Consider this your first warning shot that SEC Media Days are less than two weeks away.
Apparently Georgia has been talking to Kent State about a future game, with a guaranteed payout of nearly $2 million. Georgia Southern’s athletic director wants to know why such sweet, sweet bank might be leaving the state his program shares with Greg McGarity’s.
“I’m not devaluing Kent State. But you’re paying them significant amount of money and they’re probably not going to have 100 fans there,” Kleinlein said. “(Whereas) I’m going to bring 15,000 people with me…”
Dude, I think you just answered your own question.
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.
I like the guys at Field Street Forum, but I gotta tell you, when you bring yourself to ask if this last week of June is the most important week of the Smart era, seeing recruiting revved up to fever pitch is the kind of thing that makes me a little uncomfortable.
Yeah, I get the wisdom that recruiting is the lifeblood of any major program, but there’s something about getting more pumped up about the recruiting rankings than the conference rankings that’s never sat right with me.
More than that, this constant chase for reinforced gratification — what have you done for us lately, Kirby? — is unnerving. Is the potential list of verbal commitments, starting with Zamir White, we may hear about this week really more important than whom Georgia pulled in on signing day this past February? What about in, say, November, when there’s another group of elite recruits ready to make their decisions? Will that become the new most important week of Smart’s career?
I’m not trying to be a jerk here. It’s the offseason and lots of us are looking for CFB summer entertainment. As I’ve said, FSF does a good job of it, as far as that goes. But this elevation of verbal commitments that could easily change in the following months (how ‘ya doin’, Toneil Carter?) to a level of drama that’s little short of apocalyptic is another reason why I can’t bring myself to follow recruiting before signing day that closely. YMMV, of course.
I’ll say it again: if you want the NCAA to put a stop to these ridiculous scholarship offers to elementary school kids, there’s no more effective way to do so than to make offers binding on a school immediately upon acceptance, whenever given. Put an actual cost on meaningless gestures, and that stuff will dry up faster than you can say “number one class”.
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.
Gained: Missouri, Texas A&M
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?