Anyone who has ever searched for a televised sports game recently can understand that finding it is like exploring the sea for hidden treasure with no map. From thousands of channels and several different versions of the same network (such as ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, etc.) the task is cake walk. After encountering this situation one would possibly ask themselves why am I paying for so many channels that are useless or I do not even watch? The answer to this dilemma is both simple and convoluted. The solution lies behind the business between professional sport leagues and media companies. This includes how NBC currently has the rights to Sunday Night Football and a few playoff games, while ESPN has the rights to Monday Night Football and the Pro Bowl. The rest of the games and events for both football and the rest of the leagues are separated between other networks. Each network must decide how much they can bid on the rights for each sport and game. Ironically enough, these deals for how sports programs will be broadcasted to the nation ultimately hurt the viewer, but benefit the players and (already wealthy) league executives.
In 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed a 25 year deal, worth about $8.5 billion, with Time Warner Cable. For those who are subscribed to TWC and want to fulfill their desire of watching Dodger baseball are forced to shell out more than $4 a month. Keep in mind that this is just for ONE team and only one sport. In that same year, fees for sport program subscriptions were expected to rise by about 12%, to $17.2 billion. This presents an interesting decision for the television audience. Why continue to pay enormous and ever-inflating costs for sports programs across several channels, when there are much cheaper options? Users are continuing to lean towards choosing Internet services that are offered at lower costs or are even free! For example, ESPN can cost a consumer about $6.10. Now, viewers have options including streaming services, online viewing or, recently, Twitter has experimenting with live streaming a Thursday night football game. Due to these varying options and growing prices, consumers will continue to move away from cable outlets. However, due to the demand and inflation, bidding costs for broadcasting rights will always grow. The problem here is that there is going to be a smaller number of viewers, but higher costs each year. And for users with no internet connection, or those who are not tech savvy (such as the elderly), they will have to pay in full.
Now, on the other side of the screen, players, executives, and the professional sports leagues are reaping the benefits of these lucrative media contracts. For example, this past summer the National Basketball Association (NBA) and TNT inked a massive $24 billion dollar contract that spans that next 9 years. This bump in income for the NBA has helped the salary cap for each team progress from $70 million to $94 million. Ultimately, this will help teams across the Association to lure free agents to their team. Also, the possibility of securing a massive contract encourages athletes to perform at their personal bests at all times. For example, a decent player named Mike Conley was able to cash in on a 5 year contract worth close to $153 million dollars. In return, viewers will be able to watch a better product on the field, but at what cost?
This situation actually also benefits college athletes despite them not ever seeing a dollar of the contract. The most lucrative college conference, the SEC is in the midst of a 15 year, 2.25 billion dollar contract with ESPN. Now, potential athletes can be lured to commit due to the fact that their talents will be showcased on the top sports program in the world. The fact that March Madness players are worth up to $375,000 each and do not see a penny is a topic for a completely different blog though.
All in all, cable bills are mounting and viewers are leaving for more cost savvy options. Channels that used to place reruns and movies in empty slots have lost parts of the audience due to the new services available. However, 99% of viewers watch sports live, so the spots were sports programs can fill have become extremely valuable. It is sad to see that the people who just want to watch a game are paying high costs to see players who hold fruitful contracts broadcasted by media companies able to ink billion dollar contracts.