggest loss on the Orange package is Fox, which means I’ve no longer can watch Fargo.  I’m not sure that’s the end of the world — although I would no doubt have a very different opinion if Justified were still on the air — but I’ll wait to see how much that matters.  What’s nice is that since Comcast tossed HBO into the package, I have access to HBO’s HBO Go streaming service.  Between that and Netflix, which we already had, there are plenty of entertainment options.  Much of what I’ve lost from giving up Dish is stuff I never watched anyway.  Overall, it’s a positive.
  • Flexibility.  This is perhaps the best part.  Netflix and Sling can be cancelled at any time.  More relevant is that I can add Sling’s sports package, which includes a couple more ESPN channels as well as the SEC Network, whenever I want for an additional $5/month.  I’ll add it in August and cancel it after the college football season ends in January.  Sweet!
  • Performance.  I went from a rated download speed of 1.5 Mbps with Earthlink to 300 Mbps on the new set up.  And while you never seem to get the full allotment of anything rated when it comes to computers (anyone ever notice that with hard drive memory?), it’s obvious I’m enjoying a huge uptick in speed.  In between the power outages, I streamed a decent amount of television and never suffered a single bout of buffering, even while my wife was on the family computer.  That’s a vast improvement.

After two days, then, I’m feeling good about this.  The only potential downside I can see from here is that the process of game surfing during commercials — if you’re a couch potato, it’s what couch potatoes do — is going to be a bit kludgier because in going from local channels on Comcast, like CBS, to streaming channels on Sling, like the SEC Network, I’ll have to jump from one input to another.  How much of a pain in the ass that’ll be I can’t say for sure, but I doubt it will make me regret the move.

One thing I would suggest from what I’ve experienced so far is that if you decide to go this route, don’t scrimp on the delivery speed.  Get the fastest service you can afford and make sure you have a Cable modem/Wifi router that can keep up.

I’ll update my progress come the start of the football season, after I’ve added the Sling sports package and possibly bought a big screen TV for my downstairs viewing (man cave!).  I have to say that 55″ LG OLED set I eyeballed last time I was in Costco was impressive, but kind of pricey.  Still, it be tempting…

If you have any questions or suggestions, lay them on me in the comments.

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Filed under ESPN Is The Devil

”Traditions are an important part of college football.”

Which explains why the College Football Playoff is planning to import the rich tradition of the Super Bowl-style halftime show to the national championship game.  Why, you may ask?

Reader, please.

Hancock said ESPN approached CFP officials with the idea of a concert in Centennial Olympic Park at halftime as part of the national championship game broadcast and live watch party. Fans without tickets to the game will be able to watch the game and attend the concert in Centennial Park for free.

”This will be a win-win, enhancing the viewing experience for a broad section of fans at home and in the park, while maintaining the culture of the game inside the stadium,” Hancock said.

I really hate these people.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil, The NFL Is Your Friend.

Amateurism’s new worth

If you’re looking for a silver lining in what ESPN’s current troubles may mean for the value of future college football broadcast rights, look no further than this.

The future front in the cable-digital war is a likely reduction in rights fees. For all but the most premium content, prices are likely to drop. One lawyer present for the negotiations chuckles when he recalls ESPN’s most recent NBA contract. “If that deal was being done today, it would look much different…. We’re talking 30%-less different.” That deal, mind you, was made 16 months ago.

In a world of fragmented viewership, professional leagues will try to make up the decline in revenue in other ways. That means finding new partners. (Amazon, Twitter and Verizon have all made recent deals to stream NFL games.) Leagues can—and will—reduce labor costs (that is, player salaries) when revenues fall. They can tinker with ticket pricing. They can attempt to penetrate new markets, as the NBA has in China and India.

College athletics, though, is different. For one, there are no player salaries to slash…

Well, how convenient.

What happens when the rights-fee bubble does burst? And what happens if student-athletes ever become salaried employees?

The antitrust exemption argument just wrote itself.  Thanks, Mickey!

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

“The easier the viewer can get the material, the better they like it.”

This is a pretty amazing data point.

On the flip side, ESPN’s costs for content have skyrocketed to well over $7 billion a year, more than any competitor, according to projections from Boston Consulting Group and SNL Kagan. That compares to $5 billion by Netflix and $4.3 billion by NBC. Rights to “Monday Night Football” alone cost ESPN $1.9 billion a year, not to mention hefty deals with the NCAA and NBA.

That gets back to what I posted yesterday.  Even if you credit ESPN with focusing on the core value of its business plan, which is monopolizing live sports (or at least coming as close as possible), the expense is coming up on the edge of what is currently sustainable.  Firing 100 talking heads and reporters won’t make a dent in that.

There are two things to take away from Mickey’s current bottom line bleeding.  One is finding other ways to control delivery of live sports, which is why you see the WWL scrambling to make its way into the digital domain.  The other is re-calibrating what sort of value the content has.  The latter is obviously dependent on the former and will take some time to develop, especially when you consider that Mickey is contractually locked into a lot of costs now.

The former is not without its perils, either.  Consider the story that led of the linked article.

A friend in Little Rock decided to cut the cord when he moved. He planned to do without cable TV altogether, at least until college football season began.

His thinking reflected one of cable’s last hopes as viewers increasingly rely on streaming, social media and even that ancient throwback, the free airwaves.

For years, sports was a deal-saver. For live events, you had to have cable, and ESPN was the giant holding the strings keeping millions of fans tethered.

But when college football season rolled around in September, my friend surprised himself. “I never went back to cable,” he said. “I was able to go to friends’ houses, or to bars, to see games. I could watch clips on my phone. I also could learn not to give a care.” OK, he used an earthier word than “care.”

Sure, it’s just one unnamed friend.  The story struck a chord with me, nonetheless.  You see, I’m dipping my toes into cord-cutting waters.  I’m dumping my satellite provider and going to a package of high-speed Internet and local stations to get my sporting fix.  I’ll pick up access to ESPN and the SEC Network through Sling TV for football season and dump what I don’t need during the rest of the year.

I’ll be curious to see if going with little sports broadcast access for half a year has a similar impact on my viewing habits.  It sort of gives a whole new meaning to cord-cutting, doesn’t it?

If I were Greg Sankey, I’d be a little concerned.

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Filed under ESPN Is The Devil

When it comes to certainty and the future, there’s death, taxes and…

the never-ending expectation of conference commissioners that the broadcast revenue gusher will keep flowing.

The easy hot take given these circumstances is that the sports media rights bubble will pop, and the money college leagues make from selling the broadcast rights to football and basketball will peak just before the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 deals expire in the middle of the next decade. The revenue that has fueled huge coaching salaries, a facilities arms race and angst over the size of the cut the majority of the labor force receives will slow or fall. Power 5 athletic directors will have to—gasp—manage money responsibly instead of simply relying on the next media rights bump to cover any overspending.

The reality is more complicated and less certain. Like newspapers before them, ESPN and Fox will grapple with disruption to their business model and ultimately may have to remake themselves if they want to continue to thrive in the new media landscape. But reflexively forecasting doom assumes television networks are the only entities that will bid on sports rights in the future*. That is almost certainly not going to be the case. “I really see a time when there are going to be a lot of players in the marketplace and there are going to be a lot of distribution methods,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “The unknown is how much is it all worth? I don’t think there’s anyone who legitimately knows what it’s going to be worth.”

*Don’t get hung up on the television-versus-Internet delivery issue. No, streaming isn’t as reliable on May 8, 2017, as cable or satellite service. Buffering remains a problem. But by May 8, 2023, the differences could be negligible.

Bowlsby is correct. No one knows. Not him. Not Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. Not SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. Not Apple CEO—and Auburn grad—Tim Cook. The only thing we do know is that there is a limited number of major college football and basketball games available for sale and there is a built-in demand for them. How much that demand is worth depends on how many companies wind up bidding. “I don’t think anyone knows exactly what the landscape will look like or what health ESPN or Fox will have in 2023 when we’re negotiating or how significant a player a Twitter or a Facebook will be,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. “My sense is that there will be more competition. There will be more and different types of players. And there will still be very limited and highly valuable sports properties.”

Commissioners and ADs look at tech giants as the white knights that could allow their leagues to keep growing revenues, but the question is whether a Google, an Apple, a Netflix or a Hulu would even want to get into the live sports business. If they did, it would be unwise to assume they would overpay simply because their market capitalizations dwarf those of the players in the marketplace now. The money could stay flat or drop even if the tech companies join the fray, but the leaders of college sports hope the competition for a limited resource might drive up the price. “Long-term, I’m very bullish on the value of premium sports rights,” Scott said. “I see more competitors. And frankly, competitors with bigger market cap than ESPN or Comcast or DirecTV. Some of these companies we’re talking about are huge by comparison. If they decide that sports is a vertical they want to get involved in in a big way, that’s good news for the Pac-12 or the NFL.”

Larry Scott sure knows how to drop words that make him sound like he’s got everything under control.  But notice that the key word in the last sentence of his quote is the first one.  Nothing’s happened yet.

What these guys are banking on, without any concrete evidence that it will come to fruition, is that if more capitalized competition arrives, it’s bound to spend even more money than ESPN and Fox already are, because… well, I’m not exactly sure why.  Maybe Big Jim can explain that to us.

Or these companies might kick the tires on sports rights and decide they don’t need them. Remember, they’re already wildly successful without live sports. This is the gamble Delany took when the Big Ten opted for six-year deals for its Tier 1 and Tier 2 rights. “There’s no doubt we’re in a disruptive environment,” Delany said. “There definitely is money and interest on the sideline. It really hasn’t emerged very much yet, but I’m sure that there is—whether it’s Apple or Google or Hulu or any number of companies.”

Delany is betting that demand for Big Ten football will be so valuable that the revenue from the next deals will outpace these deals. But he also has a hedge; the Big Ten Network’s deal with Fox runs until 2032. On the other end of the spectrum is the ACC, which allowed ESPN to lock up its rights until 2036 in return for getting a conference network that is scheduled to launch in 2019. “If you go shorter, you take out a little more risk,” Delany said. “But you also have a little more upside.”

In other words, these guys don’t have a fucking clue.

ESPN’s recent move to clear out a lot of talented journalists/reporters is more than just serving notice to shareholders that it has a plan to deal with its current numbers crunch.  It’s also a realization that the real value is in live content.  We tune in to watch games; for the most part, we’re indifferent to “The Sports Reporters”.  That’s where Mickey’s expense has to focus, then.

But here’s the thing.  If the WWL continues to pare down its operational expenses by whacking out everything other than sports broadcasts and still finds itself bleeding profit margin, there’s only one conclusion left to draw, and it’s that the overall business model isn’t what it used to be.  If that’s the new normal, to think that a shrewdly operated company like Apple, which makes massive bank as easily as we breath, is going to come in on a white horse and throw stupid money around to pull Larry Scott’s nuts out of the proverbial fire is a pipe dream.

… Every league is feeling it as the cable networks hemorrhage subscribers. An industry that has become accustomed to economic growth now has to grapple with the very real possibility of flat revenue or less revenue in the near future. Of course, the possibility is just as real that some deep-pocketed newcomers could swoop in from Silicon Valley and keep the money flowing. “We could be right, or we could be wrong,” Delany said. “History will tell us.”

Hey, if it blows up in their faces, at least Delany’s already written the epitaph.

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

The SEC Network, where economics just mean more

The SEC Network, like every other jewel in the WWL’s crown, is losing subscribers to the tune of an approximate loss of $70 million in subscriber fee revenue, yet somehow “it is believed to be well within the realm of possibilities” for it to bump its $1.30 in-market subscription fee in future carriage negotiations with cable providers.

Only in America.  No wonder Greg Sankey is serene.

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Filed under ESPN Is The Devil, SEC Football