ESPN Doesn’t Get How Young People Watch Sports
The Wall Street Journal recently published a comprehensive assessment of the widening chasm between the NBA's popularity and its viewership numbers, considering everything from the rise of small market teams to the lingering effects of the 2011 lockout season. As is the case with most everything, the league's ratings decline is being caused by a combination of factors, but it'd be silly to think that some aren't moving the needle more than others. To my eye, the most obvious smoking gun appears to be cord-cutting.
ESPN's senior vice president for global research Artie Bulgrin, however, seems to think of cord-cutters as beatnik poets or rugged nature enthusiasts, too captivated by the world around them to concern themselves with silly games.
[WSJ] Bulgrin, the ESPN executive, said he does not believe cord-cutting is related to the NBA ratings decline at all. Americans who have canceled their cable plans “are just not sports fans,” he said.
My reaction to this is the same as when I hear my Dad say that video games are making people dumb. It's misguided, to say the least.
The NBA's growth, both globally and domestically, can be largely attributed to its increased popularity among young people. We're talking millennials -- the group that is famously reluctant to cough up an additional $100 a month for cable when they're already paying for access to free live streams on their computers. Just check out Reddit if you don't believe how simple it is to quickly find a full HD feed of any live sporting event. It's stupidly easy, which is why literally none of my friends (all three of them) pay the exorbitant fees to watch the local broadcasts of their favorite teams from their adopted home in New York. What's more, the league's growth in Asia and Europe -- where it's even more expensive to watch American sports on television -- portends even more sneaky illegal streaming.
After all, where do you think most of these streams are coming from?
I hate to be the whistleblower on this one because I'd do the same thing if I didn't have free access to NBA League Pass (my employers pay for it), but it's painful to find out that networks like ESPN and TNT have their heads in the sand about where their viewers are going. It lets me know that TV execs don't know what young people want, generally, which is as bad an omen as the underground streams are a systemic problem for ad revenue.
At least the NBA sort of gets it.
[WSJ] This season, the league began allowing fans to buy the rights to watch any single NBA game (excluding national telecasts) for $6.99. In the past, the only way for fans to watch out-of-market games was to pay for a subscription to the NBA’s League Pass, which costs $199 for the full season.
The NBA declined to give specific figures on subscriptions to League Pass, but said the numbers are up. The NBA said it is encouraged by the number of one-game buys.
The option to purchase individual games is undoubtedly a move in the right direction, but the next step is getting cable companies to offer subscribers the freedom to purchase subscriptions to individual channels. That's been the solution all along, and by denying that very certain reality, the networks and cable companies are driving more and more young people into the dark recesses of the internet. The resulting decline in cable package subscriptions, in turn, justifies higher cable package subscription prices to offset the losses, which only hurts their cause even more. Their logic is as absurd as it is silly for an internet literate twenty-something to pay for cable.
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