Remember when ESPN appeared to be like The Brain of the old WB animated series, Pinky and the Brain, on a mission to take over the world? Well unlike the Brain, ESPN seemed to be on its way with networks in Asia, Africa, Europe as well as Central and South America.
You could travel to the UK and watch ESPN for the English Premier League, the FA Cup as well as some of ESPN's USA programming. ESPN Star Sports in India gave viewers cricket, soccer, tennis and the Olympics. It seemed where there was a TV set and a pay provider, ESPN would find its way there.
But over the last half-year, ESPN has been quietly selling some of its international channels. Months after losing the UK rights to the English Premier League to BT Sport, the Worldwide Leader decided to sell its channels in England and Ireland to BT for an undisclosed amount of cash. ESPN will still have an online presence in the UK, but its broadcast rights to various events will revert to BT. The moves have already influenced some of the on-air talent as Rebecca Lowe, a host for ESPN UK will move to NBC in June to host English Premier League games here and the beloved Ian Darke will call EPL games for BT in the UK.
Now comes word that ESPN will be suspending operation of its ESPN America channel to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East as of July 31. Sports Business Journal reports that ESPN would be willing to sell the rights to events it holds in those regions to other channels.
And there was ESPN Star Sports which was a joint venture with Fox that was sold entirely to News Corp. last year.
Does this mean that ESPN is in trouble? No, hardly. It continues to be a cash cow for its parent company, Disney. ESPN continues to be a global company with its multple international editions of SportsCenter beamed worldwide. And it means that ESPN is focusing on operations where its channels are profitable. Does it affect your viewing in the US? Not at all, but for ESPN to lose channels and rights to events shows that it has growing pains just like everyone else. The self-proclaimed mantra of worldwide leader may be too much even for them. Nevertheless, the network remains the 800 lb. gorilla in sports media, at least in the United States.