The biggest business story in American sports this fall isn't the declining NFL ratings or anything that's happening on the field, court, or ice, it's the collapse in ESPN subscribers, which reflect a larger trend in the collapse of cable subscribers in general.
Yesterday Nielsen announced its subscriber numbers for November 2016 and those numbers were the worst in the history of ESPN's existence as a cable company -- the worldwide leader in sports lost 621,000 cable subscribers. That's the most subscribers ESPN has ever lost in a month according to Nielsen estimates and it represents a terrifying and troubling trend for the company, an acceleration of subscriber loss that represents a doubling of the average losses over the past couple of years, when ESPN has been losing in the neighborhood of 300,000 subscribers a month.
These 621,000 lost subscribers in the past month alone lead to a drop in revenue of over $52 million and continue the alarming subscriber decline at ESPN. Couple these subscriber declines with a 24% drop in Monday Night Football ratings this fall, the crown jewel of ESPN programming, and it's fair to call October of 2016 the worst month in ESPN's history. But this isn't just a story about ESPN, the rapid decline in cable subscribers is hitting every channel, sports and otherwise. It just impacts ESPN the most because ESPN costs every cable and satellite subscriber roughly $7 a month, over triple the next most expensive cable channel.
Yep, if you have a cable or satellite subscription, whether you watch ESPN or not, you're paying ESPN over $80 a year.
What does ESPN do with that money?
It buys sports rights.
Presently ESPN is on the hook for the following yearly sports rights payments: $1.9 billion a year to the NFL for Monday Night Football, $1.47 billion to the NBA, $700 million to Major League Baseball, $608 million for the College Football Playoff, $225 million to the ACC, $190 million to the Big Ten, $120 million to the Big 12, $125 million a year to the PAC 12, and hundreds of millions more to the SEC.
The total costs? According to SNL Kaga