This week AA has presented a series on the state of cable sports ahead of the launch of Fox Sports 1. Our hope was to speak with executives from each of the four major national cable sports networks to provide them a platform and speak to viewers at this inflection point in the industry. Tuesday I spoke with NBC Sports President of Programming Jon Miller. Ken Fang then spoke with CBS Sports President David Berson and Fox Sports Executive VP of Research and Programming Bill Wanger.
Today we hoped to close the series by speaking to a representative from ESPN, but Bristol denied multiple requests for an interview with one of their key decision makers. While that's disappointing (not just to us, but to others hoping for more openness and transparency) it's not going to cause us to take our ball and go home and not write about ESPN. After all, that's why God gave us the gift of the web log, right? So as best as I can, here's some answers to questions about the state of ESPN on the eve of their next challenger arising.
ESPN is no stranger to competition. Over the last generation Bristol has seen would-be conquerors come and go while they only continued to grow bigger, faster, and stronger. In the last 30+ years, ESPN has gone from a small northeastern network to a global behemoth worth in excess of $40 billion dollars. In 1979 an estimated 30,000 people were there to watch the launch of ESPN. Now over 30 million people visit its website alone in a single month. It is one of the largest, most successful companies in the world. ESPN is the Yankees, Red Sox, Lakers, Celtics, Cowboys, and Manchester United of sports television combined. Anyone who hopes to surpass them better be prepared to climb not Everest, but Olympus Mons.
However, ESPN is far from invincible and the marketplace has been crying out for true competition at the national level for years. Certain programs feed the lowest common denominator far too often, questions about ESPN's commitment to journalism and conflicts of interest have been repeatedly raised, and the company has shut down international channels and laid off several hundred workers earlier this year. Will ESPN finally succumb to that competition or will it only serve to make them better?