Traditionally not strange bedfellows, ESPN and Monday Night Football should make for a nice, natural fit. However, the bed they made together appears to have caught fire, and the anthem-kneeling, social-justice-warrior love child they created now dumps gasoline on the flames.
Nielsen made their subscriber numbers public, delivering apocalyptic results for both ESPN and the NFL. ESPN lost 621,000 subscribers in the last month, and ESPN’s Monday Night Football fell by 24%.
To put this in context, ESPN lost the entire city of Baltimore, or the combined populations of Lexington, Kentucky and Stockdale, California, in a month.
That’s fairly impressive when you think about it.
The subscriber loss represents the worst in ESPN history, made all the worse since ESPN has essentially lost 300,000 subscribers a month over the past few years anyway. The tanking of Monday Night Football helps not at all. The end result of all this that ESPN loses $52 million dollars in revenue.
Now, to qualify, subscribers dropped across all cable providers, not just ESPN. However, as Fox Sports 1’s Clay Travis notes, “It just impacts ESPN the most because ESPN costs every cable and satellite subscriber roughly $7 a month, over triple the next most expensive cable channel. Yep, if you have a cable or satellite subscription, whether you watch ESPN or not, you’re paying ESPN over $80 a year.”
Why does that financial loss hit ESPN harder than most? What exactly do they do with that money? Travis writes:
It buys sports rights.
Presently ESPN is on the hook for the following yearly sports rights payments: $1.9 billion a year to the NFL for Monday Night Football, $1.47 billion to the NBA, $700 million to Major League Baseball, $608 million for the College Football Playoff, $225 million to the ACC, $190 million to the Big Ten, $120 million to the Big 12, $125 million a year to the PAC 12, and hundreds of millions more to the SEC.
The total costs? According to SNL Kagan ESPN is on track to pay $7.3 billion in total rights fees in 2017. That’s more than any company in America.
So it doesn’t exactly take a genius to see that while costs for rights to sports packages go up, and network revenues go down, if these trends continue we head to a place where ESPN might have to drop the “S” from ESPN because they can no longer afford to buy sports rights.
Some really big positives for conservatives jump out immediately. First and foremost, the world’s largest and most liberal sports network took a big hit, perhaps not a fatal one, yet wounded nonetheless. The other positive for conservatives has to do with ESPN’s expected reaction to these subscriber losses. ESPN makes its money from sports rights.
Though they love their social justice warriors Bomani Jones, Pablo S. Torre, and others, those panel shows don’t move the freight for the network. True sports programming does. Therefore, ESPN might react by scaling back on the radically leftists panel shows Around the Horn, His & Hers, and others. Instead, they shift those resources towards sports rights purchases, which will of course result in more sports and less political activism.
While ESPN will highlight massive subscriber losses across all cable providers to explain their demise, one can’t help but wonder what effect ESPN’s turning itself into the “Colin Kaepernick Network” has had on these numbers. Granted, ESPN has lost 300,000 subscribers a month on average for the last couple years. Though, what explains the 621,000 subscriber loss for October?
October certainly falls within the era of Kaepernick.
Interestingly, though massive subscriber losses have hit across the board, Fox Sports 1 recently topped ESPN in total viewers for the first time since the network’s creation. Granted, they had four Cubs playoff games televised during that week. ESPN though did not exactly broadcast garbage during that time. Other FS1 shows such as Undisputed also picked up viewers during that time.
So why has ESPN seen unprecedented decline, while one of their chief rival sports networks had their best week? ESPN moving to an all-Kaepernick, all-the-time schedule, combined with FS1 allowing criticism of Kaepernick, doesn’t makes sense (or dollars) given recent polling showing that Kaepernick alienates sports fans.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn