When Holly Holm delivered her vicious knockout against UFC champion Ronda Rousey last month, the highlight seemed perfect for ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
Yet by the time the sports network’s flagship news program showed images of the fight, many had already seen the clip on Reddit and commented on Twitter.
That’s the dilemma for ESPN and “SportsCenter,” the news and highlights show the network introduced to pay-TV audiences 35 years ago. While ESPN remains the dominant sports outlet on TV and the Web, and the single biggest profit contributor at Walt Disney Co., competition is eating into its audience. To adapt, the company is reinventing “SportsCenter” for mobile viewing and online sharing, adding new late and early morning editions.
“Our producers have spent a lot of time working with our talent to really think about which audience we’re seeing through the course of the day,” Rob King, ESPN’s senior vice president for news, said in an interview. The show “is still relevant and meaningful to people. It’s a matter of where they are and how they consume it.”
One big change is set for February, when ESPN introduces a 7 a.m. edition of “SportsCenter.” The network will try to attract viewers on their way to school or work by encouraging them to watch on mobile devices, King said.
In September, Scott Van Pelt took over as anchor of a new late edition of “SportsCenter.” Van Pelt can compete with talk-show hosts like Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, King said, and his show is experimenting with new segments, including one that shows highlights of plays that would be of keen interest to bettors. A recent ad urging fans to “end your day on a highlight” included a spot with a college student watching late at night on his tablet from the roof of a frat house.
Disney itself cast a light on the troubles at ESPN in August when the company cut its profit outlook, citing a drop in the homes that get the sports network. The announcement renewed investor concerns that consumers are dropping or cutting back on pay-TV services and sent media stocks tumbling.
ESPN’s ratings are another sign of the changes rattling the TV industry.
Live editions of “SportsCenter” are down 10 percent this year in total viewers, according to ESPN, while the Sunday pregame show “NFL Countdown” is down 13 percent. Overall, viewership has fallen 10 percent in 2015, though network executives say that’s really 4 percent excluding World Cup and NASCAR events that didn’t air this year.
Meanwhile, audiences are growing at the Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN, which are up 14 percent and 25 percent in prime-time, respectively, though both networks draw only a fraction of ESPN’s viewers, according to Nielsen data. For NFL games this season, ESPN’s ratings are down 3 percent while two broadcast networks, NBC and CBS, have gained, according to data supplied by the programmers. ESPN says that’s largely because it has aired one fewer Monday Night Football matchup.
Bristol, Connecticut-based ESPN has been in a belt-tightening mode. In October, the network eliminated about 300 positions worldwide. Over the past year, it has parted with several prominent personalities, including Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons, who says the number of people canceling pay-TV service caught ESPN by surprise.
“I don’t think they ever saw it coming. I really don’t,” Simmons said on his podcast last month. “They didn’t have a plan for this whole next generation of stuff.”
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Peter King: ‘Tom Brady Needs To Study Cris Collinsworth’
“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is.”
Peter King dedicated a not-insignificant portion of his “Football Morning in America” column this week to advice for Tom Brady. FOX announced last week that the Buccaneers’ quarterback will become the network’s lead NFL analyst upon his retirement.
Brady’s decision and his reported salary have been the source of much speculation and prediction amongst his soon-to-be colleagues.
King is optimistic that Tom Brady will be entertaining and informative when he makes his FOX debut. He did offer the GOAT a little bit of advice about what he should be doing in the months leading up to calling it quits on his playing days and starting his new career.
“I think what I’d do if I were Brady is study Cris Collinsworth—and honest to goodness, I don’t say that because I work for NBC,” he wrote. “I say it because Collinsworth knows how to talk X’s-and-O’s conversationally, he’s an easy listen, and he can criticize when the time comes.”
Interestingly, last week, Collinsworth says he hears from most former players that are getting ready to make the jump to broadcasting. He was surprised he never heard from Tom Brady before FOX announced their deal.
King had two other suggestions. The first was that Brady watch multiple games from start to finish so that he can hear what the give-and-take between a broadcaster and analyst sounds like. The other is that he has to commit to being interesting and not censoring himself. King has faith that Brady will be able to do that.
“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is. On that LeBron James show last year, Brady said, ‘Ninety percent of what I say is not what I’m thinking. There’s a part of me that doesn’t like conflict, so in the end I always just try to play it super-flat.’ That has to end once he’s on TV if he wants to be any good.”
Nick Wright Critical Of ABC Crew As Giannis Antetokounmpo Struggles In Game 7
“He reminded his followers on Twitter that the two-time MVP has put together some amazing performances in this series.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo started hot in Game 7 on Sunday. By the time the game ended though, the Boston Celtics were on their way to Miami for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the defending champions were headed back to Milwaukee.
The Celtics’ defense gave the Milwaukee Bucks fits in the second half. The ABC broadcast put a special spotlight on Antetokounmpo, who got multiple drives to the basket that he could not finish.
“The best has got to show up when the best is needed, and Giannis has been disappointing,” said Mark Jackson over a package of highlights of Giannis missing shots. “As great of a player as he is, given credit to the Celtics’ defense, but he has struggled offensively time and time again.”
Nick Wright of FS1 noticed and he didn’t appreciate it. He reminded his followers on Twitter that the two-time MVP has put together some amazing performances in this series.
Mike Been, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy were not particularly hard on Giannis. The trio made the typical comments we hear when things aren’t going a great player’s way.
Wright did not harp on the issue beyond the single tweet. The outcome was not in doubt as the clock winded down. He gave credit to the Celtics rather than tweet about the Bucks or Giannis.
Stephanie McMahon: WWE Is A Better Advertising Investment Than Sports
“We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys.”
Everyone knows that professional wrestling is scripted. The storylines, the outcomes of matches, all of it is predetermined. But in the eyes of WWE, that’s what makes their product so different, and better than traditional sports.
WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon told Deadline that when it comes to pitching advertisers, sports entertainment allows room for a range of different approaches to make something work.
“We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys,” she said. “We have a leg up on sports. … You may object to what we do, but you’re never going to be bored.”
McMahon added that WWE has a much easier process in dealing with sponsors. Everything is handled in-house.
“We own all of the IP,” she said. “When brands deal with us, they just deal with us. We create something together.”
WWE is coming off a positive Q1 earnings report, which had the company up 27% in total revenue. Its two weekly primetime shows, Monday Night RAW and Friday Night SmackDown, continue to do well in ratings, and all special and pay-per-view events, in addition to its streaming platform WWE Network, are all housed on Peacock.