October 31, 2015

We’re watching the beginning of the end of the ESPN Empire.

They are still sitting on the throne, and will be until further notice. But they’ve chewed up too much territory and taken over too much property. They’ve invested billions of dollars in NFL, NBA, MLB and college football rights. They’ve not invested nearly enough in talent.

In October they laid off about four percent of the workforce, 300 people.

The Wall Street Journal reported in July that ESPN has lost 3.2 million subscribers in the last year. Cable companies have started moving ESPN to different kinds of tiers to save some money, and that has cost the cable giant some homes as well. They no longer sit in nearly 100 percent of the cable homes as they did for many years. According to Sports Business Daily, they are in 92 million homes. That’s out of the 100 million or so homes that are wired for cable, satellite or some other pay-TV service.

ESPN is the most expensive channel on cable. They get about $6.50 a month from the carriers, who pass along the cost to the subscribers. Do the math. That’s nearly 250 million dollars in lost revenue. CNN reports corporate owner Disney has told ESPN to cut from the budget $100 million in 2016 and $250 million in 2017. Apparently this round of 300 job cuts in October is just the beginning.

ESPN’s problems have been present for years though. They just don’t have the “It” factor any longer. The studio shows are inhabited by a series of nondescript, interchangeable parts.

Their Sportscenter shows – made famous and wildly popular a generation ago by Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann – are hosted by (Fill in the Blank) and (Fill in the Blank.) They don’t want talent to stand out. They don’t want talent to be too opinionated. Examples: Mike and Mike = Vanilla and Bill Simmons works elsewhere.

ESPN is starting to do what happens in the broadcast business when the CEOs and the Boards panic: getting rid of talented people. We’re not talking about the Simmons, Olbermann and Cowherd talent. Those are all unique circumstances. We’re talking about the people who make the ship run, quality executives and producers who have been there a long time. These are people with institutional knowledge. In the broadcast business – with all due respect to the pretty faces – the people who make it happen. They cost money.

If you’re a sports fan you have to get ESPN. They’ve forced you to do that. They own the rights to so much of what you want to see. They’ve not given you much reason to watch the other stuff. Example: First Take is the most inane program on television, and there are lots of candidates on cable TV for that not-so-lofty position.

Late this week ESPN suddenly shut down its web site Grantland, which was Bill Simmons’ baby. That’s a story to be explained at another time. Another sign the empire is crumbling.

I don’t know Lamar Odom but just about anybody and everybody in the sports business in Los Angeles this week is talking about what a fabulous human being he is.  Sadly, Odom is, according to some reports, including the Los Angeles Times, near death in a Las Vegas hospital. Odom, according to the doctors at the hospital, overdosed on a cocaine and apparently erectile enhancement drugs.

Odom’s ex-wife Khloe Kardashian (they are not officially divorced yet) is not happy with the owner of the brothel where Odom was found near death.  Dennis Hof was on the Nancy Grace TV show, and Kardashian says she thinks Hof is using Odom’s near-death to promote his business.

A woman who has spent a decade sharing every bit of her life on reality television, including two years on a show called “Khloe and Lamar,” is asking someone else to back off.  Some people don’t recognize the irony of their own existence.

LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke said this week on his radio show on KFWB The Beast 980 that Odom’s troubles are in part due to the way he was “emasculated” on the various Kardashian TV vehicles. Plaschke says it has haunted Odom for years, and contends it affected his basketball play the last few years of his career.

Sometimes it’s best to just keep it to yourself. But if Khloe Kardashian and her clan did that, they’d be out of work. If the brothel owner did that, he’d be out of business.

Poor Lamar Odom, the former sixth man of the year, the former NBA champion, still being described as a “reality TV star.” What a shame.

Not a Good Couple of Days for Trump

Posted: September 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

Thursday Donald Trump failed to correct a supporter who said Obama is a Muslim – and the supporter spewed more invective. Trump has been criticized by candidates from both parties. Fox News host Megyn Kelly took up the issue Friday night.

It continues. This nationwide television show known as the Donald J Trump Presidential campaign. The good guys, the bad guys, the daily news cycle, the nasty words, the laughs and the guffaws – it’s reality television and apparently Trump thinks it’s his ticket to the top of the ticket come November 2016.

Trump is taking advantage of the large field of GOP candidates – and it appears to be a rather mediocre field, at least now.

Fox News (24 million viewers for Debate I) and CNN (23 million viewers for Debate II) are delighted with the show. They’re reaping record viewers and certainly the ad dollars are rolling in.  Why would they want to end, or alter, this show?  It’s working for them. But is it working for the electorate. Are they really paying attention in September of 2015?

What concerns me the most is the lack of accountability. So far, a lot of noise, a lot of time taken up in the political and newsy talk shows. But, how much do we really know about the candidates and how they would make “America Great Again?”

Not much, I’m afraid.  The American news media need to be much better than this.  Right now Trump is leading the parade and the news networks are along for the (lucrative) ride.

When the great numbers of American people join this parade, it’ll be a better, and we hope more accountable and valuable, show. We’ll see how the news media document it.

Despite cord cutting, cable TV’s future looks very familiar – Business – The Boston Globe

Simmons and ESPN

Posted: September 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

It’s pretty clear to me.

Bill Simmons and ESPN are headed to divorce court soon. Simmons this week was suspended for three weeks for remarks he made on his podcast, the B.S. Report. Simmons called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar, several times. Simmons also said it was f*****g bull****, the way the league was trying to gloss over the Ray Rice disaster.

HIs remarks were a welcome commentary to many who think Goodell and his folks have been less than forthcoming in their handling of a number of things, at the forefront, the Rice suspension.

Simmons is an ESPN superstar. But, this is a corporate structure that doesn’t allow even its superstars (Examples: Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, in an earlier incarnation) to get out of line.

Sure, what Simmons said was unacceptable language in most circles. The f****g bull*** line, that is. Calling the NFL commissioner a liar is what was most unacceptable to the folks at the NFL offices in New York and the ESPN corporate executive offices in Bristol.

Simmons dared his bosses to suspend him. And they did. For calling the commissioner a liar, just days after ESPN reported that the commissioner may not have been telling the truth.

Simmons is suspended with pay, but no media work and no Twitter for three weeks. That Twitter thing is a pretty stiff penalty for a guy who has a lot to say.

Sometimes – according to his corporate overseers – a bit too much to say.

It’s difficult to wrap my head around the idea of college athletes forming a labor union.  At least one man – a local director of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago – believes they are employees, and has approved the formation of a union for Northwestern University football players.  Northwestern appealed to the national board. It is far from certain the athletes in Evanston will have their union.

What we have here are the early stages of the fight.  And it could be a long and nasty fight. The case in Chicago comes just days after it was reported that Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith received an $18,000 bonus when a Buckeyes wrestler won the national championship. Apparently, these kinds of clauses are not unusual these days. The court case comes weeks before Ed O’Bannon’s case against the NCAA for the athletes’ rights to their own image goes to court. 

The case comes at a time when we’re learning just how much money college coaches make. John Calipari reportedly got a $350,000 bonus when his Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament two years ago.  This on top of the millions of dollars he already earns in salary.  I’m all for people making money. I’m all for people using their market leverage.  But these kinds of financial windfalls are coming because student-athletes win games.  The same student-athletes would be in trouble if they sold autographs, or if they took a free meal, or the use of a car. 

This system is broken.  And the people who run the NCAA and its big-time and big-name members are just a tad bit concerned. (NCAA president Mark Emmert makes about $1.7 million dollars a year and says drastic changes would not be good to the system.)  

But, they’re happy to take the $7.3 billion in the new college football playoff TV deal; they’re delighted with the $10.8 billion dollar deal for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  They’re happy to say that Johnny Manziel is reasonably compensated with his scholarship, while the school almost certainly has made hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, selling the Texas A&M Number 2 jersey, for which Manziel gets nothing. 

According to Forbes magazine the University of Texas football program’s profit in 2013 – that’s profit – was $82 million. For Notre Dame, it was $78 million. The rest of the top ten most valuable football programs in the country: Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State and Nebraska. 

Maybe the players aren’t “employees” and maybe they shouldn’t be paid. Or, maybe they should be paid, and be protected by at the very least an association.

Nick Saban makes $7.5 million dollars a year to coach 12 to 14 football games at the University of Alabama. The people he “oversees” get a scholarship and some meal money, and that’s it. Saban reportedly got a $525,000 bonus when his Crimson Tide won the national championship in 2012.  And even if he wanted to, the NCAA would prohibit him from sharing any of that money with the players. 

[To put this into perspective, Craig Bohl was making less than $300,000 a year when he led North Dakota State to three consecutive FCS championships.]

The players are starting to get fed up. Those of us who watch this are starting to get fed up. The arms race is almost out of control to get bigger programs; to get better facilities; to get better coaches; to make more money to pay for all of those better things. 

Northwestern’s football team got it started. I guarantee you no matter what happens with the school’s appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, this movement is just getting started.  

I can’t wait to watch it unfold.