Steve’s breakdown: It’s time to call ESPN! With the addition of 22 regional sports networks from Fox, there’s going to be a lot of work to be done. And you know they will not be using the Fox ad agencies!
BRISTOL, CT: ESPN, which has struggled in recent quarters with declining subscribers, could soon get a shot in the arm.
If Washington regulators approve Disney’s acquisition of a large part of Twenty-First Century Fox’s assets without forcing any divestitures, ESPN will gain 22 regional sports networks.
Those RSNs hold the broadcast rights for 44 of the country’s 81 professional sports teams — and have 61 million subscribers, according to Fox.
Pay-TV subscribers consider RSNs the fifth-most important channels in their packages, a Nielsen survey last year revealed. In some sports-obsessed markets, RSNs even ranked higher than the broadcast networks, the survey found.
ESPN — 80-percent-owned by Disney — has lost 13 million subscribers since reaching a peak of 100 million households in 2011.
Among the RSNs included in the asset sale to Disney is Fox’s 80 percent interest in the YES Network, which airs the games of MLB’s New York Yankees, the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and soccer’s New York City FC.
By league, the Fox RSNs control the local cable rights to 15 MLB teams, 17 NBA teams and 12 NHL teams. The collection made Fox the country’s No. 1 owner of RSNs.
Their acquisition by Disney demonstrates an abiding faith in sports programming, despite well-documented problems at ESPN.
Because their content is tied up in pay-TV deals, Fox’s RSNs won’t initially feed into ESPN Plus, the direct-to-consumer network Disney plans to launch in the spring of 2018.
But they’ll be rebranded as ESPN properties — if the deal is approved — with streaming rights most likely pursued by Disney whenever an RSN contract expires.
Until then, ESPN’s new RSNs could impede cord cutting by offering viewers local access to local teams.