A handful of years ago, the unthinkable happened when the Rose Bowl was moved from ABC to ESPN. I made a big stink about it at the time, and indicated it was a big mistake by the Rose Bowl committee as the key to long term success is continued visibility. The Rose Bowl would be wiser to accept a million or two less right now by insisting that the game be on broadcast TV, because in the long run, the number of viewers will stay high and ensure that their future contracts will still be for large viewing audiences.
I stand by that analysis.
But what I didn’t think of was the impact on ESPN. It was easy to see the short term benefit to ESPN. They would drive up their subscriber numbers by moving more content from ABC to ESPN. More people would bite the bullet and get a cable plan with ESPN and ESPN would make more money.
However, what I’m now learning is the long term impact works out the same way. By moving their games to ESPN, the casual fan stops watching their games. And since the key to long-term success is turning casual fans into hardcore fans, ESPN is ensuring themselves a shrinking fan base by putting all of their content on channels only the existing hard-core fans get.
The chickens are coming home to roost. ESPN’s subscriber numbers are WAAAAY down.
Cal and the Pac-12 really need to get their minds around this concept. They’re going for the short term money and they’re listening to ESPN’s short-sighted thinking. And in doing so, they’re ensuring that the next generation of Pac-12 football fans never tune-in and never show up at the stadium. If the conference wants long term success, the #1 criteria in their TV negotiations should be visibility (both on TV and in the stadium), not dollars.
The dollars will flow naturally over time based on that visibility.