Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April 26, 2017

Today the so-called ‘worldwide leader’ of sports became the latest victim of their own success and lack of vision. The layoffs of 100 on-air personalities follows months of layoffs and cutbacks. Really the sports television giant has been hemorrhaging talent for several years. 

Personally, I did not care for some of that talent, but that is another story.
There are many takes on the issues at play with ESPN. I think, in many ways, that some of those are only partially accurate. For example, Clay Travis of Outkickthecoverage (owned by Fox Sports), took to his very popular platform to proclaim that the real reason for ESPN’s demise is “trying to make liberal social media losers happy and as a result lost millions of viewers.”

So is there any wonder that this column begins its life form under the auspice of ultra-conservative media giant Fox? Travis is a very good writer and has made plenty of great points about some of the problems at ESPN, but, simply put, this ain’t one of them.    
The real problem at ESPN is that they followed the wrong path; they lacked vision. What began as a smallish concept to take advantage of the expanding cable television got lost in a mire of its own splendor.

The sports media darling soaked up all the adulation and decided to become a behemoth. They gobbled up every sporting event contract they could find looking to become the dominant force in sports programming. And for a time they were just that; a giant. As their success generated a whole generation of new viewers who partook of sports with an insatiable lust for more, the network failed to see am increasingly complex world changing before its eyes. They clung to the cable model as viewers found new platforms. Yet ESPN continued to pour money into television rights deals.

This, not coincidentally, forced ESPN to charge more for advertising to attempt to bridge the growing gap between costs and revenues – and then cable companies started to fracture. This is where Travis hits the nail square on the head; ESPN channels are too expensive and many viewers have chosen to disconnect from cable in favor of better (read: cheaper) options. The network failed to recognize the trends instead thinking that personalities would draw subscribers (and thereby advertisers) back. They were wrong.

Like all behemoth’s, there comes a point when the size is simply too big to sustain. That point has reached critical mass and ESPN has begun the process of cost-cutting at the root level. But, you see, this is where the rubber meets the road. The network needs new vision; they need to see that there is a road through this, but that road is not through more exclusive and expensive television rights deals, higher subscriber costs and steeper advertising rates.

This is the real dilemma facing not just ESPN, but much of our television programming. The industry needs new vision. Will ESPN recognize that the new vision will incorporate people who no longer want to be tied to a cable company for their sports programming?

Take me, for example. I don’t watch network television. I don’t really like any shows on ’premium’ channels like HBO and Showtime. Instead, I prefer to scroll through Netflix, HULU, Amazon and other streaming services for a nominal monthly fee. I am hardly ‘young’ or evocative, but I know that the younger generation is even less invigorated by the concept of paying $100 – or more – every month simply to watch some college football, or whatever other programming catches their fancy. 

Sell access to individual games through streaming services; allow people to subscribe to WatchESPN without having a cable provider, sports fans will still watch. And those of us who love the stories behind the stories, there will be a channel just for us.

As to Travis’ point that:
Middle America wants to pop a beer and listen to sports talk, they don't want to be lectured about why Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, Michael Sam is the new Jackie Robinson of sports, and Colin Kaepernick is the Rosa Parks of football.
I say, that there is more to America than this centrist Trumpian view. But I recognize that roughly 50% of America does not want to hear this, so, let them have the programming they want while still allowing the rest of us those stories. After all, some people do want to hear stories that they consider to be courageous battles of athletes in society.


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