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  • Evan Laslo

How ESPN Has Fallen Off, by Jacob Lowe

Everyone knows ESPN as “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” and with all the different channels different apps, it’s easy to see how they’ve monopolized the sports industry for so many years. But, as the years have gone on, it seems that the most popular sports network gets less and less attention.

ESPN’s main competitor is the Internet. Anyone who knows anything about ESPN knows that their thing is SportCenter, a broadcast that brings you “the biggest plays from the biggest games.” If you were to miss a game and wanted to catch up on news in the sporting world, SC was the place to go.

On Instagram, Twitter—anywhere, anytime, online—people can get their highlights. Now, ESPN isn’t mercied by the internet. The ESPN app, and their social media platforms, can’t compete when people can just check their phones.

The loss of viewers along with the fact that people are starting to stray away from cable. A large part of ESPN’s income comes through cable subscriptions. They also happen to be the most expensive cable station costing over 5 more dollars a month than the next highest station. It would be even worse for them and even deeper in the hole if people who have cable and no interest in sports realize that they’re paying upwards of 70 dollars a year for a station they never use. Who would want to pay more for worse quality?

The average viewer needs more to watch the network which is why they have former players on board as analysts given their takes and breaking down what the game means, but this gets really tiring because the on-air people create meaningless storylines and stats and they have turned every show into a debate show. Names like Stuart Scott, Dan Patrick, and Rich Eisen were running the show back when SportsCenter was huge.

That brings up another problem. They can’t keep great talent.

Rich Eisen, Dan Patrick, Pat McAffe, and Ariel Helwani all have their own shows now—not on ESPN. Other talents like Al Michaels, Erin Andrews, Colin Cowherd, Chris Broussard, Skip Bayless, Andy Katz, Mike Tirico, and Maria Taylor have all grown too big (and too expensive) for ESPN to keep around.

In the past year, the network was forced to lay off 300 workers, including top-tier personalities like Dan Le Batard, Claire Smith, Will Cain, Trey Wingo, and Ivan Maisel.

The fact that they can’t pay their top talent is giving way to competitors like the internet. The younger generation would also much rather tap their screens to find other content than to find a television and turn on ESPN.

Pardon My Take on Barstool and The Pat McAfee Show are two of the biggest shows out there. Funny, charismatic hosts, uncensored hot takes, and easy access; both do YouTube streams and do shorter YouTube videos, they can be found on radio or on websites, unlike ESPN.

Its competitors have started copying them as well. There are two college gamedays shows shown below, one is the popular ESPN College Gameday which has been popular for years. The other is Barstool’s new Football Gameday Show. You can guess which drew the bigger crowd.

So ESPN losing cable subscriptions, employees, and viewers to the internet and competitors. Not exactly throwing a perfect game. So how do they still make money? Live Sports.

ESPN has the capital and reputation to broadcast live sports. ESPN has sole access to Monday Night Football, the biggest college football and basketball games, NBA, and UFC events.

Here’s where their competition outshines them, yet again. TNT and ABC have the best coverage of the NBA playoffs, and ABC covers the finals. For March Madness, the NCAA lets four different companies broadcast, and it’s CBS that gets the Final Four (and, weeks later, sole coverage of the Masters).

Notice I haven’t brought up Monday Night Football. That's because there’s a lot to bring up. There’s Thursday Night Football on Fox, Sunday Night Football on NBC, and Monday Night Football on ESPN. Al Michaels, Chris Collinsworth, Joe Buck, and Troy Aikman are stellar, on the other networks. ESPN, yet again, has a revolving door of commentators. They struck gold when they had their Manningcast on ESPN 2. It was Peyton and Eli who could Manning making jokes and go back and forth all while intellectually breaking down the plays from a quarterback’s perspective. They also interviewed other famous athletes and NFL players and the audience got an inside locker room look at the game. The only problem was that this event done by the Mannings was so good that ESPN had to shut down one of the best things on their network for multiple weeks at a time so that their lower quality standard broadcast could get viewers. The one thing that makes their NFL coverage unique to anyone else they shut down for multiple weeks of the season.

It goes to show how bad their actual coverage of Monday Night Football is since the great and innovative broadcast they air has to be shut down. The fact that they also don’t cover the Super Bowl also hints at their sucking of broadcasts. Fox, NBC, and CBS all rotate coverage of the biggest sporting event in the world and the NFL has not let ESPN get in the mix.

If it weren’t for the monopoly that they have on live sports ESPN would be obsolete. Because ESPN has this exclusive access to events and games that people want to watch they are still relevant. For example, I might be the biggest North Carolina there is, and Duke versus North Carolina in basketball is sometimes called the best rivalry in sports. But the game is only ever exclusively on ESPN. I and the million other college basketball fans are tuning in to the game to ESPN because it’s the only place where we can watch it.

ESPN has fumbled the bag on more than one occasion. Due to the rise in Internet competitors, the only thing that keeps the network alive is the live sports that it has the sole rights to. The “Worldwide Leader Sports” might have reached fourth down.

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