& cplSiteName &

The Greening of the US Sports Ecosystem

John Mansell
8/30/2013
50%
50%

As a college student in the summer of 1974, during cable TV's truck-chasing era, I sold cable TV. When students returned to Ann Arbor in September, going door-to-door selling 12 channels of cable TV for $5 per month was a breeze. Even the blind and deaf were buyers.

I would meet objections by pointing out that cable costs less than taking your family to a movie or a baseball game, especially when factoring in food, drinks, and babysitter fees.

It was true then. It's true now. At that time, however, we were hungry for more entertainment options. Now, we are quite sated.

Casual sports fans complain about high fees and unwanted channels, while Netflix, Hulu, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Roku provide only limited choices.

We have arrived at an inflection point that is complicated by retransmission consent and lack of pricing discipline in the sports ecosystem supply chain.

Competing cable, satellite, and telco distributors (MVPDs) have little leverage in the face of sports programmers. Balking at the affiliate fees sought by a popular sports network and dropping the channel translate into subscriber defections.

Sports networks, armed with pricing power, have little incentive to bid judiciously for programming. Soaring rights fees can be passed through to MVPDs via higher affiliate fees.

Teams and leagues use windows, geographic limitations, and an auction atmosphere to effectively force "winning" bidders to rationalize their investments via higher affiliate fees.

And programmers are becoming middlemen. Their suppliers -- teams, leagues, college conferences, and sanctioning bodies -- have their own networks or demand equity.

We could put a caption here but we think you get the drift.
We could put a caption here but we think you get the drift.

Sports interests have challenges, too. In 2012, the average NBA player made $5.2 million, according to Forbes. The average MLB player salary was $3.2 million, followed by $2.4 million for NHL players and $1.9 million for NFL players.

Chicago White Sox owner Eddie Einhorn put it best: "The money goes in one pocket and out the other."

It's not so much that individual sports networks have hiked prices dramatically, it's the rising number of sports networks.

Instead of the handful of services a decade ago, there are now more than two dozen national and three dozen regional sports networks in the US, not counting Fox Sports 1 and the planned SEC Network.

Cross-ownership, vertical integration, and over-the-top competition exacerbate the challenge of developing some sort of pricing discipline.

RSNs once carried a limited number of MLB, NBA, and NHL home games. Now they distribute more than 80 percent of all games. National networks carry most of the rest.

The wholesale cost of sports programming to MVPDs is about $15 to $17 a month, which works out at 40 percent to 50 percent of total MVPD programming costs. Yet sports accounts for only about 20 percent of viewership.

It is heaven for avid sports aficionados. For a shrinking middle class of casual- and non-fans, however, the cost-benefit calculus is tenuous. The perceived value has declined.

Breaking the cycle of exorbitant player salaries, soaring rights fees, surging sports programming costs, and rising consumer prices is no small feat. But it's high time for a comprehensive examination of the sports universe.

Unfortunately, many industry solutions and potential public policy initiatives are fraught with unintended consequences. MVPD consolidation, for example, would cut into the leverage of sports interests, but might adversely affect innovation and competition for subscribers.

Suppose programmers were prohibited from imposing minimum-tier subscriber percentages and MVPDs were free to market high-cost programming à la carte or on a sports tier. Sounds good, right?

Tinkering with tiering, most-favored nation clauses, and retransmission consent bundling, however, might lead to stringent regulatory oversight and regulation of wholesale prices.

What if sports leagues and college conferences were barred from sharing revenue and each team/university was responsible for distributing its own games without geographical limitation?

This might lead to higher rights fees for the most popular large market teams and lower fees for poor-performing small-market teams. How would this affect the competitive balance that leagues have achieved via salary caps and revenue sharing?

How about a closer look at the billions of dollars in public subsidies that have facilitated the massive new stadium/arena construction binge over the past 20 years?

These are complicated issues rife with First Amendment, antitrust, copyright, and contractual implications.

Shed no tears. Most MVPDs, sports networks, and sports team owners have had superior returns on their investments.

As for the consumer, MVPD service remains an incredible bargain, provided, of course, that you're an avid sports fan.

— John Mansell, President, John Mansell Associates Inc.

(11)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
albreznick
50%
50%
albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
9/6/2013 | 5:45:13 PM
Re: Global reach
Perhaps, John. Such an evolution could make a lot of sense. But who would do the subsidizing? Broadcasters? Pay TV providers? Other viewers? The feds? It's hard to imagine paying folks to take pay TV.  
jman3136
50%
50%
jman3136,
User Rank: Light Beer
9/3/2013 | 3:41:52 PM
Re: Global reach
I think a variety of options will be available at different price points for different levels of service enhancements.  There have been no riots as more and more top-flight post-season sports events have migrated to cable.

The day may come when there is little or no broadcasting, since the spectrum is more valuable for wireless.  Anyway, only about 10-15% of the public still relies exclusively on over-the-air.  As economist Tom Hazlett has noted, it would be cheaper and more efficient to subsidize those households to take some sort of multi-channel service.  The system doesn't collapse.  It evolves.
albreznick
50%
50%
albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
9/3/2013 | 2:36:29 PM
Re: Global reach
Thanks, John. Do you ever see the really big sports events, like the Super Bowl or World Series, going totally OTT or exclusively on pay TV tiers? Or would that cause too big a riot? What sporting events will be left on (free) broadcast TV? At what point does the entire system finally collapse under its own weight?   
jman3136
50%
50%
jman3136,
User Rank: Light Beer
8/30/2013 | 2:41:04 PM
Re: Global reach
Alan, wouldn't be surprised to see some collaboration between OTT and MVPDs, but remember MVPDs are also doing their own form of OTT with TV Everywhere.  Smaller schools, leagues and even high schools have their own websites.  More and more games are widely available.  I think it was Universal Sports that migrated from the Internet to RSN syndication to NBC Sports.
albreznick
50%
50%
albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
8/30/2013 | 1:51:46 PM
Re: Global reach
John, do you think the MVPDs and OTT players will eventually team up to do a la carte offerings or at least smaller bundles of sports or other programming? Coulfd the smaller schools, conferences and lagues put together their own OTT offerings to go around the big TV networks?  
jman3136
50%
50%
jman3136,
User Rank: Light Beer
8/30/2013 | 1:39:01 PM
Re: Global reach
I agree. OTT will be the driver for a la carte and MVPDs will likely offer customers more individualized options--perhaps tiers where customers can choose from a basket of channels.  As video margins erode, there's always broadband, small-medium business and no doubt other offerings down the road.  As my boss Paul Kagan once said, "Cable is a forever business."
mendyk
50%
50%
mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/30/2013 | 1:27:38 PM
Re: Global reach
Despite John McCain, a la carte is far more likely to emerge in OTT rather than in conventional video services. There's still a lot of mileage left in the standard model -- although value will continue to erode slowly over time. Do you think that's something video service providers can live with?
jman3136
50%
50%
jman3136,
User Rank: Light Beer
8/30/2013 | 1:12:53 PM
Re: Global reach
I agree, Fox, Viacom, CBS, Comcast/NBC Universal and ABC/Disney would be losers in an a la carte world, but smaller programmers without retransmission consent options would be bigger losers.  A MVPD CEO once told me that a la carte is inevitable, but "it won't happen until we're ready for it to happen." 
mendyk
50%
50%
mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/30/2013 | 12:25:09 PM
Re: Global reach
The biggest push for maintaining status quo may in fact come from content distributors like Disney/ESPN. The noise they are making with their various OTT experiments is just that -- noise. Dis/E and others like it have the most to lose if a la carte (or OTT, or some Babel-like combination) becomes the norm.
jman3136
50%
50%
jman3136,
User Rank: Light Beer
8/30/2013 | 12:15:32 PM
Re: Global reach
There are no easy solutions.  Multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) should have the ability to tier as they wish and offer expensive programming a la carte without programmers dictating the tier.  Of course, sports programmers can adjust by raising their wholesale fees, but their ad revenue would be be negatively impacted and with less revenue sports nets might be less willing to pay higher rights fees to teams and leagues.  In addition, fewer sports teams, leagues and colleges would find it attractive to establish their own networks.

Consolidation of MVPDs would translate into less leverage for the sports nets, since it would be more difficult for subscribers to switch MVPDs in the event of a pricing dispute.  That, too, is an imperfect solution, because there might be less consumer choice.  Also, vertical integration comes into play.  Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other MVPDs have significant interests in RSNs and some national sports programmers.

An FCC report, Congressional oversight, and the threat of rate regulation--a raised eyebrow--might lead to a bit of downward pressure, too, but any type of rate regulation would be ill-advised and lead to other unintended consequences.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
More Blogs from Column
The use of drone technology is changing the game for wireless operators, argues AUVSI's Brian Wynne.
Sometimes your day job has to come before championing the women in tech cause, but that can be equally as beneficial, inspirational and productive.
As a month-long, multi-city, 12-hour/day, multi-time zone, multi-device extravaganza, the NCAA basketball tournament poses unique streaming video challenges.
As the 3GPP agrees on plan to accelerate 5G NR -- the global 5G standard -- for 2019 deployments, a Qualcomm VP walks us through the reasons why.
There is no substitute for testing under the most realistic conditions if you want to minimize the chances of network downtime.
From The Founder
Cisco's Conrad Clemson, recently promoted to head up the company's Service Provider Apps & Platforms developments, talks to Light Reading's Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about how he's bringing cloud video, mobile and virtualization together to empower network operators.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
BBWF 2016: Orange Poland's Next-Gen Central Office

3|28|17   |     |   (0) comments


Introduction to Orange Poland's legacy next-generation central office solution.
LRTV Custom TV
Viavi at OFC 2017

3|28|17   |   4:15   |   (0) comments


Light Reading's Editor-in-Chief Craig Matsumoto reports from the Viavi booth at OFC and gets an update on the 400G testing market from Tom Fawcett, VP and GM of LAB & Production. At this year's event, Viavi won three awards from Lightwave magazine and showcased an interoperability demo with Ethernet Alliance and Finisar.
LRTV Custom TV
Connecting the Entire Home With DOCSIS 3.1

3|28|17   |   3:58:   |   (0) comments


Hitron Technologies had the first cable modem certified for DOCSIS 3.1 and already has over 120,000 units in the field. Greg Fisher, CTO of Hitron, provides an update on his company's rollout of new gateways and why he thinks DOCSIS 3.1 will continue to drive value for operators into 2017 and beyond.
LRTV Interviews
Amazon Prime's Hand of God Creator on Producing for OTT

3|28|17   |     |   (0) comments


Ben Watkins is the creator, writer and producer of Hand of God, a series on Amazon Prime. At Light Reading's Cable Next-Gen conference in Denver, he explained the advantages of producing for an OTT platform versus traditional TV.
LRTV Custom TV
How Metrological Keeps Cable Customers on the Couch

3|28|17   |     |   (0) comments


Metrological offers an open source solution that reduces the time it takes cable operators to integrate OTT content into the linear television viewing experience.
LRTV Documentaries
The ABC of OTT

3|28|17   |     |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's Cable Next-Gen conference in Denver, Ben Watkins, creator of Amazon Prime's Hand of God show, explained how producing content for an OTT platform differs from producing content for traditional TV.
Shades of Ray
Why Analytics Is the Tech World's Digital Glue

3|27|17   |   02:20   |   (0) comments


It was obvious at the massive annual CeBIT enterprise tech trade show that the foundation for tech innovation right now is real-time analytics.
LRTV Custom TV
CommScope – Meeting the Demands of Tomorrow's Networks

3|24|17   |     |   (0) comments


Phil Sorksy, Vice President International at CommScope, discusses addressing the challenges faced by service providers today, and as future trends emerge.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
AMS-IX & Huawei's OSN 902

3|24|17   |     |   (0) comments


Huawei shows how its OSN 902 platform helps the Amsterdam Internet exchange to connect the world using multiplexing.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei's Smart Energy Innovation Center

3|24|17   |     |   (0) comments


In Nuremberg, Huawei showcases its latest capabilities in the digitalization of Internet resources, network infrastructure and intelligence at its Smart Energy Innovation Center.
Valley Wonk
OFC & Hyperscale: A Good Mix?

3|24|17   |   01:50   |   (0) comments


Cloud and telecom players want different types of equipment for their networks, as the chatter at OFC reveals.
LRTV Custom TV
Etisalat on NFV Journey

3|24|17   |   10:37   |   (0) comments


Etisalat is a service provider that prides itself on bringing innovative technologies to the markets it serves. It was one of the first operators to implement 3G and leads the pack in fiber penetration. Now, Esmaeel Al Hammadi, Etisalat's SVP of Network Development, explains the operator's journey to virtualization, beginning with the network core, as well as the ...
Upcoming Live Events
May 15-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
May 15, 2017, Austin Convention Center - Austin, TX
June 6, 2017, The Joule Hotel, Dallas, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
With the mobile ecosystem becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats, AdaptiveMobile has laid out some of the key considerations for the wireless community.
Hot Topics
Eurobites: A1, Nokia Turn It Up to 11
Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, 3/22/2017
FTTH No Slam Dunk for Cable
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 3/23/2017
Unlocking China's $194B Telecom Market
Robert Clark, 3/27/2017
Welcome to the Wild West of Privacy
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 3/24/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
TEOCO Founder and CEO Atul Jain talks to Light Reading Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the challenges around cost control and service monetization in the mobile and IoT sectors.
At MWC 2017, Qualcomm's CTO Matt Grob talks to Light Reading's CEO and Founder Steve Saunders about the progress being made in the development of the technologies and standards that will underpin 5G.
Animals with Phones
Working From Home Doesn't Work for Everyone Click Here
You shouldn't nap on your keyboard, for instance.
Live Digital Audio

Playing it safe can only get you so far. Sometimes the biggest bets have the biggest payouts, and that is true in your career as well. For this radio show, Caroline Chan, general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division of the Network Platform Group at Intel, will share her own personal story of how she successfully took big bets to build a successful career, as well as offer advice on how you can do the same. We’ll cover everything from how to overcome fear and manage risk, how to be prepared for where technology is going in the future and how to structure your career in a way to ensure you keep progressing. Chan, a seasoned telecom veteran and effective risk taker herself, will also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air.