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Squeeze Play

4/16/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

I can hardly wait to take my boy to the
Yankees game. It’s an annual rite and, if you’re like us,
when the first glimpse of green comes into view from behind
the stands, you can hardly contain your excitement.
We are walking into baseball’s Cathedral.

I enjoy a Yankees game but I’m no sports nut. I don’t
follow any team — even the Yanks — religiously on TV.
I stay on top of trades and scores and stats by reading,
radio and online.

And yet I am paying — dearly — for sports on TV
I never (have time to) watch. ESPN and ESPN2 make
up about 20% of the average subscriber’s bill. Sanford
Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett says if you add all the
other sports nets and games, the cost goes to 50%. And
yet folks like me — non-sports-watchers — make up
less than 3% of viewers according to Nielsen. We’re subsidizing
sports fans.

I have nothing against ESPN — or any sports network — but
let’s play fair.

Given the soaring cost of cable (see “Pay TV in 2020:
$200 Per Month?”) and recent calls to put
sports on tiers (even from cable ops), I was depressed
to read Moffett’s dreary analysis: It won’t change anytime
soon. “Any distributor willing to take a principled
stand by refusing to carry ESPN on its basic tier,” Moffett
wrote, “won’t just lose ESPN, they will also lose the Disney
Channel, Toon Disney and, yes, the ABC network …”
And the courts would allow it.

As Moffett points out, this arrangement is, at the moment,
the chief defense against competitors for a big sports
network, but it could also prove to be the biggest liability.
If operators keep taking on increases like this, like frogs
in a slowing warming pot of water, they won’t feel a thing
until they’re cooked. Too harsh?

With competition among distributors from smaller rivals at a fever
pitch, why wouldn’t viewers flock to a non-sports TV package at
half the price?

I would.

September