The Best

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Pat Summitt has died at the age of 64. The trailblazing coach roamed the sidelines at Tennessee for 38 years, won eight national championships and 1,098 games. She has gone down as not only one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time but as one of the greatest coaches in all of sports.

“The word icon and the word legend is probably used too much in today’s sports society, but it is certainly appropriate when describing Pat Summitt,”

– Peyton Manning

Summitt was an innovator. Her teams practiced against men, played in your face defense and were famous for playing anybody, anywhere at anytime. She was once offered the Tennessee men’s basketball job where she replied, “Why is that considered a step up?” Years later while watching a men’s practice, she got so fired up at what she was seeing that she took over practice from then men’s coach Bruce Pearl.

She was renowned for her toughness. It was on full display when she went on a recruiting trip to Allentown, PA to convince future star Michelle Marciniak to come to Knoxville. Her water broke as she walked in the door and refused to let the pilots land anywhere but Tennessee where she gave birth to her only child Tyler. Yes, she epitomized ‘Tennessee Tough.’

That toughness was reflected in her team. Year in and year out, the Lady Vols were always among the country’s elite making 18 trips to the Women’s Final Four. They practiced hard, played hard and studied harder. I can remember a friend telling me how blown away he was by the fact that three members of the Lady Vols were in the front row of his 9am class the day after playing a late night game in Ames, IA during the NCAA Tournament.

While there are many great coaches in basketball, Pat Summitt is among the top. She is in the same class as Mike Krzyzewski, Bobby Knight, Phil Jackson and John Wooden. Heck, you have to put her in the same class as Bill Belichick, Bill Walsh, Knute Rockne, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre. She was one of the greats and will be sorely missed not just in Knoxville but around the world.

Tribute to Pat Summitt

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Big Ten – The Last Big Sports Deal

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


The Big Ten’s media rights are all locked up. They will begin in 2017 and according to John Ourand of SBJ it’s a deal that very much falls in favor of the Big Ten and not the networks. One thing is certain about this deal from the networks perspective, it is the last time you’ll probably see a massive price increase.

People have been pointing to the Big Ten’s media deal for a few years now. The Big Ten was the last one of the Power Five conferences to sign a new deal and many people believe that this deal was either not going to be the typical windfall or would only increase slightly. Well it looks like it will mean $20 million a year more to the conference teams so it’s safe to say that the concerns were almost valid.

The real interesting part of this is ESPN’s late entry. They were in, then left the bidding and then returned to win part of the contract. Some thought they wouldn’t bid or would try to leverage some kind of lower end deal. In the end, they ponied up like they always do even after a very low opening bid.

Another interesting thing is that there is no mention of the Big Ten hoarding it’s digital rights. I along with other cord cutters were hoping that the Big Ten would keep it’s digital rights and sell them as a stand alone package on Amazon or through it’s own site. There was no mention of this to this point and it shows that the Big Ten had to use all it’s leverage to squeeze as much as it possibly could from this deal.

This will be the last time the major networks shell out this kind of cash though. The consumer is at a breaking point and are starting to refuse anymore price increases to support these kinds of transactions. ESPN knows this which is probably why they had such a low opening bid.

While this deal is great for the Big Ten and its teams it is the last hurrah for deals such as this. Networks are not going to be ponying up huge amounts of cash in the future and it is time that the sports leagues and conferences look to splitting out their packages and doing what I call the Jeff Bezos, less money out of each user but having a wider user base.

 

Fixing ESPN

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


After pointing out the things wrong with ESPN, it is now time to point out how they can right the ship. Righting a ship that generated $10.8 billion in revenue in 2014 seems like an odd thing to say but it’s true. While this scenario does fall under the ‘disruption’ banner, there are some simple things ESPN can do to find some of the mojo again.

John Skipper is a smart guy. While there will be doubters out there after the whole ‘Bill Simmons incident’, you don’t become the head of Disney’s cash cow by being a moron. As he pointed out at the Code/Media Conference about why ESPN has been losing subscribers (which accounts for over 60% of it’s revenue), ‘cord cutting and some trading down from some larger packages to lighter packages’, which goes to show that Skipper is not turning a blind eye. He recognizes what is happening and has already begun to steer the ship into more favorable waters.

The ESPN family of networks is already on Sling TV which I have written about many times on this blog. Sling TV is cord cutting and ESPN is right there in the thick of it. ESPN needs to capitalize on OTT providers like Sling and sell it’s package outside of the satellite and cable providers (yes I do see the irony in that Sling is owned by Dish). ESPN needs their WATCH ESPN app to be stand alone and offer is on places like Amazon.com where you can get Starz and Showtime for $8.99 a month. They also need to offer is on platforms like Hulu, who is coming out with a live TV package,  XBOX, and Playstation. ESPN needs to break from the shackles of cable and stand on it’s own.

Crazy? Not if you read Clayton Christensen’s ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma.

ESPN’s situation is a cross between sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation. In the sustaining innovation model, ESPN has to figure out how to create better products that they can sell for better profits to their customers. They own rights to just about every major sport so it’s clear that they have the inventory to do this. All it takes now is the will which it sounds like they do.

They are also battling disruptive innovation but they can win here too. TV was once complicated and expensive and to a degree it still is. However the OTT providers are disrupting this model and making it affordable and in some ways simpler. Like I mentioned a moment ago, ESPN has to stop dipping it’s toes in the water and just dive in. Yes it will upset existing contracts and partners in the short term but in the long run, it will be the right decision.

adcontentThere is some of the lower hanging fruit that ESPN can pick and start to develop some wins. One of these is to improve their ads on ESPN.com. This playing of 30 second ads on their website in front of a piece of content that is only 33 seconds is just mind boggling. This is a damn ‘if/else’ statement in the code. It’s not rocket surgery. Yes you have to make money selling ads but you can also drive away your viewers away in the process. They have to find a balance and a better way to present advertisements online.

 

They also have to develop new talent. A lot of play-by-play and color commentators have walked out the door in recent months but that doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare. They still have Jon Gruden, Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Todd Blackledge, Steve Levy, Kirk Herbstreet, Rece Davis, Chris Fowler, Scott Van Pelt and Bob Ley among their talent pool. They need to add to it along with continuing to find innovative bloggers and reporters or people like Nate Silver.

ESPN is taking some hits but they are not denying it. They do not have their heads buried in the sand. Changes to OTT, developing talent, and creating new products takes time. The first step in identifying the problem is recognizing you have one. Skipper recognizes it and is taking steps to right the ship.

The End of ESPN?

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Mike Tirico, Bill Simmons, Brad Nessler, Skip Bayless, Colin Cowheard, Chris Spielman, Robert Smith, Justin Whitlock, and Matt Millen have all left ESPN in the last year. That’s a lot of talent walking out of the door of the ‘sports leader.’ Combine that with a decline in subscribers and ESPN’s chief John Skipper has got to be having a few sleepless nights.

Mike TiricoSome would say that Simmons is the biggest loss but I would argue that Tirico is a bigger blow. He has been a workhorse at the network. He did play-by-play for Monday Night Football, the NBA, golf, college football national championship games on the radio and studio work for ESPN’s soccer coverage. He was one of the hardest working guys in Bristol. It will take three or four people to replace him at a minimum.

Tirico leaving hurts. As Richard Deitsch and John Ourand from Sport Business Journal point out on Deitsch’s podcast, Tirico leaving was a surprise as many people thought that he was an ESPN lifer.

Is ESPN in trouble? Yeah a little bit. While they have locked up the rights for college football, college basketball, the NBA, MLB and MLS for a while, they have to find new top quality play-play commentators and adapt to the changing media landscape. From cord cutting to the so called ‘death of the highlight show, there is a lot of uncertainty out there.

What they do have is the biggest brand in sports and possibly in America. They are the 800-pound gorilla that defines sports culture in this country. They have the money, the resources and know how to cover any sport effectively.

While they are in a rough patch, the fact of the matter is that Fox Sports, CBS Sports and NBC Sports are still a couple of lengths behind. ESPN has more platforms, journalists, and top quality sports to keep them ahead in the various metrics until they stop hemorrhaging talent and subscribers.

Is ESPN dying? Not yet but it is a bull that has been stuck a few times. They have to figure out how to expand their reach to the younger audience while maintaining their lead over Fox, NBC and CBS. It’s not an easy road but one they can certainly maneuver down successfully.

Word to the wise though, don’t let any more announcers leave.

The NBA’s New Revenue

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


May is always a busy month for the NBA which is why you probably didn’t even notice the announcement back in April that starting with the 2016-2017 season, you will now see advertisements on jerseys. Shortly their after the Philadelphia 76ers announced their deal with StubHub to be the first company with it’s logo on a game jersey. This is a very smart financial move by the NBA and goes right in line with making all their franchises global brands.

StubHub 76ersThis is only a three year pilot program but the odds are that this will stick because of the revenue it generates. The NBA has probably realized that the days of escalating TV contracts are probably gone. With that source of revenue probably flat in the future, it behoves the league now to look at other options and that’s exactly what they are doing.

manu jerseyTo give you some precedent, soccer clubs have been selling the space on the front of the jersey and for big money too. Manchester United sold their space to Chevrolet for seven years and some $560 million. Granted the logo is front and center while the NBA’s will only be 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches so getting the $560 million is gonna be a little tough. In fact the 76ers deal is only worth $15 million ($5 million per the three year pilot program).

This sponsorship move by the NBA will only expand. This works for a lot of other sports like soccer, golf and auto racing so it makes sense that it would work in the NBA. It’s hard to image that the NBA would leave revenue on the table especially when the odds are that that revenue number will only increase. So get use to it NBA fans and for you NHL fans, you are probably next.