ESPN had a Disney investor summit on their Bristol campus this week. Can you think of anything dripping more with corporate synergy than Disney Investor Day at ESPN?
Surprisingly enough, these are secretly great opportunities to hear the real thoughts from executives on the state of the cable sports world. It’s rare to hear the corporate suits at a place like ESPN talk so freely about sports rights deals and their competition from Fox Sports 1. However, since ESPN and Disney have to be responsible to shareholders, it provides useful information to those investors and the public.
Here’s a few of the highlights from the conference, including ESPN John Skipper saying the Bristol monolith has left a “bleak desert environment” in its wake after acquiring so many sports rights into the 2020’s.
ESPN’s executives were not short on hyperbole with their importance to American society and the world at large. Via the Hollywood Reporter:
“It’s John Wooden, Bill Russell, Iowa wrestling and Ben Hur all rolled into one,” Skipper said of ESPN.
I can safely say I’ve never heard those four entities all used in the same analogy. At least Skipper didn’t start comparing ESPN to world empires throughout history, but perhaps he’s saving that until second quarter earnings come out.
When it comes to the competition, most notably from Fox Sports 1, Skipper was confident, if not showing a bit of hubris in ESPN’s position at the top of the industry:
But perhaps the best quote showing ESPN’s attitude towards Fox Sports 1 that they are nothing more than a gnat on an elephant’s backside, it’s this quote from Artie Bulgrin, a Senior VP of Analytics for ESPN:
“When thinking about watching sports news, sports fans are nine times more likely to name ESPN over No. 2 Fox Sports as their favorite. It’s not even close,” Bulgrin stated.
Bulgrin said parents have been known to name their children after ESPN, then joked: “We do it for the kids. Let’s face it, nobody’s naming their kid ‘Fox Sports One.'”
He does have a point you know, Fox would probably have to find a family with the last name “One” and pay them a small part of Rupert Murdoch’s fortune to make them name their kid after a lightly-watched cable sports channel.
As if all this bluster from ESPN’s big cheeses couldn’t be more of a self-parody, the network trotted out Tim Tebow for Disney Investor Day to impress shareholders. I wish I was making that up, but clearly it isn’t taking long for Tim Tebow to become ESPN’s unofficial mascot.
While it’s “fun” to poke fun at ESPN’s hauteur, it’s all true. Their position is unassailable. The facts back that up. Fox Sports 1 is off to a disappointing start in the ratings after talking a big game before the network’s launch. NBCSN is content to play smallball, hitting singles and doubles by reaching out to niche audiences and lacking ambition to challenge ESPN directly. CBSSN is still not a major player with their lack of distribution. It’s going to take a generation or more for a network to match ESPN’s reach, rights, and recognition. Only an apocalyptic series of events could ever see ESPN fall from their perch as the self-proclaimed worldwide leader anytime soon.
However, pride comes before the fall and no empire stands forever… at least outside Bristol, Connecticut.