Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Carnage and Opportunity

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 5.23.2017


It’s what they call in Washington a ‘True Fact’ that cord cutting is affecting the sports world in a major way. North America’s biggest sport rights holder, ESPN, is front and center in this battle of the cord cutting and the traditional way things have been done.  Subscribers are fleeing at a rapid rate (down 12% since 2010) and ESPN along with the sports leagues are trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding or profit from the change. While the traditional powers are nervous, small leagues and up and coming sports are rejoicing.

ESPN has spent billions on sports rights between the NFL, NBA, MLB, college football and others. To give you an idea of how much they do spend a year, they spend over a billion dollars on the NFL alone and they only get one game a week! With the old cable and satellite model being blown up, the network and the leagues are looking at every option available to them which is partially why ESPN’s parent company, Disney, bought into MLB Advanced Media last summer.

The NFL, MLB, MLS, PGA and NBA are already reaching out in different ways to get their live programing to their fans. Whether it is the NFL cutting a deal with Amazon or MLB and MLS signing deals with Facebook, the sports leagues are already preparing for the day when they see a decrease in the value of their sports rights. Gone are the days of multi-billion dollar deals for the exclusive right to show a sport. In the near future the leagues and big time college conferences will have to spread the costs among several outlets.

ESPN is approaching this transition a little discombobulated. The fact is that live streaming on platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter will not replace the loss of dollars from the traditional cable/satellite/TV world. However, these new platforms are a life saver to niche or relatively new entities like eSports, MMA and others.

ESports were born online and are thriving on platforms like Twitch, YouTube and even Facebook. These OTT platforms are also paying a whole lot less for the sports rights than ESPN, NBCSports and Fox Sports are paying for traditional sports like the NFL and NBA. These new platforms also provide these niche or newer sports the right demographic and a ton of exposure.

What does this mean? A lot more exposure for League or Legends, Overwatch and even the UFC if they play their cards right.

Remember, these niche and newer sports and starting from scratch in a way. An mid eight figure deal for an eSports league or new MMA organization is a windfall for them. The same can be said for a non-power five conference like the Mountain West who floated the idea earlier this year of going to straight OTT model.

The fact is that Disney, Comcast, and Fox are unlikely to retract the amount of cable outlets they have. And if they are unwilling to play these huge amounts for the rights to the NFL, NBA and others then they’ll have to fill the hours on their networks somehow. That could give newer, cheaper sports entities like Riot Games League or Legends or the UFC an opportunity to swoop in provide quality content that pull desirable demos for a reasonable price.

The winds of change are upon the sports networks and leagues. You are already seeing layoffs because of these changes and you are going to see more. But these changes are inevitable and disrupting but not the end all be all. Opportunity does exist for the traditional sports networks and leagues but the have to accept the fact their options may not be as beneficial to them as things were in the past. For the newcomers, get ready for a windfall of money and a lot more exposure. Here’s to hoping that you know how to scale.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Low Hanging Fruit

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.18.2017

It’s a bold new OTT world and some are failing to adjust. While they can blame it on whatever they want (contracts, technological restrictions, etc) in the end it’s a fear of the new. It’s a choice to be resistant to change and a longing for the way things were vs what they can be. That’s why ESPN, NBC and others are stumbling into the OTT/ on demand  world and can’t seem to recognize the easy wins staring them in the face.

30 for 30 error

The prime example being ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. While you can view this content on various OTT channels like Netflix and Amazon you may still have to pay for it. So first you have to pay some to get ESPN and if you are unavailable to watch it or don’t have a DVR then you have to pay to watch the rerun.

If you can actually find the 30 for 30 you are looking for on ESPN’s poorly designed page, you have to put up a bad video player and God forbid you have to pause the video and go to the bathroom. Then you have to pretty much start over. It’s shocking how some solid story telling can be give such a poor platform but a multi billion dollar organization.

YouTube has a better player and user experience. ESPN could leverage a solid 70-30 split and give fans access to some fantastic stories and not have to pay for the infrastructure costs but that would appear to be too easy.

NBC is an over the air broadcaster. Yes they have NBCSports which you can only access via a pay service (cable, OTT, etc) but why does a user have to authenticate their cable subscription to watch a sporting event online that is free over the air?

Why would you have to do that? Well there are several common cases. First, you’re not home and you would like to watch the game or event. Second, you can’t get the local NBC affiliate’s signal due to where you live.Your internet connection is not subject to line of sight limitations, so why do you have to sign up and pay to watch something online that is available for free over the air?

How bout the NFL Network and their inability to provide their series Timeline and A Football Life until after the current ‘season’ ends?

TimelineIt’s almost comical that the NFL Network wait’s to post things online. These should be online right after the initial airing. Fine give it 48 hours, the point is that these are great stories that you can charge money for. Being the capitalist organization that the NFL is, wouldn’t it make sense to make their original content available as many places as possible, on demand as quickly as possible?

These are all examples of low hanging fruit that provides nothing but wins for content providers. The difficult part isn’t doing them, it’s changing the mindset. Execs are being taken kicking and screaming into this OTT/on demand world. They at times seem paralyzed by what to do because they saw their cross town colleagues get chopped down to size and then forced, with no leverage, into the arms of Steve Jobs.  If only video consumers could be so lucky.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Hulu Enters the Fray

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.5.2017

Hulu finally announced that they are entering the live streaming fray to compete against DirecTV Now, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue. This has been rumored about for several months but was finally announced this week at CES. Will this be a viable option for sports cord cutters? On the surface the answer appears to be yes.

Hulu announced that the price for the package will ‘under $40’. Translation: $39.99 (Really guys? You think this still works on people?) Second, and this is what has the press buzzing, Hulu got CBS to sign on. This means that you can watch NFL on CBS games (apparently only the game in your local market but they weren’t clear on that) and the elusive CBS Sports Network with this package.

To go along with the CBS Sports Network, you will also get all of the ESPN and Fox Sports channels. In essence you are getting as many channels sports wise than what Sling TV can offer. Although Hulu made no mention of the league networks (NFL, NBA, NHL, etc) or of the collegiate channels (Pac 12, BigTen, Campus Insiders) much less NFL RedZone.

While the selection and price point seem too good to be true, in my experience it usually is.

Hulu Pricing ModelLet’s not forget that Hulu was the online provider that brought us the most ridiculous pricing model known to the Internet. How? By convincing you to pay them to allow you to watch commercials. Also because Hulu is run by studios (Comcast, Disney, Time Warner, 21st Century Fox) which means that they see things through the TV lens. However, they are not dumb and they saw the backlash on DirecTV Now’s rollout and packages that did nothing but move the cable and satellite bundling to a new domain.

Hulu has a chance here but details are too vague to see if this is going to be a true option for the sports cord cutter. Basically no one in the cord cutting universe offers all of the ESPN, Fox Sports, NBCSN, League and Conference networks and CBS Sports Network for under $50 a month. That is a hard thing to do and we’ll have to wait and see if Hulu can do it.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: DirecTV Now

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 12.1.2016

AT&T purchased DirecTV. Now DirecTV has rolled out the OTT candidate, DirecTV Now. For the sports cord cutter, this ain’t it. In fact it couldn’t be farther from ‘it’. It’s overpriced, less options and nothing more than a current cable package without the cable box rental.

DirecTV NowOn November 30th, DirecTV (aka AT&T) officially rolled out DirecTV Now. It wasn’t until that day that you could really get a good look at what was offered and for what price. In fact I couldn’t find the price tiers and channels on their web site. I had to go to CNET!

Unlike Sling TV, DirecTV Now offers various sports channels with various packages. While Sling TV has a single sports package, DirecTV Now’s is all over the map. For example, Big Ten Network and ESPN, two different tiers. Want FS2 as well as FS1? Same tier? Negative Ghost Rider. Pac-12 Network? NFL Network? Not available. NFL RedZone? Your kidding right?

How is it that DirecTV, home of NFL Sunday Ticket can’t offer that service in their OTT service? How is it that this wasn’t the first thing they secured rights too?

This is really disappointing from a sports cord cutters perspective. Like I said, this is a current cable package sold without a cable box. In other words, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

If you are a sports fan and a cord cutter the DirecTV service is not the way to go. The pricing (after the first year) is no better than Sling TV or Playstaton Vue and you don’t get as much bang for your buck.  Not to mention the fact that their website blows. Sports cord cutters are still left with one solid option, Sling TV.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Unavailable on iPhone

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 9.14.2016


I cut the cord last November. While addicted to sports, it made little sense to pay Comcast $150+ a month so I could watch various college football games and receive NFL RedZone. I began looking into other options. I found Sling TV and a plain, old fashion over the air antenna. This is the football season where I will be a full fledged ‘sports cord cutter’ and this is how it’s going.

Unavailable On iPhone

Sports fans, especially Pac-12 fans, got an unexpected gift last Thursday. Sling TV announced a deal with the Pac-12 Network to get all of the Pac-12 channels which are split up into regions (Mountain, Arizona, Washington, etc). However the victory was short lived as the pop up ‘Unavailable on iPhone’ appeared during Monday Night Football.

pac12The Pac-12 deal is big for a couple reasons. First, the Pac-12 has some pretty darn big media markets including Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Seattle, Portland, Denver and Phoenix. Second, DirecTV doesn’t have the Pac-12 Network which means about 25 million people. The cost savings an opportunity to watch your Alma Mater could be enough to chip into that number for Sling TV.

Then Monday happened.

imageEvery now and then I have to travel for business. This trip just so happened to land on the season premiere of Monday Night Football. While bandwidth on the Southwest flight is good enough to get a medium to low quality stream of Sling TV (which I found out a day later by streaming the US Open Cup Final on ESPN), it was shocking to see the ‘Unavailable on iPhone’ when I got off the plane and tried to watch the Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers game on ESPN.

That’s right. I can watch via a Roku on my TV, my laptop or tablet but I cannot watch on an iPhone. That’s some 63 million Americans who, in theory, could not watch Monday Night Football on their phone.

That’s kind of shocking.

Now I did not try the WATCH ESPN app. I was so flabbergasted that I couldn’t watch on Sling TV that I totally forgot about the WATCH ESPN app. I was also going to be at my hotel in a matter of minutes and the game was at halftime.

I am sure that there is some contractual or technical reason why I couldn’t watch one of ESPN’s most popular programs on my iPhone but as a user I don’t really care about the reason. Part of the reason for cutting the cord was so I could watch anywhere I wanted to, on any device. How can I watch any TV, tablet or computer but not on the device that is with me 24/7? It’s like the content is available ‘almost anytime on almost any device.’

Sling TV is still winning as far as I am concerned. Two weeks into the college football season and I don’t feel like I am missing any of the action. Not being able to watch Monday Night Football on the device I have with me all of the time is odd but something that I am sure that will be fixed.

Big Data In College Football

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 9.10.2016


Rukkus, a ticket selling website, showed what you can do when you sit down and comb through the data. Some of this shouldn’t be surprising like the fact that Hawaii leads everyone in how far players have to travel to go to school there. Some of the other stats may surprise you though.

One of the things that made total sense is that Stanford was second. Stanford has to recruit a certain kind of ‘student-athlete’ and Stanford is that place where they truly are ‘student – athletes’. So the Cardinal has to go all over the country to find their players.

Navy, Army, and Air Force pretty much the same deal as Stanford. A certain type of person is going to go to these Academies. This is why all 3 are in the top 12.

Nor Cal

The one that did raise an eyebrow but it really shouldn’t when you think about it was the fact that the PAC-12 has 11 of the top 24 spots on the list. Surprising because you really never think of it but not surprising in that when you get out west, things are little more spread out than they are in the south.

Overall this was a really impressive use of data in sports. A lot of times people look at data within the context of the sport itself or they find another sport and transfer over that data. Other times data like this is glossed over and used a bumper on ESPN College Gameday into the ‘feature’ on a player or coach.

imageNow compare this to the ESPNFC article from the other day that pondered the question, if your NFL team was in the Premier League, what team would they be?

Really? This is what you are bringing to the table ESPN?

A ticket selling site gives us great use of big data and ESPN throws out this? Really disappointing.

Data like this can be used to draw so many other conclusions. Last 5 College Football National Championships have been won by Florida State, Alabama (3) and Ohio State. They are only a few spots from each other (59, 63 and 67) or have players who are 400 to 367 miles on average away from home. Oregon and Oklahoma are the only two schools in the top 48 who have made the College Football Playoff and neither won the National Title. Those players travel some 1,000 (Oregon) and 515 (Oklahoma) miles to go to school at these universities.

This is a great use of data. It’s intriguing, can help put things in a new perspective and help coaches, players and fans know their schools just a little bit better. Biggest shock, this wasn’t ESPN, CBS, NBC or FOX that came up with this.

The Dark Hype

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Ask around baseball and just about everyone will tell you that New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey has some amazing stuff. His stuff was so good that many felt it was only a matter of time before he won a Cy Young or two. His potential was so high that ESPN’s E:60 did an hour long show on him even though he had never pitched a full major league season and was coming off of Tommy John surgery. Now with his season over due to another injury to his throwing arm it’s time to ask, should Matt Harvey been put up on the pedestal in the first place?

Harvey went down with a season ending arm injury this past week. It’s his second season ending injury in his very short major league career. Questions abound but it is pretty clear that he will never be the show stopping pitcher people made him out to be.

Here are the facts: Harvey has a combined 29-28 record as a starting pitcher. While he has some impressive stats like a career 2.97 era and a 4.41 strikeout to walk ratio, he has pitched only one full major league season (2015) and has only one complete game in his career.

With this in mind, it makes you wonder why ESPN’s E:60 would dedicate an entire show to a player who has yet to play an entire major league season.

ESPN weren’t the only ones of course, Sports Illustrated put him on the cover back in 2013.  The hype around him was palpable.

Now, he starts over again as he undergoes surgery.

The rhetorical question is, would Harvey have received the same coverage if he wasn’t in New York? The answer is no. If he came up in the Houston Astros organization no one would given a damn.

Madison Bumgarner and Felix Hernandez have each thrown over 200 innings in one of Harvey’s major league seasons. Clayton Kershaw isn’t far behind (he only threw 198.1 innings in 2014 but threw 232 in 2015) and neither is the Chicago White Sox Chris Sale or the Washington Nationals Max Scherzer.  Where is their hour long special and over the top coverage? This group has won World Series titles, the Cy Young award, thrown no-hitters and perfect games.

Matt Harvey hasn’t.

Look Matt Harvey sells. He’s an interesting guy and makes a good story in the biggest media market in the world. This means that he makes media companies money but that doesn’t make him a great pitcher. The media put Harvey up on a pedestal, labeled him ‘The Real Dark Knight’ and they got it wrong. It’s not the first time it has happened and it certainly won’t be the last.

If you are going to be given this kind of coverage he should have to earn it. You should be carrying your team to championships, winning awards, and making All-Star teams. If you do this that means you are shutting down the opposing teams best hitters. It means you end your teams four game losing streak during the dog days of summer. It means that you go to the manager and say, ‘yeah I can pitch on two days rest’ when it’s game seven of the World Series and then go shut the opposing team down.

That’s when you get the big media coverage. Not before.

None of this is Matt Harvey’s fault. He would much rather be out on the mound showing everyone that he is better than the pitcher everyone thought he would be. But he’s not and media is going to let him know it. The media rushed to judgement and put another young athlete on a pedestal he didn’t belong on. It’s them who should be having season ending surgery and not Harvey.

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.

 

The Sunday: Hope And Bad Nature

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Hail Sager

It’s nice to see big corporations work things out so that someone like Craig Sager, who is battling acute myeloid leukemia, can work his first ever NBA Final. He was given a standing ovation by the Cleveland crowd and every interview he did was a real treat.

Catch Ball. Drink Beer

Sometimes you just gotta catch a foul ball in your beer and pound it down.

Club Drop

Lee Westwood is in the thick of it at the 116th US Open. Part of the reason is because he holed out from the fairway for an eagle at 14.

Textbook

It’s called the ‘beautiful game’ for a reason. While it very much has an ugly side to it, sometimes it truly is beautiful as Spain showed us on Friday.

Clearing

ESPN had to clear their EURO 2016 set this week after labor protests escalated in Paris. No one from the broadcast crew was injured but it’s still one more thing to worry about on a day when a police officer and his partner were murdered and there was still the worry of hooliganism by fans.

 Dr West

While the Washington Redskins may not be changing their name anytime soon they did do something noteworthy this week. They hired Dr. Robin West to be the teams director of sports medicine and in the process making her only the second lead lead orthopedic surgeon in the NFL.

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.