Bulls & Bears: A week when ESPN straddled both camps in the sports media spectrum

 

 
 
 
 
Tom Mayenknecht, host of The Sport Market on TSN 1040 and the TSN Radio network, regularly rates and debates the Bulls & Bears of the sports business.
 

Tom Mayenknecht, host of The Sport Market on TSN 1040 and the TSN Radio network, regularly rates and debates the Bulls & Bears of the sports business.

Photograph by: Vancouver Sun graphics, .

More on This Story

 

VANCOUVER — Sorting out the major winners and losers of this week — with a bottom-line twist — in the world of sports:

BULLS OF THE WEEK

Thirty-six years after its start-up as North America’s first all-sports television network, ESPN has the capacity to turn even the slowest week of the year in sport into a victory parade of television ratings, fan engagement and social controversy.

That’s what it did Wednesday night on the strength of its with the 22nd ESPY Awards, televised for the first time on ABC that is also part of Walt Disney’s TV stable. The migration from cable to network TV was one of the reasons the 2015 ESPYs almost quadrupled their ratings this summer, from an average national American audience of 2.2 million last year on ESPN to 7.7 million this week on ABC.

Yet the major reason was interest in the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, which went to Caitlyn Jenner — the former Bruce Jenner, Olympic decathlon champion and American golden boy at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. The selection was arguably the most polarizing in the history of sport television’s equivalent to the Oscars and Grammys, with many ruing that the late Lauren Hill (who raised more than $1 million as part of her dream of playing college basketball after being diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer) was more deserving and courageous.

ESPN was criticized for what some called a crass tabloid play for ratings, which is akin to telling a mosquito it shouldn’t bite. Yet even the skeptics couldn’t deny the compelling television that the award generated, from the flawless introduction by U.S. women’s soccer star Amy Wambach and the Jon Hamm-narrated feature to Jenner’s own 10-minute acceptance speech. The social impact of her advocacy for tolerance and acceptance will be felt for years in the LGBT community and across society. For ESPN, you know you have bullish clout when everyone else in television and radio is talking about you, and that’s what happened this week with the ESPYs.

BEARS OF THE WEEK

Despite the success of the ESPYs this week and the juggernaut status of the ESPN brand, it is facing a bear market because of cable TV cord-cutting and the changing landscape of television-content distribution. The Wall Street Journal cited Nielsen data showing that the ESPN subscriber base has fallen from its apex north of 100 million in 2011 to 93.2 million in 2015. That 7.2 per cent drop translates into about $250 million per year in revenues for ESPN, which has the highest carriage fees in U.S. cable TV at $6.61 per month.

With subscriptions down and both rights fees and competition from FOX, NBC and CBS up in the sport specialty field, the departures of big ESPN personalities such as Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons on TV and Colin Cowherd on radio were seen as part of cost-cutting. The concern shouldn’t be limited to ESPN. It is the grizzly bear of the sport business ecosystem in the U.S. If its business model and revenues can’t justify skyrocketing rights fees, no one will. Leagues, teams, athletes and all those making their living off of sport television will be impacted in some shape.

Tom Mayenknecht is host of The Sport Market on TSN 1040 and TSN Radio, where he regularly rates and debates the Bulls & Bears of sports business. He reviews the major winners and losers of the past week every Saturday in The Vancouver Sun.

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
Tom Mayenknecht, host of The Sport Market on TSN 1040 and the TSN Radio network, regularly rates and debates the Bulls & Bears of the sports business.
 

Tom Mayenknecht, host of The Sport Market on TSN 1040 and the TSN Radio network, regularly rates and debates the Bulls & Bears of the sports business.

Photograph by: Vancouver Sun graphics, .

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice