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.

Does The NCAA Need A New Leader?

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

With the opening of fall camp for college football the talk seems to be on everything off the field rather than what’s going on on the field. The main focus of the media attention, and the NCAA, has been on Johnny Manziel (aka Johnny Football) and to some extent Jadeveon Clowney. The attention is warrented since they are the two biggest names in college football right now however the NCAA is in a horrible position as far as investigating any wrong doing by either player.

Did they or did they not take money for signing autographs?‘ This seems to be the main point that the NCAA is looking into as far as Manziel and Clowney are concerned. The NCAA is still reeling from a botched investigation of the University of Miami and has had an apparent “brain drain” when it comes to investigators. The NCAA also does not have subpoena power outside of it’s jurisdiction. Meaning that someone outside of the NCAA (buisness owner, fan, family member) does not have to talk to the NCAA or turn over any documentation.

NCAA INVESTIGATIONS

While member schools attempt to abide by the NCAA rules, the NCAA is quickly losing credability with universities, athletes and fans.

Is it time for a change at the top?

MARK EMMERT

Mark Emmert has been in charge for a little over three years now and has been by far the most visible President in NCAA history. However he may not be the person to take the NCAA into the 21st century.

Recently Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos purchased the iconic newspaper The Washington Post. While this is making big headlines no one really knows what its going to mean for the paper. Most seem to agree that a tech titan like Bezos with his bottomless checkbook and business track record could be the one to turn the Post, and the print journalism industry as whole for that matter, once again into a profit center.

JEFF BEZOS

Should the NCAA look into someone similar to lead them on their road back to credability? Maybe a more forward thinking person who will embrace the new challenges in this every changing world? Someone with experience implementing change in such a large organization and a track round outside of academia? Someone who can see into the future a little better, make adjustments, and still enforce rules?

Someone like a former General Stanley McChrystal. Here is a former General who led combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Someone who had to adapt to a new enemy and implement change in an organization that is very slow to recognize it.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal

With or whithout change at the top the NCAA has a credability issue. It botched a major investigation, got caught being hypocritical, and is doing a poor job of listening to the public and the universities they oversee. Change better come soon or we could soon see the industry run over the regulator.