Skip to content

Ending ESPN?

by C. Ross Jam on May 21, 2011

With Dick Ebersol leaving NBC and the network begin sold to Comcast, it feels like there’s an opening for the rights on a couple of major sporting events. NBC clearly has overpaid for the Olympics in the past. Can Comcast afford to do so? Does it make sense to re-up on a big contract with Notre Dame football? What’s the commitment to Wimbledon, the French Open, and PGA Golf?

The only untouchable I could see is Sunday Night Football.

With any of these opportunities ESPN is an obvious candidate to swoop in and expand their hegemony. Attributed to Ebersol is the following:

“ESPN basically has to have one of their talent talk about Hitler or put a picture of their dick on a phone — which is what that Salisbury guy did — before they’ll do anything about any of these various crazies because they don’t have to. Nobody can touch them.”

And as a disciple of Roon Arledge, along with being a legend in his own right, Ebersol should know what he’s talking about.

Which got me to thinking, what would it take for ESPN’s dominance to unravel? You might say the Internet, or mobile, but they’ve been pretty savvy on both fronts. The talent going Animal House? Who cares, they’re just a bunch of replaceable talking heads. Overpaying for rights? They can always jack up the cable operators.

Obviously this is mostly a thought exercise, but a fun one. Have to say ESPN’s management is on top of it’s game at this point. Here’s a few that feel plausible:

  • Anti-trust regulation due to some underhanded collusion.
  • Overreaching by attempting to expand into foreign markets. I have an intuition that ESPN might like to take on Fox in soccer. There’s a lot of money and a lot of programming in that sport.
  • Some wacky legal or technology loophole, similar to how satellites enabled ESPN, that allows a disruptor to sneak in.
  • I dismissed overpaying for some rights, but the Olympics could be expensive enough to put a dent in profitability if not capitalized on correctly.
  • Actually, if Comcast went all-in they have a bunch of regional networks that could provide a foundation. But that doesn’t seem likely with Ebersol leaving.
  • And speaking of Ebersol, maybe he winds up at Fox and architects something.

From → Uncategorized