Category Archives: ESPN Is The Devil

I know you are, but what am I?

We’ve all seen the potshots taken at ESPN’s business model of late, but what if Mickey’s not exactly wrong about what it’s doing?  From a bottom line standpoint, here is how an 800-pound gorilla thinks:

“You have to build a deeper moat,” he often said when discussing competition. In Skipper’s folksy Southern style, that meant keeping ESPN’s enemies at bay. It meant identifying the rights ESPN wanted — the NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, college sports, tennis — and paying a dollar more than anyone else to get them.

And while you may think in an era of decline cable subscribers, that’s a dumb strategy, the numbers disagree with you.

Distributors started creating low-cost packages as a retention method to keep their customers from cutting the cord. Many of those packages do not include ESPN, a move that surprised many cable veterans who assumed that the network’s contracts would not allow cable operators to keep ESPN off those packages. Standard cable contracts mandate that channels have to be in a certain percentage of homes — called “minimum penetration thresholds.”

Around 15 years ago, though, ESPN took those clauses out of its deals in exchange for convincing distributors to pay a higher license fee. Several distribution executives describe the move as a good one for ESPN at the time, as it made sure that the channel not only had the highest affiliate fee in the business, but its annual increases were bigger than other channels’ entire fee.

In 2016, for example, distributors paid ESPN $7.24 per subscriber per month, according to Kagan. In 2017, that fee increased to $7.89, an increase of 65 cents. Only 13 channels make more than 65 cents per subscriber per month, including four Disney-owned channels — ESPN, Disney Channel ($1.49), ESPN2 (98 cents) and SEC Network (72 cents).

Even though ESPN’s distribution is smaller, the network still is making more in affiliate revenue thanks to those increases. ESPN executives insist they like that trade-off, and distribution executives even privately agree that the 15-year old arrangement has been good for ESPN.

If the value in a live sports network is the control of live sports, then what Mickey has been doing with the layoffs and its rights bidding makes some sense, despite what such insightful figures like Jason Whitlock and Clay Travis insist otherwise.

One of ESPN’s top executives accused Fox Sports of advocating what he called a false notion that the network operates with a liberal bias.

“The whole narrative is a false one that was seeded and perpetuated primarily by a direct business competitor,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and scheduling. “We have no political agenda whatsoever.”

Fox Sports has given voice to many of the accusations of ESPN’s liberal bias. For example, Fox Sports 1’s afternoon studio show co-host, Jason Whitlock, wrote a May 7 editorial for The Wall Street Journal in which he accused ESPN of adhering to a “strict obedience to progressive political correctness.”

Whitlock is a former ESPN employee who spent two stints with the Bristol-based company before leaving for Fox. Fox Sports and The Wall Street Journal share a corporate parent in News Corp.

Another Fox Sports personality who continually questions ESPN’s business model has also taken on the ESPN-as-liberal topic several times. In an April post on his Outkick The Coverage blog, Fox Sports personality Clay Travis wrote, “ESPN made the mistake of trying to make liberal social media losers happy and as a result lost millions of viewers.”

Again, is losing millions of viewers more important to ESPN than maintaining revenues?  That hardly seems likely.

The topper to all this is that the WWL isn’t the only live sports outlet that’s let reporting talent go lately in a search for the right kind of balance as the broadcast world copes with a changing market.

Fox Sports will eliminate about 20 writing and editing positions in Los Angeles and replace them with a similar number of jobs in video production, editing and promotion. Executives told staff in meetings Monday after outlining the new strategy in a memo obtained by Bloomberg. Affected employees will be encouraged to apply for the new posts.

The owner of Fox News and the Fox broadcast network has decided that paying writers to cover sporting events, pen columns or grade teams’ NBA draft moves is best left to ESPN and other news-focused sports sites. Fox is opting to divert those resources into producing online video that complements on-air shows, can be packaged into advertising sales across the web and TV, and has the potential to go viral on social media.

News outlets of all shapes and sizes are making a transition from the written word to video.

Nothing wrong with that; it’s just another indication that the networks are feeling their way around the best way to help the bottom line in a digital, video-based era.  I mean, this is some kind of echo:

… But this is only the culmination of months-long efforts by Horowitz to shift digital’s focus away from covering news and towards promoting FS1’s on-air personalities. In fact, writers sent to the Super Bowl in February were told once they arrived that they wouldn’t be writing for FoxSports.com, but would be ghostwriting copy for on-air talent instead. Digital executives like Pesavento and Mike Foss (both previously For The Win) have been pushed out as well, top writers like Bruce Feldman have been posting pieces on Facebook instead of on Fox’s site, and FoxSports.com has become more and more about what their debate show personalities say on-air…

If both sides are doing it, there’s nothing political about that.  But letting Clay Travis, who’s had a longstanding weak grasp of economic issues, gin up righteous indignation is a great way to attract the rubes, I suppose.  Maybe Travis can get Feldman to ghostwrite some college football pieces for him.

In any event, watch those subscription fees, peeps.  They matter a lot more than Caitlyn Jenner and Curt Schilling.

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Filed under ESPN Is The Devil, Fox Sports Numbs My Brain, It's Just Bidness

Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

The last wave of conference expansion, primarily motivated by sheer greed, has been the most destructive action concerning college football in my lifetime.  In its wake, scheduling for both football and basketball in the Southeastern Conference can be described as falling somewhere between ridiculous and nightmarish.  And of course, it’s laid bare the money chase that infests every athletic program nowadays, which comes at the cost of ignoring the wishes of much of the conference’s fan bases in various forms.  (Noon in Sanford Stadium… doesn’t that send chills up your spine?)

But if you ask the crack pundits at ESPN, it’s all good.

SEC

Gained: Missouri, Texas A&M
Lost: Nobody

How it’s worked out: The conference expanded its geographic footprint, and both football programs had success early on (the Aggies started 20-6 in the first two seasons, and Missouri won SEC East titles in 2013 and 2014). In 2014, two years after the schools joined, the SEC Network launched, and it has been successful in terms of distribution and revenue. That has only strengthened the conference. The league outpaces every other in the country when it comes to media-rights revenue distribution.  [Emphasis added.]

Woo hoo!  What’s good for ESPN is good for the SEC.

The WWL’s article celebrating the first few years of the sixteen-team college football playoff field writes itself, doesn’t it?

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Thursday nights just got quieter.

And, lo, there was much rejoicing.

Jesse Palmer has agreed to remain with ESPN after being hotly pursued by Fox Sports, sources tell Sporting News.

The college football analyst signed a seven-figure, multiyear contract to remain at ESPN, sources said. His previous contract with the network was set to expire in July.

Sources also said Palmer, the lead analyst for ESPN’s SEC Network, will no longer call games; instead, he is expected to move into the studio full time for halftime and postgame coverage during Saturday games.

I just hope this doesn’t turn out to be one of those “I’ve got some good news and some bad news” moves by the WWL.

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Eat, drink and spend broadcast revenue

Reading this article, I think the SEC grand poobahs Seth Emerson interviewed about cord-cutting mistook the question “Should the SEC be worried?” for “Is the SEC worried?”

There’s a difference, which they’ll realize in a decade or so.

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Filed under ESPN Is The Devil, SEC Football

“We’re going to keep the game moving.”

The SEC, all in on keeping the trains running on time.

When it comes to halftime, Shaw said there’s an acknowledgement that there has been too much lollygagging. The concern is that officials have gotten away from starting the 20-minute halftime clock immediately, either because they’re waiting on the coaches’ walk-off interview, or the game manager says they have two bands going, etc. So halftimes have often been stretching to 23 or 24 minutes.

So now after the last play of the half, the referee will make sure there are no flags, no replay review coming, etc.

“And then we’re going to crank the 20-minute [clock],” Shaw said.

When the 20 minutes are up, kickoff will quickly follow. Hopefully within seconds of that 20-minute clock running out.

“I really believe if our officials work well with our TV partners, and we do well with the halftime component, we’ll whittle that down,” Shaw said.

Then there’s first downs, and the clock winding quickly afterwards. Shaw said there will be a re-emphasis on re-starting the clock when the center judge puts the ball down to be snapped. Research showed they had also delayed a bit there.

It’s not just there: Shaw said referees have been told to be “actively consistent” in restarting the game clock after the substitution process.

But only to a certain extent.

So what about the length of commercial breaks, which fans complain about? That’s out of the control of the officials.

If you’ve been to games, you may notice an official in a red hat who signals to the referee when TV has come out of commercial, meaning the game can re-start. The referee cannot simply end the commercial break and re-start the game.

The referee do have the discretion to keep the game going rather than going to a TV timeout, in some cases where flow of the game is important.

“If there’s a momentum play, the referee can look at the red hat and say, no,” Shaw said. “Let’s say you have a punt. The referee gets ready for play, gets his count, and I would always sneak a peak at the red hat and he would say, ‘I want a timeout.’ But we would get a big punt return and I’ll say to him, Nope we’re going, we’re staying.

“But once it goes to TV, our TV liaison has total control.”

Priorities, priorities.

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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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