ESPN pays $2 billion a year to the NFL for Monday Night Football and one NFL wild card playoff game. I’ve written for the past couple of years that as ESPN’s business collapses that ESPN’s decision on whether or not to bid to keep Monday Night Football would be the first big test of how rapidly that business is deteriorating.
What’s a deteriorating business look like? In the month of October ESPN lost over 15,000 subscribers a day in October per the latest Nielson estimates.
15,000 a day!
Last year I wrote this about ESPN’s challenges as it pertained to Monday Night Football:
“ESPN presently pays $1.9 billion a year for Monday Night Football. (This is a wild stat, but did you know that every cable and satellite subscriber who has ESPN is paying $21.50 a year just for Monday Night Football games? That’s whether you ever watch those games or not. That’s the NFL tax that ESPN passes along to consumers.)
What will the NFL want from ESPN for Monday Night Football in 2021? More money, right? The NFL has gotten used to television revenue only going up. Even if, as is the case this year, its Monday Night Football ratings are plummeting. Will ESPN be able to afford to keep the NFL and pay more money despite having lost nearly 30% of its subscriber base in the ten years of the existing MNF contract? That seems highly unlikely doesn’t it? But can ESPN exist as a network without NFL games? Remember, it’s not just the NFL games, it’s all the ancillary content that ESPN builds around the NFL games, think about the hours of studio programming that ESPN devotes to pro football. ESPN justifies its sky high cost per month to cable and satellite companies based on the games it provides exclusively on cable, can ESPN extract an increase in subscriber fees from cable and satellite companies when its deals expire without the NFL games? So how much more money will the NFL be able to extract from ESPN? Or will this be the moment in time when the entire sports industry finally realizes that the bubble has popped?