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.

Twitter Jumps Into Live Streaming Sports Fray

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Twitter, very smartly, did a dry run Thursday night of it’s live streaming platform. They streamed the Weber State at Utah State football game. It was a small, off the radar kind of game that gave twitter a chance to do a live test of their platform before the real test comes next week when they do the first of their 10 NFL games. From a user perspective, the test was a success but hard to find.

CampusTwitterWeber State at Utah State started at 6pm MST. It was streamed on CampusInsiders.com and on the Mountain West Conference website as well as twitter. The twitter feeds of both CampusInsiders and the Mountain West Conference promoted the event continuously during the stream in case you were not aware. Overall the stream was clear and stable over an LTE network in a crowded location.

There were some drawbacks of course. The first being that if you didn’t know the game was on it was hard to find, at least on the app on a phone. If you jumped out of the app and went to say Facebook and then wanted to come back to the game, it was even harder to find. Pretty sure twitter has a bigger marketing plan and in app advertising for the NFL games once they start.

Photo Sep 01, 6 19 57 PMThe other drawback was the latency. While watching another game live on ESPN, you would see the score of the Utah State game on the lower third crawl and then not see the scoring play on the twitter live stream for a good three to five minutes. There isn’t much twitter can do about that. There are too many variables involved from the transcode speed to the speed of the network you are on so while it sucks for the user, it isn’t a hurdle easily overcome.

Overall twitter had a successful test run. Being able to find the game, especially for new twitter users, is going to improve. The tougher challenge will be the backend work of compression, stability and decreasing the delay. That’s easier than it looks due to the variables out of twitter’s control but it is something that will get better over time and with better technology.

The Next Wave

 

By Brad Hubbard

Coaching changes are nothing new in football. In the professional ranks, replacing a coach in the middle of the season isn’t ground breaking but in college, it’s pretty earth shattering. More importantly the cracks are there for it to happen more often.

After a 30-13 at home in Week 1 the University of Houston fired their Offensive Coordinator. After a 10-7 loss at Oregon St the University of Wisconsin fired their Offensive Line coach. Before a battle against Washington the Portland State Vikings relieved their Defensive Coordinator of his duties. This is an unprecedented rate in college football.

The results haven’t been good for any of the three schools since the move. Houston has yet to win a game, Wisconsin had to rely on a missed Utah State field goal at home for a W and Portland State got taken behind the proverbial woodshed by Washington in Seattle.

Two of the three coordinators were in their first season with the schools and to last a grand total of three games is mind boggling. Coaching changes happen a lot. The past few offseason’s they seem to be happening later and later giving coaching staff’s even less time together before coaching in the limited time frame that is college football. It’s also giving them less time to recruit fickle high school athletes.

If Coordinators are being fired so quickly at the start of the season what does that mean for the Head Coaches at the end of the season? After three weeks you could argue that the SEC could see as many as four coaching changes by the end of the year. Is it too far off to believe that a Head Coach could be fired after game four or five?

I don’t believe it is.

We’ve already seen it last year in the PAC-12 when Arizona kicked Mike Stoops to the curb after a 1-5 start. This time the change will either be in the SEC or a mid-major conference like the Mountain West or Conference USA.

There is too much money on the line for schools and too much talent to go around on the field. At some point in the near future an Athletic Director will realize that they just paid a smaller school some ridiculous amount of money to be fodder and then that school turned around and played like the 1989 San Francisco 49ers. There are too many examples to go around but here are a few:

-Appalachian State upset of Michigan in 2007

-Wyoming defeats Tennessee in 2008

-UNLV beats Wisconsin in 2003

-Richmond beats Duke 2011

-Sacramento State beats Colorado 2012

-Cal Poly defeats Wyoming 2012

-Texas State beats Houston 2012

While this is still college athletics it’s about as much of a business as you can find. When a school like Colorado in a major conference like the PAC-12 gives up 55 points by halftime against a school from the WAC you have to think that the Athletic Director and even the school President have to look at making a change. If I was alumni or a major donor the last thing I would do is give money to a school that gets embarrassed like that. If I was quality player I would reconsider my options.

Whether you like it or not college football is a major promotional tool for the school.  It’s also a massive revenue generator. If the football team is being upset by a smaller school or being blown out on national TV it hurts the school financially. Head Coaches are on the hot seat like never before and they better realize it. If the losing continues after the assistants have been let go there is no one left to pin the blame on. 2012 may end up being the year the flood gates opened on in season firings.

Early Season No No

Most College Football programs schedule their out of conference games early in the year and generally during the first few weeks. While some schedule the proverbial cupcake and others try to take on another big name program most try to go with the safe route. The safe route includes programs from the mid-major conferences like the MAC or Conference USA. On paper it looks like a solid strategy but in reality it can end up costing you a major bowl game at the end of the year.

Three programs that would be considered a mid-major even though two of them are not in a conference are the Academy schools, Air Force (Mountain West Conference), Army and Navy (both Independents). All three of these programs run the triple option offense which is based on misdirection, angle blocking and more importantly execution.

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You’ll see a lot of times these Academy schools scheduled at places like Michigan, Penn State, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. Even more often then not you see these Academy schools giving these big time College Football programs all they want in week two or three. For example in 2011 Navy lost at South Carolina by 3 points. In 2006 Tennessee squeaked by Air Force with a 1 point victory in Knoxville and Army lost by 4 points at Texas A&M in 2008.

The reason these games and others are so close is that it is so hard to prepare for these offenses and the sheer grit of the the players. If you’re a major program you have a very limited window to prepare your defense for an offense that you see only every couple of years. The defense has to be disciplined, stick with their assignments and tackle very well. The minute they don’t, this offense can break off a big play.

Former Notre Dame and current New Mexico coach Bob Davie said multiple times while a commenter for ESPN that the triple option was the hardest offense to defend in all of College Football.

You have to remember, you’re asking 18-23 year olds in College to buckle down, be disciplined and stay on their assignments. You’re also asking them to do this the week after their first game where they may have blown out some cupcake or been throttled by another big program.

The offense isn’t the only thing these Academy schools have going for them. They are training the military leaders of tomorrow and that is something that an opponent cannot prepare for. These Academy schools are not going to quit. You saw this no quit attitude this past Saturday in Ann Arbor, Michigan where Air Force was on the verge of upsetting a top 25 program in Michigan. Michigan ended up winning 31-25 but Air Force had an opportunity to take the lead at the end of the game.

Some programs do better at defending this offense than others because they see it more often or have more time to prepare for it. Georgia Tech runs the triple option with much better players than the Academy schools but they play the same teams in the ACC year after year so those programs see the offense on an annual basis.

College Football is always changing with very few constants. One of those constants is the triple option at the Academy schools. Why big time programs continue to schedule them in weeks two and three I’ll never know. If you are going to play them, take them in week one or after a bye week so that you have more time to prepare or else live the possibility of either a loss or an extremely close game that could end up costing the program millions of dollars in bowl money at the end of the year.