Morning Ed: Sports & Games {2018.04.25.W}

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Richard Hershberger
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    SG1 & SG6: I wrote about this here a couple of years back. The point I think people miss is that the current business model is to force non-fans to pay for sports content. They pay for their cable package, which includes a cut going to ESPN and any regional sports networks. For that matter, sports fans aren’t necessarily interested in all sports. So someone who wants to watch MLB is forced to pay for college football, too. This system worked great for a while, but it has reached a tipping point. Basic cable is so expensive now that people are cutting and running. Even sports fans are balking. The situation with the LA Dodgers shows cable providers drawing the line, concluding that they will take a bigger hit from jacking up their rates yet again than they will by simply refusing to carry the games.

    How much will fans be willing to pay? MLB has a TV streaming package for $120 a season. I would pay that. The kicker is that it is only for out-of-market games. The deals with the regional sports networks are exclusive, within the territory. Deals can be renegotiated, allowing a local streaming option, but any streaming business model will depend on customers who actually want the product. This will never match the current model.Report

    • Streaming is proving to be an interesting delineator. For the most part, national sports channels are still kept at lower tiers or on their basic plans. The sports channels are still bundled with whatever else ABC and Fox have to offer, and so they’re still able to leverage it. Which stands to be true even if cable goes under entirely. ESPN and Disney productions will likely be bundled together in a subscription package. CBS already bundles CBS Sports in with its All Access.

      The only streaming option that doesn’t offer the national sports network is Philo, which is new and cheap and they don’t offer most popular networks (USA, TNT, etc). Sling has one lower tear with ESPN and one lower tier with FS1. The former is actually cheaper, but it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

      That definitely doesn’t carry over to the regional networks, though. Some of this may be tied up in contracts, but that some are available suggests not. Unlike the local networks, they’re not independently owned. The big exception to this is college conference networks. Those aren’t everywhere like ESPN is everywhere, but they’re available.

      Anyway, what you’re talking about is the general thing with bundling, and the shakeup that unbundling might cause. Everybody has been paying for a lot of stuff that they don’t watch. What happens when that stops? Less options, one way or another. I don’t know whether savings will come with that, and whether we will like the tradeoffs or not. (There’s a lot riding on the sustainability of Netflix and Hulu, IMO.)Report

      • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to Will Truman
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        There is a point to be made here also: The broadcasting rights deals for the major sports are very long, so although streaming has taken over entertainment, in-place rights deals means there has not yet been a major adjustment, yet. As those package start coming up we will learn a lot more. Also there is a long running issue of viewership in general: sports is super regional, how do you get viewership when the local team isn’t playing? The NFL had been mostly immune to that but there are signs that is waning, and there is quite a bit of data that sports as a whole genre is declining in viewership and also skewing older. But regional sports broadcast continue to do amazingly well in market, so solving the puzzle of that kind of regional ratings and ad revenue porting over to a universal streaming model will be fun to watch.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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          I know little of the dynamics of professional. I know college better and those have been happening and will continue to happen. Both the American Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference have rights deals coming up.

          The AAC has punched above its weight class in terms of viewership-to-dollars (ESPN is paying something like a third the amount for every AAC viewer than every ACC one), so theoretically should get an upward adjustment or at least stand firm. If they go down, that’s maybe an ominous sign. I can come up with reasons why it isn’t, but they’re not convincing and spell trouble for the Pac-12 and Big 12. To be honest, that the AAC got as little as they did from the last negotiation was a bad sign, though there are more convincing reasons (new conference, no brand, odd negotiation structure) that may be a one-off.

          The Mountain West Conference is kind of a mystery. They average money comparable to the AAC’s but comparatively their ratings are abysmal. They may get a downgrade which would tell us little about the current state of affairs. That said, it used to be even after getting beat up in realignment, conferences could count on bringing in more money. The MWC was actually upgrading their TV deal at about the time AAC was getting the shaft, despite the MWC weakening as a conference between deals.

          Conference USA took a real bath a couple years ago and only rebounded a little bit. They brought in $1.1m per team before the last realignment, which fell to $200k per team immediately after but then jumped to I believe $400k now. So that’s a sign of networks playing hardball.

          The Sun Belt Conference loses money on their TV contact, though with the last round they lose less than the round before. Hard to make too much of this one in either direction.

          Mid-America Conference is the bright spot. They went from being a $200k league to $800k. They seem to get more than Conference USA mostly due to a willingness to play on weeknights. But that’s always been the case, and ESPN gave them a big raise anyway.

          So… I don’t know. It’s theoretically possible that this niche doesn’t carry over to anywhere else and the P5 conferences will be able to keep making more money even if the G5 stagnate due to greater bidding interest (the Big 12 can carry an NBC Sports channel in a way the AAC can’t)… or if they’re strapped for cash the networks might look to G5 as providing a better value and a way to save money.Report

          • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to Will Truman
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            says:

            I know its really complicated issue but I wonder if the bottom line isn’t rather simple. There is more schools, sports, and content than is going to be consistently consumed by the public on a one-time live broadcast. I know Netflix is having this debate right now about “how much content is too much content” and came down on the side of invest heavily and make as much content as you possibly can. Live sports is different, you are only getting that game or event one time. Its much more limited in revenue potential than a show that can be streamed in perpetuity. If the demo for sports keeps contracting and skewing older as it is now, a lot of people are going to get left holding the bag when the rights money drops.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger
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      I don’t know that I necessarily disagree, but the other side of the coin is that local MLB baseball games in MLB cities are the highest-rated cable program. Cable companies get held-up because the RSNs have leverage to both charge more and/or cut deals with streaming competitors.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to PD Shaw
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        I am absolutely not in the “baseball is dying!” school. Quite the opposite. I also am not surprised that baseball on RSNs does very well in the cable ratings. Indeed, I expect it to get larger. The earlier cord cutters, after all, are people who don’t watch sports, so naturally sports will command a larger fraction of the remaining audience. But the long term threat is to the entire cable bundle model. Cable companies may or may not be willing to pay ever larger carriage fees for RSNs. If they are, they essentially turn themselves into sports television distributors, who also happen to distribute some other stuff. Is this a sustainable model? I’m not convinced. I think the bubble will burst, and there will be a lot of pieces to sort through afterwards.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger
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          says:

          I don’t doubt at all there is a bubble risk here, though it’s not clear where the risk falls on the team or on cable.

          I do care that the author felt she couldn’t watch a game she wanted to see. I’m not convinced that the author has done much research beyond ascertaining it’s complicated. I flat-out think she’s wrong about blackouts being motivated by promoting ticket sales (which might be true in other sports). The teams will take money through cable or even steaming services with which it has a deal in place. That’s how markets work, as I would assume that a Buckley Fellow at the National Review would appreciate.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger
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      says:

      SG6 does seem to capture the dynamic. Most of the MLB teams now either own a sports channel or have some sort of profit-sharing interest in that channel. In the core fan areas, if you want to watch the local team, then a cable subscription with that channel is going to give you over 90% of the games. Blackouts in this area won’t be common because watching on TV or in person both generate revenues for the team, but if there is a local blackout that is a local decision almost all of the time. (There are a half dozen or so games a year that exclusive rights have been sold to ESPN, FOX or Facebook(!?!), which would trump local control)

      For fans who live far away, there is MLB streaming services can similarly provide access to over 90% of your team’s games. Where this system doesn’t seem to work is in that space between the team’s core media market and far-away. This is because individual teams are in a turf war with MLB over this space, and MLB is simply a collection of individual teams.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    My observation is that Lacrosse is mainly a Northeast thing in the United States. Not only that but it is one of the preppiest of sports. Hence it might be prone to the douchiest of behaviors and entitlements.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      It’s been kind of fascinating to watch the University of Denver become a college lacrosse powerhouse (Final Four appearances for the last five years, one NCAA title). They had to become a member of the Big East conference (for lacrosse) in order to play enough good teams to get to that level. They recruit from all over the country; about 60% of the roster is from Denver and points west. Of course, they may be getting almost all the best players from that region now.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        I think more universities should do this. Basically, any school that wants to opt out of football and all of the expenses with it should gather around either lacrosse or men’s soccer. (I vote lacrosse, of course.)Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Will Truman
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          says:

          Isn’t basketball already that sport in Division I? I seem to remember that fielding a basketball team (and minimum seating capacity) is mandatory for Div I schools.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain
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            says:

            Basketball is mostly dominated by the same powers as football. By conference, if not institution.

            Lacrosse would give them something most big schools will either pass on or won’t invest heavily in.

            That and I just don’t like basketball for the role. If not lacrosse or soccer, then hockey or rugby. Just pick one. (Please not soccer.)Report

            • Avatar Maribou in reply to Will Truman
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              says:

              @will-truman Our most popular div I teams here are Men’s Hockey and Women’s Soccer. No football. So on the one hand I agree with you but on the other hand, man, college soccer is pretty fun. (IMO, their relatively higher error rate compared to the pros makes it more fun, not less – one of a *very* few sports for which this is the case, in fact I’m having trouble thinking of one.)Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        Trinity College in CT was known to recruit squash players from India and Pakistan.Report

    • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Interestingly, in Oklahoma (at least) one of the ancestors of lacrosse (1), called “stickball” is enjoying a resurgence and there’s been talk of taking it to the collegiate level. I guess it’s generally a Native American/First Nations thing, though it is a big part of specifically Choctaw identity here.

      Lacrosse was a thing at my (Ohio) prep school. I don’t know that the people who played it behaved particularly douchily; the various campus behavior rules seemed to keep a tight lid on a lot of things. (Women’s lacrosse was basically airborne field hockey; the men’s was even a little rougher – they wore helmets for it)

      (1) It’s also possible Hurling (which is Irish) is the ancestor, though given the preppie WASP origins of lacrosse I’d be equally surprised if it were the ancestorReport

  3. Avatar dragonfrog
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    says:

    [SG5] I know very little of lacrosse. I somehow figured, being originally an aboriginal sport, that it would have mostly aboriginal players, an environment of greater respect for aboriginal tradition and people, etc.

    Guess not. I looked up team photos of my hometown’s lacrosse team (in a province with over 15% aboriginal population, second highest percentage in Canada) – a bunch of white dudes. Maybe one player might be aboriginal. Colour me suprised…Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    The WWE (it’ll always be the WWF in our hearts) is having its first PPV in Saudi Arabia come Friday.

    The Greatest Battle Royal is going to be a huge spectacle suitable of being the first Saudi Arabian PPV and it’s…

    Well, I’ll put it like this. You know how in the Batman Arkham games, you not only deal with the Joker, but also Penguin and Two-Face and Catwoman and Killer Croc and Mister Freeze and Firebug and Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn and Bane and Deathstroke and if you were reading a story with all of these characters you’d say “man, this is pretty overstuffed!” but, since you were playing a game, you were saying “OH MY GOSH I HOPE THEY PUT COPPERHEAD AND BLACK MASK IN HERE TOO!” and it was awesome?

    Well, I’m sure that if I were a Saudi National (or a connected Qatari one) and I was going to my first WWE PPV in my own country, I’d be delighted that John Cena and HHH were fighting and Undertaker was doing a Casket Match and there was a four-man ladder match for the IC belt and Brock Lesnar taking someone to Suplex City and, on top of that, a FIFTY MAN ROYAL RUMBLE that I wouldn’t even notice that there aren’t any womens’ matches.

    But, oh my goodness, people in real countries are sure noticing that there aren’t any.

    I’ve seen fewer articles about the whole “what about Jewish wrestlers?” issues than about the women wrestlers but I’m sure that there are interesting stories to read about that sort of thing too.Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    A look at class consciousness, concussions, defensiveness and Joshua Rosen:

    https://slate.com/culture/2018/04/how-quarterback-josh-rosen-could-take-down-the-nfl.htmlReport

  6. Avatar Oscar Gordon
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    says:

    Sg7: would that rise to the level of criminal assault?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      Well they didn’t do anything as far as I can tell. They were caught before doing anything. So now we are in the fun world of inchoate crimes and how far you need to get before “conspiracy to commit assault and battery” becomes “attempt to commit assault and battery.”Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        Assault and battery on a minor. Wouldn’t there be mandatory reporter issues here? Are youth sports coaches mandatory reporters? If so, wouldn’t this mean they were required to report themselves?Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Richard Hershberger
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          says:

          That’s a good question. I had gotten onto an email list about coaching and there was some sort of training I was supposed to attend (not related to the sport itself) but I’m not sure it was mandated reporter training. I have done that as a teacher but don’t remember youth coaches being on the list. Still, it’d make sense.Report

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