Category Archives: ESPN Is The Devil

The other side of the cord-cutting mountain

Sure, it’s been interesting to focus on ESPN’s trials and tribulations as its subscriber base shrinks, but let’s not lose sight of what Mickey spends a boatload of that money on.

At some point that could force the market to correct itself and the money that grew and grew for each media rights deal could finally come back down to earth. That would have far-reaching implications across sports including potentially in college football. Television money, particularly from ESPN, has dramatically changed the college football landscape over the last decade. It was the engine behind conference realignment, exploding coaching salaries and ostentatious facilities upgrades. It is the defining reason the gulf between the Power 5 and Group of Five keeps growing wider.

The major question is what happens when ESPN and other TV networks decide they don’t want to keep upping the ante each time a rights deal comes up for renewal?

Just look to Conference USA for how that could play out.

No conference has been impacted worse by the ramifications of television money than Conference USA over the last 15 years. In 2005, Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati and Texas Christian were all members of the conference only to leave for greener pastures in the Big East. That process happened again and again as bigger conferences looked to bolster their attractiveness for TV money by plundering CUSA. UAB and Southern Miss are the last of the founding members still in a conference that now features schools like Texas at El Paso and Texas at San Antonio.

When CUSA’s TV rights deal expired in 2016, the market had dried up. It wasn’t as attractive as it had once been despite adding several schools in large TV markets and television networks weren’t as needy for inventory. Only a few years after aggressively trying to add live sports TV rights for its fledgling FS1, FOX didn’t even bother trying to re-up with Conference USA. While other conferences saw their rights deals skyrocket in previous years, CUSA received millions less. Its schools went from making $1.1 million annually from TV money to a meager $200,000.

Now, admittedly, it’s a long way from Conference USA to the Southeastern Conference, which has the benefit of monetizing the largest impassioned college football fan base in the country, but who knows where things wind up in a few years?  Judging from this comment, certainly not the conference commissioner.

“Even in the midst of cord-cutting, we’ve seen progression in revenue,” said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. “I think there’s actually more good news there than there is anything that’s problematic for us.”

Remain calm, all is well.

Here’s the thing — guess which conference’s revenue stream is most closely tied to ESPN’s financial well being?  Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!

If not the Big Ten, the SEC could be in the most stable position. It is already generating huge money from TV — the league listed $420 million in revenue from TV, radio rights in its 2016 filings — and can always bank on a large, passionate fanbase wanting its product. The downside for the SEC is that it doesn’t own a stake in its network — ESPN maintains 100 percent ownership — and instead agreed to split revenue at a rate believed to be less than 50-50 for the conference and its members. The SEC is the Power 5 conference most tied to ESPN given it leveraged ESPN’s distribution model for massive early success rather than maintain ownership but that is still far more beneficial than detrimental at this point. The SEC Network is the strongest of the three conference networks — its average subscriber cost is more than three times the Pac-12’s — and as long as it keeps showing football games, that doesn’t figure to change.

Now, maybe that works out fine over the long run.  As long as we remain crazy about our football, somebody will pay the conference for access to that… but maybe not as much as now.  If the numbers decline, having that middle man starts looking expensive.

Remember what led to the current arrangement — Mike Slive’s initial inept conference television deal that he had to break by expanding the SEC to fourteen members.  It’s not like the SEC’s broadcast contracting has been shrewdly managed; as I’ve analogized before, it’s more like Jed Clampett accidentally stumbling his way into millions.  So to think that Sankey and his bosses are already on this proactively would be totally against type.

Of course, this may wind up being the reserve fund excuse Greg McGarity’s been waiting his whole career to use.  That’s certainly a comfort.

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Filed under ESPN Is The Devil, SEC Football

Putting the “E” back into ESPN

A faithful reader sent me a link to another story about last week’s layoffs at Mickey’s World.  You can argue about the underlying economics and the impact of ESPN’s perceived grasp of liberal politics all you want, but what’s more interesting to me is that the axe fell on the journalism side of the operation, rather than the personality side… which tells me all I need to know about where the WWL intends to go to keep the non-cord cutters tuning in.

From my selfish standpoint, it’s even more reason not to watch.  I probably need to investigate cord-cutting myself.  Who’s taken that step, and how are you still able to watch college (that is, Georgia) football in the fall?  Let me know in the comments.

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When bad things happen to obnoxious people

I know I shouldn’t take any pleasure out of someone else’s personal catastrophe, but it’s worth mentioning that Mark May appears to be out of a job at ESPN.

Okay, maybe a little pleasure… eh, okay…

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At ESPN, cord-cutting leads to another sort of cutting.

It looks like we may be saying bye-bye to some familiar faces.

As more Americans cut the cable cord, ESPN has seen its subscriber numbers drop steadily, forcing Disney to demand cost-cutting from the “worldwide leader in sports.” It’s been widely reported since March that the next big round of ESPN layoffs will hit on-air talent, but now we know more on the timing: the cuts will begin on May 1, sources at ESPN tell Yahoo Finance.

ESPN will part ways with more than 40 people, all of them “talent,” a label that ESPN applies to radio hosts and writers (almost all of whom regularly do video or audio), not just traditional TV personalities. ESPN says it has 1,000 people in the category. Still, you can expect most of the people cut to be faces you’ve seen on TV. In some cases, ESPN may buy people out of existing long-term contracts—as Sports Illustrated points out, that is unusual.

The cuts will mostly be done by May 9, when Disney announces its quarterly earnings, but could extend until May 16, when ESPN presents its annual Upfronts in Manhattan.

As is typical, the spin for this isn’t that Mickey needs to save a few bucks.

In a statement, an ESPN spokesperson said the approaching cuts are about innovating to suit the needs of consumers: “Today’s fans consume content in many different ways and we are in a continuous process of adapting to change and improving what we do. Inevitably that has consequences for how we utilize our talent. We are confident that ESPN will continue to have a roster of talent that is unequaled in sports.”

If you’re trying to be innovative, WWL, you know what’s really innovative?  Silence.  Cost-effective, too.

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UPDATE:  More like 100 are being let go.

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You can never have enough 6-6 teams.

Adding to its bowl ownership portfolio, ESPN just bought the Miami Beach Bowl. December is saved, college football addicts!

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Signs you shouldn’t take G-Day too seriously

Nothing says for real like “The ESPN officiating crew”.

The amusing thing would be if they did a better job than the regular striped bunch.

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Filed under ESPN Is The Devil, Georgia Football

¡HOLA! México

Welp, this is one way to boost subscription numbers in an age of cord-cutting.

ESPN announced today the launch of ESPNU and SEC Network in Mexico.  The networks will be made available to fans and followers of college sports on Totalplay, the entertainment and total connectivity company offering internet, interactive television and telephone services, with a presence in more than 20 cities throughout the country.  Launched in 2005, ESPNU is ESPN’s 24-hour college sports television network, and SEC Network is devoted to covering collegiate sports in the Southeastern Conference, a college athletic conference whose member institution are located primarily in the Southern part of the U.S.

“ESPNU and SEC Network offer the best of college sports and we are excited to make both networks available to Totalplay customers in Mexico,” said Gerardo Casanova, vice president and managing director, Latin America North and ESPN Mexico.  “Together, ESPNU and SEC Network will immediately offer college sports fans in Mexico more than 1,000 exclusive live events, including regular-season football games, men’s and women’s basketball games, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, track & field, as well as unparalleled access to news and information shows and original programming.”

I can’t wait for somebody from south of the border to call into Finebaum’s show.

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