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Is Skipper Losing Control At ESPN?

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It was just two paragraphs, and they were buried at the bottom of a Bloomberg Business story in early May about Disney’s soaring profits. The headline – “Disney Profit Tops Estimates on Theme Parks, ‘Frozen’ Toys” – wasn’t one that would prompt sports fans or media members to read the story. But these two paragraphs prompted a significant internal memo at ESPN that will have lasting effects:

Rising costs ate into earnings at the company’s largest division, media networks, which includes ESPN, the Disney Channel and ABC. While sales rose 13 percent to $5.81 billion, operating income dropped 2 percent.

Disney blamed higher programming and production costs at ESPN, which pays billions for rights to air live sporting events. Profit jumped 90 percent at ABC, thanks to higher affiliates fees and advertising revenue.

Timing is everything, even at billion dollar companies. Soon after, an internal memo went out to cabinet level higher-ups at ESPN, detailing how salaries for talent are impacting the rising production costs. Of course, numerous other factors were at play, including ESPN’s expensive new deal with NBA (which will soon be driving up costs from an estimated $430 million to over $1 billion a year), increasingly traveling SportsCenter, and so on.

But who are we kidding here – ESPN prints money.

Yet, three days after this earnings report, ESPN President John Skipper announced that Bill Simmons would not be re-signed. Skipper would later say it “did not come down to money,” but you know what H.L. Mencken says about that. In addition to the money, there’s the whole Goodell-is-a-liar comment, and a subsequent one about testicular fortitude, and more than a handful of Skipper’s lieutenants had been in his ear about Simmons for years.

It seems that elsewhere in 2015, anytime ESPN could save some money on personnel, it jumped at the opportunity.

Bob Knight and Lou Holtz – who were both near retirement anyway – departed. A SportsCenter host who attempted to almost double his salary during contract talks was shown the door. Mark Schlereth’s overall deal got cut – some of that was him wanting to dial back his duties — as he left his ESPN radio show. Jason Whitlock was removed as the boss of the website he was hired to run, The Undefeated. Whitlock’s move wasn’t a cost-cutting move, but it was described this way in a press release: “we have collectively decided to make some structural adjustments that will maximize the skill sets and strengths of our team.”

This week, another cost-cutting move went down: A month after ESPN announced that the network’s flagship radio show, Mike & Mike, was moving from Bristol to New York City, they had to walk that back. It’s not happening, ESPN announced today. What you won’t see in that press release: There is financial pressure from Disney to cut costs.

And there are potentially larger moves on the horizon that may save the company money. Keith Olbermann, who returned to ESPN in 2013 amid much fanfare, is in the middle of his contract talks. Though he may stay, there is a sense that with 2016 being a political year, Olbermann could return to cable and dive back into politics.

Then there’s Nate Silver’s 538 website. He also joined ESPN in 2013 during Skipper’s hiring binge in an effort to collect talent ahead of Fox Sports 1’s arrival. 538 has been all over the place and lost its managing editor in late 2014, before recently hiring another. Two of the website’s most-cited posts are about Burritos and Fast Flights.

As such, a lot of people are asking what will become of Nate Silver now that Bill Simmons and Jason Whitlock have been removed from the top of their ESPN verticals. One popular answer: Silver departs before the election year begins, and 538 is rolled into ESPN.com or perhaps shuttered altogether. Or, perhaps they could do something like they did with Whitlock, and remove him from the responsibilities of running his own publication, so he can focus on maximizing the value of his own content at the time in the news cycle where it’s most relevant.

What does all this movement mean?

It’s probably a combination of things – talent doesn’t really matter as much as it used to at a time when ESPN is tripling down on SportsCenter; in hindsight, Skipper made a few panicked moves in 2013 as FS1 was getting ready to launch, borne out of fear of the unknown; and finally, perhaps there is dissension among the ranks in Bristol between their vision and that of Skipper, a notorious risk-taker.

The most popular theory among ESPN’ers: ESPN President John Skipper is not in control. He’s in a vulnerable spot.

Credit to The Big Lead who originally published this article

Sports TV News

Poll Data Shows Tepid Response To Tom Brady Joining FOX

“A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.”

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FOX Sports reportedly signed Tom Brady to a 10-year deal worth $375 million to make the seven-time Super Bowl champion the new lead analyst for its top NFL broadcast once his playing career is over.

A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.

The poll said 2 in 5 NFL fans have a better opinion of FOX Sports following the deal, with 41% of NFL fans being at least somewhat more likely to watch a game with Brady as an analyst.

Data shows one-third of NFL fans think the deal Brady reportedly agreed to is worth about the same as its reported value.

That reaction could probably be described as “tepid”. That may be exactly what FOX expects and maybe all it wants.

Last week, Domonique Foxworth of ESPN suggested that the paycheck is less about what the network thinks Tom Brady means to viewers and more about showing the NFL that the network values its product.

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FOX Not Interested In Joining Streaming Sports Wars

“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take?”

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The CEO of FOX doesn’t plan on forking over billions of dollars to be people’s last choice for paid streaming services.

Lachlan Murdoch said at a time when more than 80% of American homes already have some kind of paid streaming service, it’s not worthwhile to jump on that train.

Amazon, Netflix and Disney+ typically account for the average streaming presence in a household.

“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take,” Murdoch said at a tech conference earlier this year. “And so the billions of dollars that’s being spent by multiple aspirants is all for that last position. And so we are extraordinarily — I want to say that — we’re happy to be sort of sitting on the sidelines.”

Murdoch told Benjamin Swinburne that when it comes to the NFL, FOX’s media rights are the same as CBS, NBC and ESPN. The main focus for the company remains on keeping games on TV.

“We don’t believe it helps us to put those rights under a streaming service or free on over-the-air. We think it’s very important that those rights remain exclusive to the broadcast environment,” Murdoch said.

FOX does stream games through its app, but it is only the games it is also carrying on its broadcast network or FS1.

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Sports TV News

NBA Draft To Get Simulcast From ESPN & ABC

“This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.”

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ESPN is set for the 2022 NBA Draft coming up on June 23 at 8 p.m. from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The network announced Wednesday the crews that will handle coverage on both ESPN and ABC.

ABC will broadcast the first round in primetime. Kevin Negandhi will host and will be joined by Stephen A. Smith, Chiney Ogwumike and Jalen Rose. Monica McNutt will be reporting and interviewing draftees.

This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.

Malika Andrews will host both rounds for ESPN. Jay Bilas, Kendrick Perkins and Adrian Wojnarowski will share the set. Analysts Bobby Marks and Mike Schmitz will contribute.

“We’re thrilled that Malika Andrews will host this year’s ESPN presentation as she brings her well-documented, widespread skillset to our main set,” said David Roberts, head of NBA and Studio Production for ESPN. “The event will showcase the scope and depth of our NBA and college basketball talent roster with accomplished journalists and high-profile personalities across ESPN, ABC and ESPN Radio.”

ESPN will air a pre-draft red carpet show hosted by Cassidy Hubbarth from 5-6 p.m. Perkins and Richard Jefferson will also make appearances.

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