Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Decline and Fall of Western Sports Civilization

Eli 11.11 and I played tennis early this morning, before the heat became unbearable.
We've started going to this park about 15 minutes from our house. The park has two tennis courts in beautiful condition, and both are almost completely shaded until 9 a.m. It's entirely bucolic, and we were the only tennis players there.

When we finished, we decided to eat breakfast at a local franchise that's only a few blocks from the park. Eli loves to sit in the padded seats at the bar, so we had breakfast there, and while we waited for our food, we watched ESPN.

I don't watch SportsCenter much anymore. It's so overproduced and self-referential that--for me, at least--it's almost unwatchable. It was the only thing on at the restaurant, though, and I looked forward to seeing a few highlights, at least.

We watched for half an hour. Here's what we saw.

The first segment was about Bo Jackson. I love me some Bo Jackson, but the only reason he was on SportsCenter was because he's being featured this year in the NCAA 14 videogame (there were constant references to the game during the segment). ESPN and EA have a partnership going, and this was basically a 15-minute advertisement for the game.

The next segment was about how Colin Kaepernick (QB of the San Francisco 49ers) might have created a distraction for his team because he wore a Miami Dolphins cap to a 4th of July party.

Seriously. I'm not making this up.

Then, to top off this half hour of unmitigated sports journalism brilliance, there was a segment on New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan running with the bulls in Pamplona.

There's your half hour.

I know it's the All-Star break for Major League Baseball, but it was still an utterly pathetic effort.

ESPN, though, totally controls the sports world. And, to a substantial degree, they've ruined coverage of sports.

I always assumed, though, that they were forever unstoppable. Then I saw this article. Excerpts:
ESPN's total-day ratings—that is, its average viewership over a 24-hour period—plunged 20 percent in the quarter over last year's numbers. That's the network's worst result in six years and the the biggest drop for any of the cable sports channels, on a percentage basis.
ESPN2's primetime ratings dropped 12 percent, and its total-day ratings fell to an average of 244,000 viewers a day, down from 268,000 in the same quarter last year, 266,000 the year before, and 306,000 in 2010.
In the first quarter of 2013? Ratings losses all around, again, for both ESPN and ESPN2.
...last year wasn't a banner year on that front, either: In 2012, ESPN and ESPN2 were down 2 and 8 percent for the year in ratings for total-day viewers, respectively. ESPN was flat in primetime ratings, and ESPN2 was down 12 percent.
There's a potentially interesting squeeze developing here. ESPN bought the rights to quite a few sporting events and leagues by grossly overpaying. That helped build their brand.

Now, though, to some degree that IS their brand. They have to retain the vast majority of these broadcasting rights, or their brand will take a hit. But they've raised the value of broadcasting rights so high that every sport can point to rights fees ESPN paid for other sports and demand far more than they could have otherwise.

In effect, they're bidding against themselves.

If this sounds like EA, you're right. The same thing has happened to them with licensed sports games.

So ESPN is spending massive amounts of money on rights fees, but their ratings are dropping. They're going to be getting less advertising money, and they won't be able to gouge cable/satellite providers for as steep an increase in subscription fees as they did previously.

That will hopefully end very, very badly.

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