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.

Skipper In The Storm

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


The head of ESPN, John Skipper, did an interview with the Wall Street Journal where he talked about cord-cutting, Apple, and ESPN’s plans.

John SkipperSkipper says that Apple is close to being a bigger player in the TV service realm but are ‘frustrated by their ability to construct something which works for them with programmers.’ The Q & A goes on to touch on Sling TV and sports rights.

The major hurdle Skipper and ESPN have, along with other outlets, is the handoff from traditional distribution to digital combined with the rising cost of sports rights.

The fact is this, digital doesn’t pull in the dollars like traditional cable and satellite distribution does. Hence people are reluctant to do anything that could effect the cash cow because that cow is how ESPN affords the $1.9 billion a year for NFL rights.

Skipper has a tough job, ‘how do you make the handoff and maintain or increase revenue at the same time?’ Not sure there is an answer until but you are at some point going to be forced to make decision. That moment is coming closer with the evidence being the 7 millions subscribers ESPN has lost over the last two years.

I think Skipper very much understands the situation and see’s the gathering storm. Some sign makers on College GameDay differ and they could be right but Skipper doesn’t sound to me like someone who is panicking. The next questions becomes, will the Disney board panic if subscribers continue to decline?

Ratings Madness

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Now that the college football season is officially down and the dust has begun to settle, there was something interesting that came out of the ratings for the National Title game, online growth.

GoalLineNTGThe WatchESPN app say a 38% year over year growth. According to The Futon Critic, the College Football Playoff kicks but for ESPN digitally. The six total games in the first two years of the College Football Playoff rank as the most viewed events on WatchESPN.

While the 1.9 million plus unique viewers does not make up for the almost eight million who didn’t watch on ESPN, it is nothing to shake a stick at. In fact, it’s pretty damn impressive. That number includes cord cutters, people on their mobile devices, etc.

While the year over year number for TV viewership was down, the number for streaming was up. Expect this trend to continue as more services like Sling TV become available.

Second Screen, Delays & Moving Forward

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


A lot of people are on their phones, tablets or computers while watching a game. The College Football Playoff National Championship game is no exception. According to a study by Accenture, 87% use a second device while watching TV. It gets even more interesting when you cut the cord and stream the game. It gets even more interesting when you have multiple channels to switch between and ESPN using the National Title game as a test lab for coverage.

ESPN Megacast FilmRoomThe college football National Championship between Alabama and Clemson is going to be one of the most watched sporting events of the year. If you are watching it via an OTT provider like Sling TV and also on twitter….you will notice that twitter is more real time than Sling TV.

There is a delay when you stream video. It’s a byproduct of having to take a satellite feed, run the signal through an encoder and then spit it back out. It’s just the way it is right now. For the National Title game I was noticing a good 30-40 second delay between twitter and Sling TV.

Now these very rough findings are going to vary between users but it is a good thing to remember if you are on twitter and watching a game via Sling TV.

Coverage

Periscope Travis and KlattThrow in a new wild card, Periscope. Clay Travis of Fox Sports and Outkick the Coverage was streaming during the game. It usually consisted of himself and Joel Klatt and had various people on over the phone. This feed was on par with twitter and about as real time as you can get. It was not overly compelling which is shame since Travis and Klatt have a lot of insight to offer. It is awesome to see this medium used during an event like this. And it costs virtually nothing to do.

ESPN had a similar thing going on but with a higher budget on ESPNNews in ‘Voices’. This featured everyone from Taylor Twellman to Jay Bilas and wrangled by Michelle Beadle. Both the Periscope feed and ‘Voices’ just turned into people yapping about anything but the game and could be better.

ESPNU had the ‘homers’ broadcast from the sideline of the game. It was hosted by Joe Tessitore and Dave Pasch with alums Tajh Boyd and Barrett Jones. While semi-interesting it just wasn’t compelling.

SEC Network featured Paul Finebaum’s version of of FilmRoom with Bret Bielema, Greg McElroy and Booger McFarland. It was ok but not as good as ESPN2’s FilmRoom.

ESPN Megacast FilmRoomFilmRoom featured five head coaches along with Chris Spielman and Brian Griese. They brought Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi back again this year and he was joined by Jim McElwain, WIll Muschamp, Willie Taggert and Larry Fedora. A good combo with lots of insight and good connections to Clemson and Alabama.ESPN GoalLine National Title Game

 

While FilmRoom was very interesting but rough around the edges, ESPN’s best coverage was via GoalLine. It was a mutli-screen feed complete with stats. The audio during the game was ESPN Radio which featured the awesome combination of Mike Tirico and Todd Blackledge. During commercial breaks one of the screens would either jump between the other channels like ESPN2 and ESPNNews. NFL’s RedZone channel should do this for the Playoffs. Super compelling and great, great broadcast combo.

So word to the wise, if you cut the cord and are watching a big game via Sling TV or WatchESPN, don’t be on twitter. Twitter will spoil it. Would love to see ESPN do more with FilmRoom and GoalLine during the regular season. Maybe do FilmRoom on WatchESPN for the Saturday primetime game with retired or out of work coaches. Same thing for GoalLine. Either way, the future of live sports looks fun but has something work to do.

Cord Cutting Is Here For The Sports Fan

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


“Cord Cutting” is one of the hip terms thrown around in the cable, satellite and broadcast world. The real question is, is this a viable option for the true sports fan. The sports fan is, after all, why entities like ESPN, CBS, FOX and NBC write checks with three commas in them to leagues to acquire their rights. So the answer is YES you can cut the cord…almost.

SECN on SLING
SEC Network via Sling TV on an iPad.

Dish Network launched Sling TV earlier this year. They keys for Sling TV are as follows: there is no contract, it is $25 a month with the “sports extra” package that includes the ESPN family of networks and is device agnostic. Yes, it is a viable option for the sports fan. While the speed of your internet connection is a factor in how good your picture quality is, overall it’s an easy to use service that allows you to watch all of the ESPN channels anywhere you want on just about any device.

Outside of the ESPN channels, the sports package isn’t anything to scream about. The package also offers beIN sports, Outdoor Channel, Univision IDN and the now defunct Universal Sports. I am not sure that these really qualify for a “sports package” but you get them none the less. So in reality you are paying $5 a month for ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, SEC Network, and ESPN3. ESPN3 is kind of a hidden gem because it can allow you to watch games on ABC which is awesome if you have a bad over the air signal. You can also use ESPN3 and the WATCH ESPN app to watch a second game because your Sling TV account is a single sign on. That means one account, one screen at a time.

Sling TV doesn’t offer rewind functionality or a DVR. These can be annoying but not deal breakers by any stretch of the imagination.

SLING TV
Sling TV on the Roku 3.

If you live out of market then you are still paying for the league apps like MLS Live, NHL Gamecenter, MLB.TV, etc. You can also get NFL Sunday Ticket online in certain markets. The cost is the same as DirecTV but if you have the money it’s an awesome package. All of these apps available on virtually all of the OTT devices, Do your homework though to make sure that the app your looking for is available on the device you are thinking about purchasing.

Twitter

On the positive side, Sling TV’s customer service is pretty awesome especially if you go through Twitter to do it. It’s a pay as you go service but if you pre pay a few months ahead of time then they will give you deal on an OTT player like a Roku or Amazon Fire. I went with the Roku 3 after watching a review by Lon Seidman and despite some minor drawbacks, it’s working out pretty well.

There are drawbacks of course to cutting the cord. If you go the Sling TV route and dump your cable or satellite subscription then you do not get FS1, CBS Sports Network, NBCSN, NFL Network. NHLN, NBA TV, MLBN or your regional sports channels. This means that if you live in a market like San Francisco, Phoenix, Houston, Pittsburgh, etc then you won’t be able to see your local teams in baseball, basketball, hockey and so forth. You’ll also be blocked out by the league packages offered by MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS and be forced to head to your local sports bar or the game itself.

The other drawback is that you are back on over the air TV. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because, well, it’s free. However, if you live in a place with a bad signal then you may not get your basic network channels like ABC or CBS which isn’t a problem until Sunday NFL games roll around.

Something that you may not have thought about ( I didn’t) is the ability to switch quickly between games. On a college football Saturday, I will swap between three or four games at a time. That is very difficult to do if you cut the cord. Instead of changing channels, you are jumping in and out of apps and swapping sources on your TV. It can be annoying but not impossible.

There are work arounds for all of these issues of course. First, grab someones log in so that you can stream games from apps like NBCSN and FOX SPORTS GO. Research and invest in a super strong indoor antenna for your local channels. It may sound hokey in 2015 but if you want your local Sunday NFL games then you’ll definitely need one.

Finally you have to address your internet connection. You’ll want the fastest possible speed you can get and no matter what your cable company tells you, you do have a cap. I haven’t hit it yet but even if I do go over it’s a $10 change. That is still significantly cheaper than a $150 cable bill.

The fact is that you can cut the cord and still watch sports. It’s cumbersome but not as impossible as it was say five years ago. It’s cheaper in the long run but the short term costs and hit you pretty good. The fact remains that true sports fans can now be cord cutters too and it’s is only going to get better.

Losing Record? Come On Down!

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


There are 40 bowl games not including the National Championship game. That means 80 out of the 128 FBS schools will go to a bowl game. Problem is, there may not be enough teams with a 500 or above record to go. That means that teams with losing records will go to a bowl games this year.

FootballBowl games are important and some are even coveted. The reasons why are the extra practice time with your team and the the check the school can receive. Now schools will actually lose money on some of the smaller bowl games but if you can make it to one of the big ones (think New Years 6 games) then the payout to the school can go into the eight figures.

So for a hard luck 5-7 Nebraska team, actually being allowed into a bowl games is a huge benefit. It’s a new coaching staff still implementing their way of doing things. To have an extra 10-12 practices, film meetings and a game is invaluable.

Another school with a 5-7 record, Missouri, has elected to not go to a bowl game even if asked. They are switching coaches and have other issues they need to solve.

ESPN’s Brett McMurphy wrote up an excellent article last weekend explain how the NCAA will decide which 5-7 teams go to fill those empty bowl slots.

We do still find it a bit odd that teams with losing records are now ‘bowl eligible’. What message does that send to the players and fans? Maybe there shouldn’t be so many bowl games to begin with?

ESPN And It’s Bad UX

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

The fact is that ESPN has been the crown jewel of Disney for sometime now. It’s $6 plus per subscriber charge to cable and satellite providers (and that’s just ESPN, not ESPN2, ESPNEWS, etc) has been a cash cow for Disney. But just because they have clearly shown a mastery of their domain in cable television doesn’t mean that their online video presence is any good. In fact, it’s down right offensive and shows a lack of creativity from the ‘World Wide Leader in Sports’.

You have sit through a 30 sec ad to watch a 31 sec video? YouTube here we come!

ESPN.com has taken the ‘old school’ view of the Internet or at least the non-Innovators Dilemma view which is to say that by doing the right thing gets you exactly what you don’t want to have. ESPN wants to charge a lot of money for ads in front of videos and by going with that philosophy the are sacrificing the user experience. ESPN is putting an ad, of any length, in front of every piece of video they have (or so it seems). Hey this is capitalism and that’s fine. Where they miss is when they place a 15 second ad in front of a 13 second clip or a 30 second ad in front of a 31 second piece of video. It may make them money in the short term but it will push users away in the long term which means losing money down the road and opening a door for competitors to run through.

ESPN LENGTH

It’s not a one time thing either. We have looked at ESPN.com several times a day for a very long time and have noticed this trend for a while now. ESPN isn’t alone in this mind you, UFC.com was notorious for this in the pass. They would post a 30 second video masquerading as content and run 30 second ad in front of it. While it may gain ad dollars on the front end by capitalizing on current traffic trends, it’s a bad way to get people to come back to your site.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 9.16.55 AM
15 sec ad in front of 13 sec video. Really?

There is a way to fix this, it’s called an ‘if/else’ statement in the ruby code. If video > 30 then play video ad, else don’t. It is possible. It is a choice ESPN makes to not do this that can drive people nuts and pushes users to the same video content elsewhere (YouTube are you listening?)

What ESPN and others have failed to realize is that ad inventory/space online is infinite. You can make a new page and create new ad space. You can increase the amount of videos you put online and increase ad space. It’s a TV way of thinking which makes sense since the people in charge are TV people. Problem is, this ISN’T TV!

TV has one giant luxury that the Internet doesn’t which is why TV will always be a revenue generator…there are only 24 hours in a day and that will not change as much as entrepreneurs and workaholics want it to. That means a finite ad inventory. You cannot create more time in the day to place ads and you have a hard time cutting any more time out of a show or event to run ads.

The proper way to generate ad inventory online, especially in video, is to wrap it. Wrap the player then have a 5 second billboard at the beginning of the video (max) and have, if possible, an anchor say something. If there is no anchor then stick with the billboard at the beginning and get to the video content. More people will view the video on the site because others are running a 15 or 30 second ad in front of the same video (it’s not exclusive people as much as you want to think that it is). You will make your money on volume and not on exclusivity.

Then again, ESPN may have gone this road to far that they may not know how to get themselves back.

Downfall of the Gators

Urban Meyer FloridaA great article by Jeremy Fowler at ESPN (@jfowler). While we having nothing but respect for Urban Meyer and the job he has done, it’s clear by this article that things became so broken that they couldn’t be put back together. It also shows that it doesn’t matter how many high school kids you recruit with four or five stars by their name if they don’t come together as a team.

Great job Fowler.

Inside the Rise and Fall of Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators. 

Tebow’s Bright TV Future

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Tebow FloridaTim Tebow is arguably the greatest collegiate quarterback to ever play the game. He is at the very minimum in the top 5. Like many great collegiate quarterbacks, his pro career hasn’t panned out. There is hope for Mr. Tebow though, he does a hell of a job on TV.

tebow on espn homepage

 

Tebow was let go by the Philadelphia Eagles during the final round of cuts at the end of training camp. Less than a week later ESPN sent out a tweet stating that Tebow was back on SEC Nation. It is a role he thrived in last season. He has the credibility, the look and is articulate in his analysis.

Analysts are a dime a dozen. You can throw a rock and find someone with decent credentials. What’s different about Tebow is that his creds are better than everyone else’s when it comes to college football. He is still involved in the game of football by continuing to chase an NFL career. Let’s also not forget the fact that fans love’em.

tebow on cameraThe best part about him is that he doesn’t do anything at 50%. ESPN executives know that Tebow is going to work is tail off and in another season or two, he could be one of the better college football studio analysts out there.

Becoming a gameday color commentator is the next logical step for the former Heisman Trophy winner. It’s a big step for him too. It’s very, very different from being a studio guy. The college game has gotten even faster since he played and you have to be quick, concise, and tell people things they don’t already know. This will take him time but if it’s a place that he wants to go then you have to believe he’ll get there.

Tebow probably still wants to pursue his dream of being an NFL quarterback. We wish him well in his endeavor but when he realizes that that dream over and devotes all his efforts to being a great broadcaster, we all win then.

What To Watch Fri. 4/17 – Sun. 4/19

All times are Pacific

Friday April 17th

Oakland A’s at KC Royals – 5:10pm MLB.TV: Last time these two teams met it was in the AL Wild Card game.

Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators- 6:30pm NBCSN: This is going to be ‘that’ playoff series.

 

Sunday April 18th

Chelsea vs Manchester United – 9:30am NBC: Chelsea may be the odds on favorite to with the Premier League but Man U will have a say in how close it will be.

Minnesota Wild at St Louis Blues – Noon NBC: The Wild took game one of the series in St Louis. That may have only pissed off the Blues.

Real Salt Lake vs Vancouver Whitecaps – 6:30pm MLS LIVE: Two of the top teams in the West at one of the toughest venues to play at in all of MLS.

 

Sunday April 19th

Food City 500 – 10am FOX: A little short track racing from Bristol, TN.

Portland Trailblazers at Memphis Grizzlies – 5pm TNT: This is going to be the series to watch in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.