Friday, January 27, 2023, 9:53 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Cord-cutting is accelerating. Deep-pocketed Big Tech (Amazon, Apple, Google) are scooping up marquee sports rights in an effort to add value to their services businesses. Linear TV viewing is collapsing. Consumers' attention is fragmenting as myriad social media and other activities beckon for eyeballs.
As Colin and I discuss on this week’s episode, ESPN finds itself at the center of this storm, as the venerable TV network gets squeezed from all sides. Adding urgency to the problem, and as we also explore this week, Sinclair's Diamond Sports Group, which owns Bally Sports, a big collection of Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) acquired from Disney as part of its Fox deal, is edging toward declaring bankruptcy.
While Diamond’s demise is closely tied to the debt it incurred by overpaying for the Fox RSNs in 2019, it raises more consequential questions about the health of the sports TV ecosystem - and therefore the value of sports broadcasting rights themselves. These rights have been funded primarily through the “sports tax” on pay-TV subscribers who are not sports fans (see “Not a Sports Fan, Then You’re Getting Sacked for At Least $2 Billion Per Year,” which I wrote back in February, 2011). Non-sports fans are getting soaked for far more than this in 2023, with huge - and mostly unknown - sums embedded in their monthly pay-TV bills (partly contributing to escalating cord-cutting).
Net, net, the delicate equilibrium in the sports TV ecosystem is under major pressure. With respect to ESPN, newly reinstated Disney CEO Bob Iger has a pressing - yet until recently unimaginable - question to address: long-term, is ESPN still a good business? And if it’s not, should Disney keep the network anyway, or seek to sell it off?
Listen to the podcast to learn more (30 minutes, 18 seconds)