Category Archives: ESPN Is The Devil

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.



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.


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.


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

Friday morning buffet

A few scraps rounded up for the buffet line…


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.


UPDATE:  GameDay, for the win.

Sure.  I mean, why not?


Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil

When less is more

An alert reader — thanks, Raleighwood Dawg — sent me this piece posted by ESPN’s Public Editor, who takes some time to explain the thinking behind the network’s ongoing experiment with off site announcers.  You can read the whole thing, but the dynamics involved are summarized in this one paragraph:

No one I talked to at ESPN — neither executives nor talent — suggested that remote broadcasting was an optimal experience. And sources within ESPN say the company has pulled back on the use of remote announcers in the past year. But because of the associated financial savings, the practice is unlikely to be discontinued.

Honestly, this isn’t one of those end of the world issues for me.  While there are announcers who do enhance the viewing experience, there are more who make me want to mute the audio because they’re little more than an annoying distraction.  It would be helpful if Mickey could allocate his precious resources with that in mind, but who am I kidding here?  In today’s world, a chatterbox announcer is often seen more as a feature than a bug.

It’s a shame this experiment by NBC more than thirty years ago didn’t catch on.

I remember watching that game broadcast live (yes, because of the gimmick) and came away enjoying the experience.  Just sayin’, WWL.


Filed under ESPN Is The Devil

Finally, the regular season starts being meaningful.

Ranking day.  I think I’ll go back to bed, thanks.

Wake me when it’s over, ESPN.  As in December.


Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil