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What Happens When ESPN Overpays For The NFL?

Jason Barrett

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This week will tell the story about whether Big Media’s summer swoon in stock prices was a temporary blip or the beginning of a long-term secular decline for the space similar to what we saw in newspapers starting 15 years ago.

Or – more likely – it will be both.

That means we could be poised for a temporary comeback in these names, while also having the longer term trend now firmly underway as of this summer and ready to play out over the coming years.

With the market rebound in the month of October, a lot of the big media names were finally able to get up off the canvas.

Disney – which will report on Thursday afternoon – shot up 11% for the month, ahead of the the S&P 500 at 8%. Time Warner, reporting Wednesday, was up 8% in October.

Fox did even better at 13% for the month.

Some of the biggest winners for the month though came down the most in the summer. Viacom was up 15% for the month of October, while CBS was up 17% (and reports on Wednesday).

Some of the cable company earnings last week gave hope that consumers are not cancelling their bundles quite as quickly as some of the cynics have worried about.

This week, we’ll hear from the content owners.

Of course, the most interesting report is going to come from Disney. ESPN basically started cutting costs from the moment they let Bill Simmons walk this past May. If you listen to his new podcasts or others discussing the anger between Simmons and ESPN head John Skipper, it’s often described in highly personal tones.

My view is that ESPN execs got the word from Disney on high that costs were way too high relative to subscriber cancellation fears and the expensive sports rights the network had signed up for over most of the next decade.

Ending the Simmons relationship is peanuts in the grand scheme of ESPN annual profits (maybe $6M a year?). But it was the start of a number of layoffs at the network over the summer and the decision to let Olbermann and Cowherd leave.

All those decisions made more sense in light of the August earnings report from Disney. Now, we’ll get their latest on Thursday. But the job cuts have continued at ESPN. 3 – 400 more people from the network were recently let go.

There were some reports after the latest blood-letting from perhaps those who were let go that ESPN had outbid the nearest rival for rights to Monday Night Football by $500 million a year to win it at just under $2 billion a season.

On a recent Netflix earnings call, executives said they had no interest in participating in the bidding on sports rights which they called excessive.

So, if we are living in a sports bubble, should we expect that sports rights will fall back to earth when they next get negotiated in 5 to 7 years? Not necessarily because there are likely to be a whole bunch of new digital bidders around the table when that happens. More competition is generally supportive of the prices paid.

Just a week ago, Yahoo bid $20 million to the NFL for the right to – by some reports – lose $17 million broadcasting a 6:30am PT game from London between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can bet that Apple, Amazon, Yahoo, Twitter, and Google are likely to be as interested in the NFL as much as the broadcast networks the next time the NFL decides to put a package of games up for bidding.

So, in this environment, expect more job cuts at these networks. Expect less grandiose sets for SportsCenter. Expect only a hundred reporters covering sports instead of 500.

The decision on Friday to shut down Grantland was probably an easy one for ESPN and Disney. They aren’t here to have an ego war with Bill Simmons to show him up by keeping Grantland afloat. It wasn’t a big traffic driver and it’s 40 – 50 people, so… shut it down.

I’ll miss all the tremendous writing talent and great personalities but – let’s face it – they’ll all find a home and I’ll keep listening. It just was too expensive for ESPN to keep it going.

I would expect the Nate Silver experiment at 538 will end within the next two years as well and he’ll be back to the New York Times or Bloomberg if they make him a more lucrative offer.

The Undefeated might also be tossed aside as well. I’m actually surprised they recently said it was going to go forward. Why? Shovel everyone through ESPN.com or the Magazine. That’s it. Eventually that’s all that will be left around the actual sports.

If Thursday’s Disney results show more subscriber contraction, expect these kinds of moves to happen faster.

Read more at Forbes which is where this article was originally published

Sports TV News

The NFL Still Considering Multiple Offers For Sunday Ticket

The NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has not bid for the package but has stated it is willing to partner with the new rightsholder for a potential deal.

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Sunday Ticket Negotiations

DirecTV currently has the rights to Sunday Ticket. That deal expires at the end of this upcoming football season. The NFL is expected to make a boatload of cash when they decide which media organization gets the next rights to the package. The only question is… who will that be?

Alex Sherman of CNBC reports that the NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has decided not bid for the package. However, they are interested in partnering with the new rightsholder for a potential deal. DirecTV knows that Sunday Ticket is a staple in bars and restaurants and is interested in maintaining those relationships.

Outside of the bar/restaurant industry, success has been limited for the satellite provider with the football package. Fewer than two million subscribers signed up for Sunday Ticket each year which made the package a money-loser for the satellite TV provider.

According to the report, the NFL wants more than $2 billion for the rights and a stake in NFL Media, which is being packaged with Sunday Ticket. Also on the table is the NFL’s mobile rights. The league’s previous mobile agreement with Verizon has ended.

An interesting piece of the negotiations is Sunday Ticket price. According to the report, a buyer would have limited flexibility on pricing. The NFL signed contracts with CBS and Fox and within the framework of those deals, language mandates Sunday Ticket have a premium price. That’s to prevent loss of viewers from the networks that feature local market Sunday afternoon games. So essentially, the price is the price for the consumer.

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Sports TV News

F1 Renews With ESPN For U.S. Media Rights

ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.

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F1 ESPN

The racing series F1 has decided to stick with ESPN through 2025.

ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.

The reported value of the three-year contract is set to pay F1 $75-90M per year for the U.S. media rights. Amazon had offered to pay roughly $100M per year, with the right to sublicense to a linear broadcast network. Comcast’s offer was similar to ESPN’s in terms of value and the structure. They also wanted to put select races on it’s streaming service, Peacock.

Netflix was in on the negotiations, as well. The makers of Drive to Survive, the streaming series that many credit with the sport’s explosion in popularity in recent years, wasn’t close on on their financial offer. Also, it seems F1 executives were not ready to put all of its races on a streaming service just yet.

Currently, F1 receives $5M per year for ESPN to broadcast it’s races. ESPN has grabbed about 1.0 million viewers per race. That makes F1 a more than viable option for the network to invest into again. ESPN will be able to put a small number of races on its ESPN+ streaming service exclusively. The vast majority being on ABC or ESPN.

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Sports TV News

Skip Bayless Says He And Stephen A. Smith ‘Sorted Out’ Their Disagreement

“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”

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Skip Bayless

Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless were locked in a war of words last week following the First Take host’s appearance on JJ Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast.

The origins of their partnership were discussed and Bayless admitted he did not like the way Smith characterized the state of First Take before he arrived on set. Smith insisted that Bayless simply misunderstood what he meant by saying that he was told the show needed him.

Over the weekend, Skip Bayless says he and Stephen A. Smith got together at the Bayless home in California to talk things out in private.

“He was in LA, he came over, we sat by the pool,” he said on the latest episode of The Skip Bayless Show. “It wasn’t the easiest conversation for a while, but we slowly but surely sorted it out. We got through it, and we have been through so much together.”

Bayless reiterated that he considers Smith a brother. They love each other. That doesn’t mean they are always going to remember events the same way or see eye-to-eye all the time.

“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”

Fighting doesn’t mean the relationship is fractured. In fact, Skip Bayless was adamant that he remains closer to Smith than he is to most people in his life.

“I don’t trust easily because of the way I was raised, but I do trust Stephen Anthony Smith. Trust him with my life. Always have and always will. I trust he will always be there for me, and you better believe I will always be there for him.”

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