Any sports fan can recognize the SportsCenter jingle. In the sporting world, it’s as recognizable as the one used by Empire Carpeting (you totally just sang it, didn’t you?).
SportsCenter has been the flagship program of ESPN (“Entertainment and Sports Programming Network” for those of you who were curious) since the network launched in 1979. This ABC/Disney owned network is your destination if you want to find out the final score of the Bulls game, or to see highlights from a superstar’s press conference welcoming him to New York (for the non-sporties out there: New York teams pay ungodly amounts of money to buy players and give themselves an unfair advantage).
They have a virtual stranglehold on the sports market (at least the sports that matter… Sorry, hockey). News Corp. is trying to change that.
Comcast’s NBC Sports Network and CBS’s Sports Network have attempted to dethrone ESPN as the runaway #1, but haven’t fared too well, mainly because of broadcasting rights. ESPN has the sole rights to Monday Night Football (a weekly ratings juggernaut, regardless of how crappy the teams are… Cleveland Browns, I’m looking at you), as well as national basketball and baseball games.
So what will News Corp. have to do to put a chink in ESPN’s armor? (tip: don’t use racist headlines)
1) Show sports people want to watch.
As exciting as the Amateur Curling Championships sound, they won’t garner an audience that’ll bring in big advertising revenue. And I swear, every time I turn on NBC Sports Network, skiing is on! There’s only so many times I can watch rich white people slide down a giant hill before I start praying for an avalanche to make things really interesting.
Acquiring these broadcast rights is tougher than it seems. ESPN already owns the rights to many of the popular professional and collegiate leagues, and they are always locked up with long-term contracts.
However, last year News Corp. secured the rights to two big college conferences: The Pac-12 and the Big 12, which is at least a step in the right direction. They also won the rights to the World Cup in 2018 and 2022 (apparently they missed the memo that America hates soccer).
2) Bring in credible reporters.
ESPN has been around a long time. Their reporters know what they’re doing, and as a result most teams know them. This allows them to get the scoop before it’s made public. ESPN’s Adam Schefter will always get the scoop before News Corp.’s Joe The Plumber.
If News Corp. is able to bring in reporters with a reputation of professionalism and excellence in sports journalism, they would start breaking more news and be seen as a credible source, not just as a ‘TMZ’ of the sports world.
3) Hire charismatic anchors.
Likeable characters help every show succeed. A sports network needs a flagship like SportsCenter is for ESPN. To get people to stay tuned in, you need entertaining and knowledgeable anchors hosting. Do you really want the “Boom Goes the Dynamite” guy reading you the latest news?
These anchors will be the face of your franchise. You had better choose wisely.
4) No East Coast bias!
Any sports fan west of Bristol, Connecticut knows what I’m talking about. ESPN has been known to forget sports exist outside of the New York and Boston area. The amount of attention the teams from those two cities get can drive a small-market fan crazy (or even a large market fan like those in Chicago or Los Angeles).
A key to success could potentially lie west of the Mississippi. If News Corp.’s network can gain the viewership of the heartland and the Pacific Coast, we might be in for a Miracle on Ice upset when it comes to the Champion of sports networks.
It’ll be an uphill battle for News Corp. as the company stands up to the big dog. They have a lot of obstacles to overcome if they want to give ESPN a run for their money, but if they make the right moves, there’s an abundance of sports fans who always seem to root for the underdog. (Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!)
Do you agree or disagree with my points? Will News Corp. really be able to compete with ESPN?