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Disney Demands ESPN Budget Cuts

Jason Barrett

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Despite holding the television rights to nearly every sport that anyone wants to watch, ESPN apparently is not the cash cow that it once was for parent company Disney, which reportedly is demanding that the all-sports network slash its budget over the next two years.

In Wednesday’s story about Keith Olbermann’s impending departure from the network, the Hollywood Reporter says Disney is forcing ESPN to cut $100 million from its budget next year and a staggering $250 million from its budget in 2017. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that ESPN has lost 3.2 million subscribers in more than a year and that ESPN’s reach in U.S. households has fallen 7.2 percent since 2011. Last month, Bloomberg reported that operating income dropped 2 percent at Disney’s media networks division, which includes ESPN.

Not renewing Olbermann’s contract when it expires at the end of the month is just one sign of the serious cost-cutting at ESPN:

It didn’t renew Bill Simmons’s contract after he reportedly demanded $6 million per year.

— It reversed course on moving the “Mike & Mike” radio show to the same Times Square studio used for Olbermann’s show after making a very public announcement that the show would be moving from Bristol to the Big Apple. ESPN leases the studio from Disney at a cost of $40 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

— Lou Holtz, Bobby Knight, Mark Schlereth, Bram Weinstein: All allowed to retire or walk away or agreed to have their roles drastically reduced. Weinstein reportedly wanted more money than ESPN wanted to pay him.

And that could merely be a taste of what’s to come, especially with ESPN’s NBA costs ballooning from $485 million per year to to $1.47 billion annually starting in 2016-17. The Big Ten’s TV rights are coming up for renewal soon — it’s the only major U.S. sports entity with a looming negotiation — and considering the current economic climate at ESPN, it wouldn’t be surprising if the conference’s games move someplace else after the 2016-17 season, when the current deal ends. The network currently pays the conference $100 million a year to televise college football and basketball games, and that number is sure to significantly increase.

Viewers also likely can expect to see ESPN’s announcers call even more college basketball games from a studio in Bristol instead of live at the stadium, as they did for 47 games last year (to tepid reviews). Those traveling “SportsCenter” extravaganzas you’re seeing this summer also could get cut back.

And if I were working for a Simmons-less Grantland, 538 or the perpetually stalled Undefeated project, I’d also be a little wary.

In the meantime, we’ll all wait and see what ESPN does with radio host Colin Cowherd with his contract expiring later this year. He’ll want more than he’s making now, obviously. Whether ESPN will pay him remains to be seen.

Credit to the Washington Post who originally published this story

Sports TV News

NHL All-Star Game Ratings See 31% Increase

The event on ABC saw an average of 1.5 million viewers over the weekend, with the game peaking at 1.9 million viewers.

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After a less-than-stellar report on the television ratings front for the first half of the NHL season, ESPN saw encouraging news from the 2023 NHL All-Star Game ratings.

The event on ABC saw an average of 1.5 million viewers over the weekend, with the game peaking at 1.9 million viewers.

That number is a 31% increase over the 2022 edition of the event, ESPN reported. In the coveted 18-49 demographic, the festivities were up 52% compared to a season ago.

On Friday evening, the NHL All-Star Skills event was the top-rated cable program in the 18-49 demo, with an average of just over 1 million viewers.

However, last year’s events — bot the NHL All-Star Skills and NHL All-Star Game — were faced by competition from the 2022 Winter Olympics.

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Candace Parker, Draymond Green Joining NBA All-Star Game Broadcast

The 36-year-old Parker will make history as the first woman to work as an analyst for the event.

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WNBA superstar Candace Parker and Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green will join the NBA All-Star Game broadcast crew later this month.

Parker will team with play-by-play man Brian Anderson and Reggie Miller for the broadcast on TNT. Dennis Scott will work as the sideline reporter for the broadcast.

The 36-year-old Parker will make history as the first woman to work as an analyst for the event. Parker currently serves as a game and studio analyst for the NBA on TNT but will be announcing her first NBA All-Star Game.

The event is also the first for Anderson, who joins an illustrious group of play-by-players like Bob Costas, Marv Albert, and Kevin Harlan as voices of the NBA All-Star Game.

Green will be joined by the Inside the NBA studio crew — Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal, and Charles Barkley — for the alternate broadcast on TBS.

A four-time All-Star in his own right, Green is a contributor to TNT throughout the NBA season.

The 2023 NBA All-Star Game takes place on Sunday, February 19th in Salt Lake City.

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Sports TV News

Kevin Harvick Only Spoke to FOX About Broadcasting Opportunities

“They’re very similar to the things I like to do — being a little bit edgy and doing things their own way.”

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NASCAR legend Kevin Harvick is joining the NASCAR on FOX booth for the 2024 season. The former series champion said the network was the only one he discussed broadcasting opportunities with.

Harvick told Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern that FOX was the only outlet he would have considered joining, claiming “they’re very similar to the things I like to do — being a little bit edgy and doing things their own way.”

The 60-race winner will join longtime play-by-play announcer Mike Joy and former teammate Clint Bowyer in the NASCAR on FOX booth after completing his final season of competition in 2023.

Harvick added he is looking forward to getting to know more people behind the scenes at the network.

“One of the most intriguing things to me is being more involved in the whole process and getting to know the production people and producers.”

FOX had been seeking a replacement for another NASCAR legend — Jeff Gordon — after he departed the booth to join Hendrick Motorsports as its Vice Chairman after the 2021 season. Meanwhile, the NASCAR on NBC analysts roles are currently held by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton, both somewhat recently retired drivers in their own right.

The addition of Harvick to its broadcast team could be considered a signal that FOX Sports is serious about continuing a relationship with NASCAR. The motorsports entity is reportedly planning to take its television rights to the open market as its contracts with FOX Sports and NBC Sports end after the 2024 season.

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