I know that I have written about the layoffs at ESPN in recent weeks but I want to return to that topic once more today. Clearly, ESPN – and its corporate overlords at Disney – want and need to cut some costs; I doubt that anyone would ascribe anything else as the prime motivation for these cuts. However, I think that there has been some “lazy thinking” in much of the reporting here. The standard narrative is that the cost cutting is the result of/the reaction to decreased revenues caused by people “cutting the cord”.
Even though I have not “cut the cord”, I understand that many other folks have; therefore, I acknowledge that “cord cutting” has been a major factor in these decisions. But I do not think it begins and ends there. I believe there is another factor at work here and that it overlays the “cord cutting issues” and the need for ESPN to get a better hold on costs:
- The spending practices at ESPN over the past decade or two have not been “judicious” or “restrained” in any sense of those words.
ESPN as the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports has paid out some outrageous rights fees and has had a period of “spending like a drunken sailor”. Look, I understand that ESPN has myriad networks and that each of them needs to flesh out 168 hours per week with video programming. ESPN must have a large inventory of “content” because dead air or test patterns will not cut it in an era where subscribers pay for the privilege of watching ESPN programming. Let me give you a couple of examples:
- ESPN pays more for MNF than NBC pays for Sunday Night Football. Both networks get the same number of regular season games but NBC gets to do some flex scheduling late in the season to avoid having to put on a dismally uninteresting game in December. ESPN cannot do that on MNF. From a purely economic perspective, ESPN did not get a good deal here…
- In order to have fresh content around the Holidays, ESPN now owns and operates about a dozen college football bowl games. Most of them are the games that you and I and most other people do not care about in the least. For example, one of those games is the Las Vegas Bowl which is played in a stadium that seats less than 40,000 folks and is NEVER sold out.
- ESPN paid rights fees to telecast things like the X-Games and things of that nature. If one of those events ever cracks a rating of 1.0, it will be “salad days” at ESPN HQs.
- ESPN spent a tidy sum creating a studio in LA to house some of the SportsCenter telecasts. After overdesigning it and spending lots of money on it, they figured they needed to put other programming there and went around “bigfooting” programs to move them to the new digs in LA. This was one of – and not the only – issue that led to ESPN and Keith Olbermann parting ways about 2 years ago. He said he was not going to move his operation from NYC to LA; ESPN told him to take a hike. ESPN saved money in that move too. However, ask yourself how much programming that you watch on ESPN comes from LA or would significantly benefit from originating in LA as opposed to NYC or Bristol CT. My assessment is that there is precious little programming in that category and that the big money spent on the LA facilities may have been another example of extravagance.
Juxtaposed with all of this “austerity” came the announcement that ESPN had just reached a long-term extension deal with Tim Tebow to continue with them as a college football analyst and that his commitment to the network would in no way conflict with his pursuit of a professional baseball career. Look, I enjoy listening to Tim Tebow when he talks about college football; I find him entertaining and informative. At the same time, can we please take the statement of this TV commitment being independent of his baseball pursuits as public relations pabulum or downright mendacity.
- If Tim Tebow miraculously made it to MLB this Fall on a team that made the playoffs and he was on the roster for the team in the World Series, that means his baseball “career” would interfere with his college football analysis role for about the first 8 or 9 weeks of the college football season. Them’s the facts, folks…
I think that everyone here knows that I do not play fantasy sports and I do not particularly like fantasy sports. Nevertheless, fantasy sports are a reality in 2017; and this week, FanDuel and the WNBA announced, “a new partnership that will make FanDuel the official one-day partner of the WNBA.” [Aside: I will restrain myself from drawing a parallel between a “one-day partner” and a “one-night stand” because it is just too easy.]
Can I have a show of hands please? How many people are in a women’s pro basketball fantasy league as of today? How many of you will now get involved with women’s pro basketball fantasy teams now that you know FanDuel and the WNBA are partners in this endeavor? I thought so…
What I love about the announcement of these sorts of “partnerships” is that the press releases always contain statements from each of the partner entities that go over the top. Such is the case here and let me start with the statement from WNBA President, Lisa Borders:
“We are constantly looking to innovate by finding new opportunities to engage with our passionate fans and introduce the WNBA to wider audiences. This partnership with FanDuel and our new one-day fantasy game will be a fresh, unique way for fans to further connect with their favorite WNBA players and teams throughout our season.”
And from the FanDuel side of the table, we hear from Nigel Eccles the CEO of FanDuel:
“The NBA has been a fantastic partner as we continue to build out our consumer offerings to appeal to all sports fans. We first launched NBA contests in 2009, debuted NBA InPlay late last year, and are now extending our basketball offerings to include WNBA, giving our users even more opportunities to play fantasy contests.”
Now that we have fantasy sports out of the way, and we have heard from both “partners who are all aglow in their new relationship”, it is time to wind things up for the week. So, here is a definition of the word, aglow, from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:
“Aglow: The condition of being flush with radiant emotion, such as one in the bloom of love. Or, it might just be gas.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………