The sports media world is ablaze with discussion around the new joint project from ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery that will house all three companies’ sports broadcast properties. But in a new interview, former ESPN president John Skipper revealed that this is not the first time a platform like this has come up at the Worldwide Leader.
Speaking on the Sporting Class podcast from his company Meadowlark Media, Skipper explained that around 2016 or 2017 (near the December 2017 end of his tenure), Apple approached ESPN about joining an aggregated sports broadcast platform that they would house. While Apple was genuine in its pursuit and Skipper had interest, Apple eventually moved on after realizing how expensive it would be.
“Apple at one point attempted to create this bundle, and they couldn’t do it because they couldn’t accept that they would have to pay the same prices that Comcast paid,” Skipper explained. “It’s a good idea to be the person to aggregate sports.”
Skipper explained that back then, ESPN was far more concerned about the revenue they generated from cable carrier per-subscriber fees. While the money that the likes of Comcast and DirecTV pay ESPN monthly still drives significant revenue, the worldwide leader is now looking ahead to a direct-to-consumer streaming offering next fall. So now, a streaming-based platform in collaboration with their competitors makes more sense.
From an Apple standpoint, they ultimately pivoted to broadcasting their own sports, including their trail-blazing global MLS deal in 2022. However, anyone who uses an Apple TV also knows the company is pesky with its constant notifications to tune into close games within streaming apps on the hardware device. So they didn’t fully pivot from their aims of controlling sports consumption.
Regardless, it’s fascinating to note how ESPN evolved its thinking to embrace this new platform.
Skipper also believes ESPN will receive the majority of the revenue per subscriber for the new platform since it is providing the most inventory.
As more details develop, it will likely become more clear why the time was right now for ESPN to partner on the new platform. But it’s clear they have considered this idea for a while, and a big difference now is they are comfortable running the platform themselves rather than going through a middleman like Apple.