ESPN’s DTC expansion plan not a matter of if, but when

The first topic we ever wrote about in this newsletter was the idea that ESPN would become direct-to-consumer, which we thought would happen in under five years.

While we know you trust what we say, another fellow Ithaca College graduate, one Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, chimed in last Thursday on the topic, saying at the Morgan Stanley TMT Conference that it is “inevitable” that ESPN will go DTC:

“One of the reasons we’re optimistic is we know the power and popularity of live sports and we know how attractive it is,” Iger said. “Not just to consumers, but to advertisers.

“At this point, [ESPN+] is what I call a flanker business or brand to the main ESPN brand. Down the road, at some point, I think it is inevitable … [ESPN] will become a direct-to-consumer business. There’s a reason to be bullish. We think we’re well-positioned.”

Bob Iger attends the AFI Awards at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 13, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Disney CEO Bob Iger recently said the launch of ESPN as a direct-to-consumer product was “inevitable.”
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We still think it will be in the next couple of years, probably sooner than later. Look at the industry trends with regional sports networks. NESN, MSG, YES, Bally Sports all have some sort of direct-to-consumer product or a plan to have one soon.

What is sometimes lost in this discussion is that no one is abandoning cable or satellite TV. ESPN won’t either. It is not an either/or equation. Direct-to-consumer will be another offering next to cable.

There is a needle to thread, which is why I think ESPN DTC will potentially be priced cheaper than the $29.99 per month that the RSNs have generally gotten

The RSN numbers feel designed to have people stay with cable, because they are not good deals and target an audience that may not be that big.

The Knicks on MSG, for example, average around 115,000 viewers per game. “Monday Night Football” on ESPN, on the other hand, averaged nearly 15 million (when you include the playoff game).

ESPN Host Suzy Kolber , ESPN NFL Analysts Randy Moss and Matt Hasselbeck during ESPN Monday Night Football Countdown TV show on the field before the start of the NFL football game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins on December 11, 2017, at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL.
With “Monday Night Football” helping create a far larger audience for ESPN than RSNs, the network’s DTC offering is likely to be priced cheaper than those of YES, MSG or NESN.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MNF costs way more in rights fees to ESPN than the Knicks do MSG, but the potential DTC audience is much larger. The subscription game has all kinds of tricks, but ESPN+ has around 25 million subscribers. How many would a full ESPN offering draw?

We will find out. It’s inevitable.

Quick clicks

Devin McCourty, who was on our offseason Top 5 NFL TV free agent list, retired this past week. Could CBS and CBS Sports Network be a match? … Jim Nantz, who will call his last Final Four this year, is definitely hoping for his alma mater, No. 1-ranked Houston, to end up cutting down the nets in Houston, the home of the Final Four. Nantz, who used “we” in recent interviews when talking about the Cougars, says if Houston were to win the title, it would be one of the top moments of his career. Would he cut down the nets? …

CBS Sports broadcaster Jim Nantz looks on in the second half of the game between the and the Villanova Wildcats during the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Final Four semifinal at Caesars Superdome on April 02, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Jim Nantz has a chance to call a national championship for his alma mater, the University of Houston, in his last Final Four play-by-play call.
Getty Images
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Bad job by Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark moving the media to the nosebleeds from courtside for its conference tournament. While it is easy to call sports reporters spoiled, they are there to do a job. If you are not near the court and, instead, are at the top building, you miss aspects of the game that bring the competition to life in game stories and columns. …. CBS Sports is starting the Golazo Networks, which will be a 24/7 streaming platform, dedicated to global soccer …. Amazon will offer its new Black Friday NFL game in November in front of its paywall. The goal would be to have as many people on its platform or thinking about its platforms on what is the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Kickoff for the game is expected to be at 3 p.m. … YES had Michael Kay and David Cone in the booth in Tampa for its past two Yankees Spring Training broadcasts, which is where they should be for the call. …

Sportscaster Dick Vitale waves to the crowd as he is honored during a game between Indiana Hoosiers and Kansas Jayhawks in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse on December 17, 2022 in Lawrence, Kansas.
Dick Vitale turned down an offer to call NCAA Tournament games for CBS out of respect for his longtime network home, ESPN.
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Nice gesture by CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus offering 83-year-old Dick Vitale a chance to call an NCAA Tournament game or two, as reported by Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina. I really liked that Vitale turned it down out of loyalty to ESPN. Vitale cited how good ESPN has been to him for decades, including his recent fight against cancer. Good job, all-around.

Aaron Rodgers and the New York media

Aaron Rodgers and the New York media has become a growing topic of discussion as we wait to see if No. 12 will become a Jet. Should it be an issue? Let’s take a look.

1. This is an old school way to look at the media landscape that fails to account for the digital age.

2. There was a time that the combo of the back and front pages, along with sports radio, made New York different. There was not only more media, but, by and large, it was tougher.

3. While the back pages are still very strong and — call me biased — maintain their place as the tone-setters for sports in the city, the internet has leveled out the difference from market to market.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers at Celebrity Flag Football Charity Event at Saddleback College on March 11, 2023 in Orange County, CA.
The explosion of digital media outlets following athletes on and off the field has diminished the scrutiny a star like Aaron Rodgers might feel from traditional media sources no matter where he plays.
Getty Images

4. The thing about social media, some blogs and the internet in general is there are no rules; it is in-your-face as an athlete. The feedback that was unique to New York — a back page calling you out — is on these players’ phones the second they check them after a game in the locker room.

5. Rodgers already is a national, weekly discussion point. He says something of note on his appearances with Pat McAfee and it is a news cycle. In New York, that would continue to happen. The spectacle of Rodgers trying to bring a championship to the Jets might magnify it more, but it won’t be fundamentally different.

6. As far as if the New York media is tough or not, it depends on who is on a given beat. There are individuals who consistently ask tough — I’d say fair — questions, but more and more there are young writers who just want to write what athletes eat for breakfast (here’s 2,000 words on Cheerios!) This has taken the sting out of some of these beats.

7. Overall, the New York media is still formidable, even if there are pockets that have receded. (Not The Post, thankfully.) But the digital world has evened the playing field from market to market, which will make Rodgers’ transition from Green Bay to New York dependent on the one thing it has always been about — how he actually plays.

From SiriusXM to Shaina’s Wish

Steve Cohen, SVP Sports Programming at Sirius XM Radio speaks during an interview on day 1 of SiriusXM at Super Bowl LVI on February 09, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Steve Cohen is stepping back from his job as senior VP of SiriusXM programming to spend more time on the charity he and his wife founded to help young adults with mental health and addiction issues.
Getty Images for SiriusXM

SiriusXM SVP of sports programming, Steve Cohen, will move into a consultant role after nearly two decades at the company.

Cohen will still have a presence, though, as he helps smooth the transition as VP of sports programming, Eric Spitz, takes on more responsibility. Cohen will also host, which has always been a passion dating back to his time on WFAN.

More importantly, Cohen and his wife, Eileen, will dedicate even more time to their foundation, “Shaina’s Wish.” Named for their daughter who passed away in 2017 at 22 years old, the Cohens began “Shaina’s Wish” two years ago. In 2022, it helped pay for 10 young adults to receive aid for mental health and/or addiction issues.

SiriusXM had layoffs last week, but Cohen chose his fate, feeling Spitz was the right person to succeed him, knowing he’d be able to consult and host, while spending more time helping with the family’s mission to honor their late daughter.

“We look forward to continuing to help young people now and in the future with ‘Shaina’s Wish,’” Cohen said.