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What Happens When ESPN Overpays For The NFL?

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This week will tell the story about whether Big Media’s summer swoon in stock prices was a temporary blip or the beginning of a long-term secular decline for the space similar to what we saw in newspapers starting 15 years ago.

Or – more likely – it will be both.

That means we could be poised for a temporary comeback in these names, while also having the longer term trend now firmly underway as of this summer and ready to play out over the coming years.

With the market rebound in the month of October, a lot of the big media names were finally able to get up off the canvas.

Disney – which will report on Thursday afternoon – shot up 11% for the month, ahead of the the S&P 500 at 8%. Time Warner, reporting Wednesday, was up 8% in October.

Fox did even better at 13% for the month.

Some of the biggest winners for the month though came down the most in the summer. Viacom was up 15% for the month of October, while CBS was up 17% (and reports on Wednesday).

Some of the cable company earnings last week gave hope that consumers are not cancelling their bundles quite as quickly as some of the cynics have worried about.

This week, we’ll hear from the content owners.

Of course, the most interesting report is going to come from Disney. ESPN basically started cutting costs from the moment they let Bill Simmons walk this past May. If you listen to his new podcasts or others discussing the anger between Simmons and ESPN head John Skipper, it’s often described in highly personal tones.

My view is that ESPN execs got the word from Disney on high that costs were way too high relative to subscriber cancellation fears and the expensive sports rights the network had signed up for over most of the next decade.

Ending the Simmons relationship is peanuts in the grand scheme of ESPN annual profits (maybe $6M a year?). But it was the start of a number of layoffs at the network over the summer and the decision to let Olbermann and Cowherd leave.

All those decisions made more sense in light of the August earnings report from Disney. Now, we’ll get their latest on Thursday. But the job cuts have continued at ESPN. 3 – 400 more people from the network were recently let go.

There were some reports after the latest blood-letting from perhaps those who were let go that ESPN had outbid the nearest rival for rights to Monday Night Football by $500 million a year to win it at just under $2 billion a season.

On a recent Netflix earnings call, executives said they had no interest in participating in the bidding on sports rights which they called excessive.

So, if we are living in a sports bubble, should we expect that sports rights will fall back to earth when they next get negotiated in 5 to 7 years? Not necessarily because there are likely to be a whole bunch of new digital bidders around the table when that happens. More competition is generally supportive of the prices paid.

Just a week ago, Yahoo bid $20 million to the NFL for the right to – by some reports – lose $17 million broadcasting a 6:30am PT game from London between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can bet that Apple, Amazon, Yahoo, Twitter, and Google are likely to be as interested in the NFL as much as the broadcast networks the next time the NFL decides to put a package of games up for bidding.

So, in this environment, expect more job cuts at these networks. Expect less grandiose sets for SportsCenter. Expect only a hundred reporters covering sports instead of 500.

The decision on Friday to shut down Grantland was probably an easy one for ESPN and Disney. They aren’t here to have an ego war with Bill Simmons to show him up by keeping Grantland afloat. It wasn’t a big traffic driver and it’s 40 – 50 people, so… shut it down.

I’ll miss all the tremendous writing talent and great personalities but – let’s face it – they’ll all find a home and I’ll keep listening. It just was too expensive for ESPN to keep it going.

I would expect the Nate Silver experiment at 538 will end within the next two years as well and he’ll be back to the New York Times or Bloomberg if they make him a more lucrative offer.

The Undefeated might also be tossed aside as well. I’m actually surprised they recently said it was going to go forward. Why? Shovel everyone through ESPN.com or the Magazine. That’s it. Eventually that’s all that will be left around the actual sports.

If Thursday’s Disney results show more subscriber contraction, expect these kinds of moves to happen faster.

Read more at Forbes which is where this article was originally published

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ESPN’s MegaCast Draws Over 23.1 Million Viewers for MNF Wild Card Weekend Debut

The Cardinals-Rams playoff game became the most-watched Monday night NFL game during ESPN’s Monday Night Football era.

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The first Monday night Wild Card playoff game proved to be a successful one. In fact, it became the most-watched Monday night NFL game during ESPN’s Monday Night Football era (2006 – present).

ESPN’s MegaCast presentation (across ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, and ESPN Deportes) recorded 23,150,000 viewers for the Los Angeles Rams’ blowout victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The audience peaked at 27.9 million viewers while the Rams led 21-0 in the second quarter (from 9:30 – 9:45 p.m.).

The game puts a bow on top of a season during which Monday Night Football finished the regular season with its best viewership since 2010, up 16% from 2020 and 13% from 2019.

As part of ESPN’s MegaCast, NFL Super Wild Card with Peyton and Eli continued its massive success that viewers have grown accustomed to. The “ManningCast” was again one of the network’s most-watched alternate telecasts, with the duo’s most recent shows now among ESPN’s nine most-watched alternate broadcasts. The audience on ESPN2 for the Wild Card game registered 1,419,000 million viewers.

The successful debut adds to an entire season of bests for ESPN. During the 2021-22 season, including the Monday Night Wild Card debut, ESPN delivered two of the four most-watched NFL Monday night games and three of the six during this era of MNF (2006 – present).

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NBC 2022 Winter Olympics Broadcast Teams Will Not Go To Beijing

NBC’s Olympic broadcasters will work remotely from the network’s Stamford, Connecticut facility.

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NBC Sports

On Wednesday, NBC announced that Olympic gold medalist and Alpine skiing legend Lindsey Vonn is joining the network’s coverage for the Beijing Winter Games. Unfortunately, any excitement over an Olympic star getting into broadcasting and providing analysis was soon undercut by a reminder that the world is still dealing with a global pandemic that is preventing life from returning to normal.

As reported by USA Today‘s Christine Brennan, NBC has decided not to send any of its Olympic broadcast teams to China and the announcers will cover their respective events remotely due to COVID-19 concerns.

Most of NBC’s Olympic announcing teams were already going to broadcast remotely from the network’s Stamford, Connecticut facility. But the original plans were for broadcasters to be on-site for figure skating, Alpine skiing, and snowboarding. That has obviously changed with the Omicron variant causing breakouts throughout the world.

Host Mike Tirico will still travel to Beijing for the opening ceremony on Feb. 4 and the initial few days of the Winter Olympics. But he’ll return to the U.S. to host NBC’s Super Bowl coverage on Feb. 13.

“We’ll still have a large presence on the ground in Beijing and our coverage of everything will be first rate as usual,” NBC Sports senior VP of communications Greg Hughes told Brennan. “But our plans are evolving by the day as they are for most media companies covering the Olympics.”

Viewers who have watched any sporting event with broadcasters working remotely have noticed the difference in how the action is called. Announcers can’t get a feel for how the reaction of the crowd influences the event. And in some cases, watching from a monitor rather than the usual on-site broadcast position can inhibit proper view of a play.

So NBC’s Olympics coverage will certainly suffer from broadcasters not being on-site, especially for the events mentioned above in which spectators can be a factor. That could make some showcase moments feel less compelling at times. But the excitement of an Olympics and standout athletic achievements should still be enjoyable to watch, regardless of where the announcers are situated.

The Beijing Winter Olympics begin Feb. 3 with broadcast coverage on NBC, USA Network, and CNBC, and streaming on Peacock, NBCOlympics.com, and the NBC Sports app.

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‘The Tuck Rule,’ ESPN’s Latest 30 for 30 Documentary, Debuts Feb. 6

The film chronicles the infamous play from the 2001 NFL playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots.

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Will we get more 30 for 30 documentaries from ESPN this year? In 2021, the network broadcast three new films in the series: Al Davis vs. the NFL, Breakaway, and Once Upon a Time in Queens.

Though to be fair, Once Upon a Time in Queens was a four-part documentary, providing the longer-form film that ESPN seems to prefer at least once a year since O.J.: Made in America and The Last Dance.

Just as Al Davis vs. the NFL debuted last February, the next 30 for 30 will be a NFL-related film that premieres during the off-week between the conference championship games and Super Bowl. The Tuck Rule debuts Feb. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET and will be available to stream on ESPN+ after its TV airing.

As the title indicates, the film chronicles the infamous play from the 2001 NFL playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots. Late in the game, Oakland’s Charles Woodson appeared to have forced a fumble by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. But since Brady’s arm was moving forward and he was apparently attempting to tuck the ball into his body, the referees called the play an incomplete pass.

Check out the trailer for The Tuck Rule:

The “tuck rule” play was one of the most controversial in NFL playoff history. Rather than the Raiders forcing a turnover and protecting a three-point lead, the Patriots maintained possession and continued a drive that eventually led to a game-tying field goal by Adam Vinatieri. New England won the game in overtime, 16-13, the first step in a playoff run that ended with a Super Bowl championship, the first of six during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.

Directed by Ken Rodgers (The Two Bills, Al Davis vs. the NFL), The Tuck Rule gets Woodson and Brady together to watch the play and recount their memories of that moment. What appeared to be a fumble to nearly everyone involved in the game was negated by an obscure rule of which only the officials seemed to be aware.

Perhaps the most important figure interviewed for the documentary is referee Walt Coleman, who made the rule. Belichick, team owner Robert Kraft, and players Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, and Willie McGinest give the Patriots side. Current Raiders owner Mark Davis, Tim Brown, Eric Allen, and Lincoln Kennedy provide the Oakland perspective.

The Tuck Rule debuts Sunday, Feb. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. The documentary will be available on ESPN+ following the television premiere.

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