ESPNThe news of ESPN’s mammoth new deal with the NFL to secure Monday Night Football and other program was obviously good news for the WorldWide Leader.  As Matt pointed out, the amount of money ESPN will pay over the next 10 years is astronomical, in the neighborhood of $14 Billion.  And while it’s nice to think about the consequences of ESPN’s saturating their NFL coverage even more, or how many more times Jaws will casually curse on the air, there is one person that hasn’t been considered much in the wake of ESPN’s deal with the NFL… and that would be you, the consumer.

It’s been speculated by many that ESPN will force cable companies to raise their prices to help pay for a small chunk of that $14 Billion.  Of course, as ESPN has grown throughout the years, they’ve been able to demand more and more money from cable companies, which in turn, has caused cable companies to raise their prices on consumers.  Now, by no means am I an expert on the economics of cable and satellite providers, but a rights contract this massive does give cause for pause.  Heck, ESPN president George Bodenheimer basically admitted the network would ask for more money from cable/satellite providers in the wake of the new NFL deal.  

I know this might be difficult since you’re currently reading a sports blog, but imagine yourself a television viewer who NEVER watches ESPN.  Is it fair that the increasing demand of sports fans could potentially raise your monthly cable bill?  Apparently something called the American Cable Association does care, and they’re prepared to raise some hell.  Matt Polka, president of the ACA was quoted in Politico… (linking Politico on a sports blog, who knew?)

“There’s no doubt that sports programming is very popular. But people should be able to choose whether or not they want to pay for it on a monthly basis… Non-sports fans are subsidizing the cost for sports fans,” said Polka, who represents 1,000 small cable companies. If these costs keep going up, lawmakers and policymakers are going to get involved … and ESPN isn’t going to like it.”

Polka goes on to suggest that all cable/satellite customers already pay around $5 per month for ESPN and ESPN2, which could rise to help the WWL pay for the new NFL contract.  Due to the rising price, Polka and the ACA want to pressure cable providers (with the help of Congress and the FCC if necessary) to place ESPN on a premium “sports tier” instead of part of a basic cable package…

Now, keep in mind, the American Cable Association only represents some rural and small-market cable providers, not large conglomerates like Time Warner or Comcast.  Let’s face it, this is like the owner of the Pita Pit telling McDonald’s how to do business.  But, the ACA could begin to represent a growing viewpoint among the majority of cable/satellite customers.  Even if ESPN pulls in 17 million viewers to watch Monday Night Football, is that enough to justify every cable subscriber paying a heightened fee to get the WWL on basic cable?  Is it inherently more fair to make sports fans pay more for sports channels?  Personally, I know I’d rather not pay for Lifetime or HGTV, although I guess the wife would have something to say about that…

And what about from an ESPN perspective?  We’ve established time and again that ESPN is a monopoly in sports broadcasting, especially in terms of broadcasting live events.  What would keep ESPN from demanding to be placed in a special sports tier and demanding more revenue from cable/satellite companies and their customers?   We could truly be on the verge of a very changing landscape in the world of television.  In my opinion, the most appropriate long-term solution for all parties involved is giving the consumer the ultimate freedom to pick what channels they want to pay for on a monthly basis.

No matter what you think of Glenn Beck’s politics, you have to give the man credit for being a media visionary.  Just this week he launched his internet-only channel, GBTV.  Not only does Beck see the future of television on the internet, but he’s also grasped the future of cable television as a pay-as-you-go system.  In fact, some speculate Beck could make $100 million this year if his venture is even moderately successful.  If I want to be a disciple of Glenn Beck, I have the freedom to pay $4.95 or $9.95 per month to recieve only that channel.

Ask yourself, would you pay $10 per month for ESPN and the family of networks?  Maybe more appropriately, could you afford not to pay $10 per month for ESPN as a true sports fan?  If not $10 per month, what about $15, or $20?  What’s keeping ESPN from eventually reaping the financial rewards of their monopoly?  What’s keeping hardcore sports fans from not paying for fluff channels and vice versa?  Again, I’m no expert, so tell me what you think.  Would you want to see the ability for cable systems to allow you to pick your own channel lineup?  Would you be willing to pay for ESPN as part of a premium sports tier? How much would you be willing to pay to keep ESPN as a part of your television lineup?  Myself, I’m going to start saving in the piggy bank, just in case!


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