Earlier this year, ESPN announced a large number of lay-offs for over 100 reporters and on-air personalities. Many within the sports broadcasting field looked at this move by ESPN as the beginning of the end for the sports giant’s platform. However, at further glance, ESPN having national broadcasting rights for the NBA, MLB, and NFL for the foreseeable future makes them still relevant in the age of more customers “cutting the cord” of their cable plans.
ESPN currently has a $4 billion a year contract with the NBA, MLB and NFL just for the rights to cover their respective games and sports. To the average consumer of sports broadcasts, it truly seemed like ESPN was desperate to retain these rights in order to draw more customers to their other programs, besides just live sports. ESPN appears to be trending in the wrong direction in the eyes of many industry insiders and investors.
Although ESPN may have “overpaid” for the exclusive rights for sports broadcasts, it is worth noting that they had to do this in order to still be a viable sports programming network. What made ESPN so eye-catching back in the 90’s was its unique personalities on SportsCenter, cool presentations of sports highlights, and highly detailed sports writing from insiders within the different organizations and teams. ESPN has lost most of that “wow” factor as of late, since the internet has made it incredibly easy to find sports highlights and direct access to player personalities on multiple platforms, such as Twitter, at any time of day.
So, where does ESPN turn to get its “mojo” back? For starters, they need to take a long look in the mirror and decide what type of network they would like to be in the next five years. ESPN must know that their old model won’t bring them back to the glory days of the 90’s, and they can’t simply buy their way back into their customers good graces. Instead, they should truly focus on highly detailed analysis of the sports they are covering, from industry insiders, who can break down each sport in unique and tangible ways that other networks don’t or can’t offer.
A lot of the recent troubles from sports broadcasting giants, such as ESPN, can be attributed to the over-saturation of the broadcasting market. For example, how many times have the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees been on national television, regardless of their records, when a more marquee game is not shown? This is incredibly frustrating for both the casual and die-hard sports fans to swallow.
Overall, the outlook for ESPN and other live sports networks doesn’t appear to be too bright. Unless they find ways to change their models in the rapidly growing pace of the internet and streaming generation of television watching, in general, they will be left behind just like the many personalities they have cut ties with. For now, just give the people a real reason to tune in before it’s too late.