ESPN Is Pathetic

8slim

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I think that's true for the NFL, but other sports? I have a hard time seeing Apple, Google, or Amazon seeing the cost benefit of the comparatively small number of viewers vs. the high costs. If the value of live sports is advertising $$, but then the the sports wouldn't reach as many people because they're on a streaming service, and then advertisers are paying less to reach less people... see where I'm going? It's hard to see for me where that equals these huge rights deals for Tuesday night matchups between the Grizzlies and Timberwolves. These are loss leaders for big Tech, but outside of the NFL, what sports rights deal is going to move the dial enough for a commitment like that?

On top of that, it's a bad move for the league. They should have a vested interest in reaching as many fans as possible to grow interest in the league. If they take the bag from Apple and all of a sudden most of their games can only be seen by the 15 million Apple+ subscribers rather than 70 million cable subscribers, it'll be hard for the league to build a sustainable base of fans long-term. IDK - it's a tough position for the leagues, unless they're the NFL.
I totally hear you. I think the future is a mix of streaming and good ol' fashioned broadcast channels. Put the bulk inventory (those mid-week matchups you mentioned) on streaming. There's enough avid fans of teams to build a little direct-to-consumer business catering to them. And then put some compelling regular season games, and a goodly chunk of the playoffs, on broadcast. That provides mass reach to grow and cultivate the fanbase.

Overall I agree with you. This is a huge looming challenge that not enough people are talking about. Outside of football, there are real problems.
 

ManicCompression

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I totally hear you. I think the future is a mix of streaming and good ol' fashioned broadcast channels. Put the bulk inventory (those mid-week matchups you mentioned) on streaming. There's enough avid fans of teams to build a little direct-to-consumer business catering to them. And then put some compelling regular season games, and a goodly chunk of the playoffs, on broadcast. That provides mass reach to grow and cultivate the fanbase.

Overall I agree with you. This is a huge looming challenge that not enough people are talking about. Outside of football, there are real problems.
Can't stop thinking about this, so I did the math in my head to really detail the challenge here, specifically for the NBA because their deal is coming up.

The average NBA broadcast gets 1.6 million viewers per Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bradadgate/2023/04/19/the-2022-23-nba-season-in-review-and-a-look-ahead/?sh=d7bdeea4ea0a

Let's be really generous and say all of those people would subscribe to a service that carried those same games (and that they don't already subscribe to that service).

At $10 a month, those viewers would bring in $192 million a year.

The NBA's current deal gets them $2.66 billion from Disney/Turner. And they want more than that. If a streamer paid a billion in rights fees a year for the NBA to get whatever is leftover from Disney/Turner (nevermind replacing one of them), they'd be taking a huge loss for a small fractional gain in viewership and possible advertising revenue. Even as a loss leader, it's just a bad deal, and money isn't free like it was just 3 years ago. You're better off overbidding for Seinfeld or Office rights if you want to increase your subscriber base.

So who's bidding on these NBA rights and where is the money coming from? Disney is in cost-cutting mode, Turner's no better, and the streamers kind of don't need what the NBA is offering, especially at the price they're asking for. It's going to be really interesting to watch how these negotiations go and how the NBA is going to pull this all off.
 

8slim

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Can't stop thinking about this, so I did the math in my head to really detail the challenge here, specifically for the NBA because their deal is coming up.

The average NBA broadcast gets 1.6 million viewers per Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bradadgate/2023/04/19/the-2022-23-nba-season-in-review-and-a-look-ahead/?sh=d7bdeea4ea0a

Let's be really generous and say all of those people would subscribe to a service that carried those same games (and that they don't already subscribe to that service).

At $10 a month, those viewers would bring in $192 million a year.

The NBA's current deal gets them $2.66 billion from Disney/Turner. And they want more than that. If a streamer paid a billion in rights fees a year for the NBA to get whatever is leftover from Disney/Turner (nevermind replacing one of them), they'd be taking a huge loss for a small fractional gain in viewership and possible advertising revenue. Even as a loss leader, it's just a bad deal, and money isn't free like it was just 3 years ago. You're better off overbidding for Seinfeld or Office rights if you want to increase your subscriber base.

So who's bidding on these NBA rights and where is the money coming from? Disney is in cost-cutting mode, Turner's no better, and the streamers kind of don't need what the NBA is offering, especially at the price they're asking for. It's going to be really interesting to watch how these negotiations go and how the NBA is going to pull this all off.
Let me just correct the math. A TV rating is the number of people watching in the average minute. And people tend to watch about 1/3rd of each game. So that 1.6 million figure means that, roughly, 4.8 million people *in total* watched any part of the average game.

Of course there's also a lot of churn in game-to-game audience. So by the end of the regular season there may be 100-150 million people who watched *any* NBA.

That's the base that a potential rights holder is working from. How many of those people would pony up for a subscription?

Roughly speaking, about 30% of fans consider themselves "avid". So for modeling purposes a lot of finance groups use that to start whittling down what a subscriber estimate might be. Not all "avids" are created equal though. Some would never subscribe, and are content to follow via social media, and other channels that are accessible to them.
 

ManicCompression

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Let me just correct the math. A TV rating is the number of people watching in the average minute. And people tend to watch about 1/3rd of each game. So that 1.6 million figure means that, roughly, 4.8 million people *in total* watched any part of the average game.

Of course there's also a lot of churn in game-to-game audience. So by the end of the regular season there may be 100-150 million people who watched *any* NBA.

That's the base that a potential rights holder is working from. How many of those people would pony up for a subscription?

Roughly speaking, about 30% of fans consider themselves "avid". So for modeling purposes a lot of finance groups use that to start whittling down what a subscriber estimate might be. Not all "avids" are created equal though. Some would never subscribe, and are content to follow via social media, and other channels that are accessible to them.
Good correction - didn't realize that it was that much larger (from 1.6 to 4.8). I knew I was undercounting, but still the amount of folks who would say "I have to have this" seems low compared to the cost for a streamer.
 

8slim

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Good correction - didn't realize that it was that much larger (from 1.6 to 4.8). I knew I was undercounting, but still the amount of folks who would say "I have to have this" seems low compared to the cost for a streamer.
I agree that the math and the model makes it difficult to see how sports is a winner for the streamers.

Certainly for Amazon and Google, sports subscriptions (and video in general) is largely a way to augment other businesses via data, integration, etc.

I'm not as clear on what Apple is hoping to accomplish.
 

Vinho Tinto

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I'm not as clear on what Apple is hoping to accomplish.
Not sure if it still holds true, but there was analysis in how much an increase/decrease of 1% in global phone market share meant and it was jaw dropping. I've been under the impression that their play is the more immersed you are in their ecosystem, the less likely you are to jump to an Android phone with hotter specs (and likely cheaper). While the money they are pouring into their services is immense, so is their share of the smart phone market.
 

MuzzyField

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I'm not convinced the non-Comcast (also owns NBC and Universal) cable companies are interested in maintaining their traditional role of video program package provider. I think Spectrum-Disney is just act one.

Cable operators are better off focusing, and are, on providing internet bandwidth and other digital services. Paying always increasing programing costs including ridiculous retransmission fees to "local" broadcasters doesn't provide attractive profit margins when compared to internet and other services. Most Spectrum customers switching to Hulu live or YouTube TV will still be Spectrum internet customers. Fiber features huge bandwidth, but most systems are still mostly coax and traditional cable programing is a bandwidth hog, often overly compressed to preserve bandwidth for other services like high-speed internet.

The cord cutters have largely been non-sports fans. Spectrum is trying to create a non-sports, not just ESPN but RSN's as well, tier to offer a lower priced non-sports option to retain and regain some of these homes. Another big factor helping push the once 100+ million cable/sat households into the 60 million range is the cord-nevers. Our population continues to grow and yet the downward trend in MVPD (Multichannel Video Programing Distributor) subscriptions continues to accelerate. The cord-nevers aren't kids anymore. They're all grown up and enjoying their 30's.

How the Spectrum/Disney stand-off plays out will be interesting. If it isn't resolved by 5pm on Monday leading into week one of MNF buckle up!

If the sports rights bubble bursts, and at some point it has to, leagues and owners will do anything to replace lost revenue and seek growth. As an avid sports fan, I'm not going to pay to fill the non-sports fan subsidy void to keep them whole. I wonder where large sums of money might come from? Fore!

15-million fewer subscribers a month just for the ESPN bundle of Disney cable channels is going to be a $150-million revenue hit for Mickey's sports empire. If this extends to a full month and Spectrum provides a rebate to customers for all of the lost Disney channels they may like their new minus Disney bill total and adapt accordingly. Spectrum is reportedly currently giving a $15 credit to customers that call in and complain about the missing channels.

Before posting I checked to make sure there hadn't been a settlement, there hasn't.

This article covers the latest Spectrum spin, I think most other cable operators quietly agree with Spectrum.
https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/charter-disney-dispute-update-urgency-resolve-1235584406/
 

The Social Chair

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Good correction - didn't realize that it was that much larger (from 1.6 to 4.8). I knew I was undercounting, but still the amount of folks who would say "I have to have this" seems low compared to the cost for a streamer.
The NBA's league pass subscriptions are low. They lowered the annual subscription to $100 last year to juice the numbers.

I think they should do whatever it takes to get back on broadcast (NBC, Fox, ABC), but they'll probably chase the money on cable and streaming. Better than Saudi team ownership I guess.
 

ManicCompression

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I'm not convinced the non-Comcast (also owns NBC and Universal) cable companies are interested in maintaining their traditional role of video program package provider. I think Spectrum-Disney is just act one.

Cable operators are better off focusing, and are, on providing internet bandwidth and other digital services. Paying always increasing programing costs including ridiculous retransmission fees to "local" broadcasters doesn't provide attractive profit margins when compared to internet and other services. Most Spectrum customers switching to Hulu live or YouTube TV will still be Spectrum internet customers. Fiber features huge bandwidth, but most systems are still mostly coax and traditional cable programing is a bandwidth hog, often overly compressed to preserve bandwidth for other services like high-speed internet.

The cord cutters have largely been non-sports fans. Spectrum is trying to create a non-sports, not just ESPN but RSN's as well, tier to offer a lower priced non-sports option to retain and regain some of these homes. Another big factor helping push the once 100+ million cable/sat households into the 60 million range is the cord-nevers. Our population continues to grow and yet the downward trend in MVPD (Multichannel Video Programing Distributor) subscriptions continues to accelerate. The cord-nevers aren't kids anymore. They're all grown up and enjoying their 30's.
Great post and this is my concern about the sports rights bubble. ESPN is kind of the keystone holding everything together and their carriage fees are a huge source of revenue. If ESPN can't bid like they used to (and it seems they can't), leagues lose the partner they have the most leverage over.
 

Patriot_Reign

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Disney/ ESPN deserve what's coming to them, zero pity.

Remember reading an article 20+ years ago that discussed how ABC strong armed the cable providers into including ESPN as part of their just a tier over basic package even though ESPN was by far the most expensive non-subscription channel (at the time they were getting $8/ month) available.
 

Mugsy's Jock

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A la carte would be great (I would love to cut Disney but keep ESPN), also please cut Nickelodeon and a bun ch of other stuff I never watch. But I doubt it would ever happen.

Say I want ESPN networks, TNT, USA, Bravo, locals, MSNBC, CNN, TWC and maybe a couple more. And have DVR. How much should that cost?
A la carte is a fucking mirage.

The ESPN suite costs about $10 fully distributed, plus is the core of the Disney networks package (FX, Disney Channels, Freeform, Nat Geo) that costs about 18 bucks. If ESPN picked up by a third of subscribers (which is probably high), Disney needs to charge $30/month… or more like $50 to cover losses on all their channels.

So a la carte, if you want to add in your favorite Turner and Comcast and Viacom services, quickly gets more expensive than a well-distributed bundle. With less choice. I mean I’d never choose to subscribe to Lifetime, but they run Goodfellas a couple times a year and I’m glad to bump into it. But cable companies failed to teach everyone that math. (And were slow to roll out on-demand platforms, and have horrific customer service.).
 

Bunt4aTriple

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The NBA's league pass subscriptions are low. They lowered the annual subscription to $100 last year to juice the numbers.

I think they should do whatever it takes to get back on broadcast (NBC, Fox, ABC), but they'll probably chase the money on cable and streaming. Better than Saudi team ownership I guess.
I had season tickets for the first time last year and got league pass included.
 

Ale Xander

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Disney/ ESPN deserve what's coming to them, zero pity.

Remember reading an article 20+ years ago that discussed how ABC strong armed the cable providers into including ESPN as part of their just a tier over basic package even though ESPN was by far the most expensive non-subscription channel (at the time they were getting $8/ month) available.
They didn’t go far enough. They should have strong armed to make it part of basic. The non-network basic channels were garbage!
 

dirtynine

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The mismatch for me is pairing live sports and ongoing monthly subscriptions. Every sporting event should be a la carte. I don’t care about subscribing to a channel at a set monthly rate because it has the rights to show [x] live sporting event. I just want the event. It should be $1.99 to watch a Sox game or $9.99 for an NFL game or whatever. Then total it up and send me a bill each month.

Of course the bundle is cheaper if you have to subscribe to channels. I want to anccess individual programs.

In fact, I wish cable could work like this - just keep the meter running and charge me by the minute, at various rates, for the shows I do watch. Make every PPV and every channel on every tier open to access, and just total it up into an itemized bill calculated by minutes watched.

Currently it’s like if you really want a Big Mac, the only way to get it is via an unlimited McPass that costs $30 a month, or to get a food court pass that costs $100 a month with options I’d never use like Auntie Ann’s. Neither one fits the model I want. Just let me buy the burger, even if it’s $10, it’s ok, cause that might be all I want for the month. Or maybe I binge and spend $50 on expensive Big Macs in a given month - I wouldn’t feel ripped off because it was my choice to pig out.
 

Lose Remerswaal

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kenneycb

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The mismatch for me is pairing live sports and ongoing monthly subscriptions. Every sporting event should be a la carte. I don’t care about subscribing to a channel at a set monthly rate because it has the rights to show [x] live sporting event. I just want the event. It should be $1.99 to watch a Sox game or $9.99 for an NFL game or whatever. Then total it up and send me a bill each month.

Of course the bundle is cheaper if you have to subscribe to channels. I want to anccess individual programs.

In fact, I wish cable could work like this - just keep the meter running and charge me by the minute, at various rates, for the shows I do watch. Make every PPV and every channel on every tier open to access, and just total it up into an itemized bill calculated by minutes watched.

Currently it’s like if you really want a Big Mac, the only way to get it is via an unlimited McPass that costs $30 a month, or to get a food court pass that costs $100 a month with options I’d never use like Auntie Ann’s. Neither one fits the model I want. Just let me buy the burger, even if it’s $10, it’s ok, cause that might be all I want for the month. Or maybe I binge and spend $50 on expensive Big Macs in a given month - I wouldn’t feel ripped off because it was my choice to pig out.
That's would be a really bad way to grow a fanbase. It's great for diehards but awful for casuals. There's a lot of value of being able to casually come across events.
 

dirtynine

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That's would be a really bad way to grow a fanbase. It's great for diehards but awful for casuals. There's a lot of value of being able to casually come across events.
In my ideal model you could still flip to something and it would total up in the background, like an electric bill. So if I heard that PBA bull riding championship was a must-watch this year, I wouldn’t have to subscribe to the tier that has the right channel. I’d just find it in the cable guide amongst the live programs and watch, and get billed later. Or maybe I’d even flip past it channel surfing (which I think some people still do). First 5 minutes are free, then you just get charged by the (minute/hour/event).
 

Lose Remerswaal

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In my ideal model you could still flip to something and it would total up in the background, like an electric bill. So if I heard that PBA bull riding championship was a must-watch this year, I wouldn’t have to subscribe to the tier that has the right channel. I’d just find it in the cable guide amongst the live programs and watch, and get billed later. Or maybe I’d even flip past it channel surfing (which I think some people still do). First 5 minutes are free, then you just get charged by the (minute/hour/event).
I watched a ton of hotel room porn this way
 

Trapaholic

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Had a good chuckle at that article. I cant tell if it was "rage bait" or not, but I generally respect Kiley's work. Some good nuggets:

- Red Sox ranked 6th from the bottom
- Reds ranked 20th (Elly De La Cruz, Lodolo, Matt McClain, Hunter Greene, Noelvi Marte)
- Casas ranked as "average"
- Camilo Doval deemed more valuable than Bryan Bello
 

Quiddity

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Oct 14, 2008
241
I have no idea who Nick Adams is but this just irked me (and I don't watch EPSN Gameday).

View: https://twitter.com/NickAdamsinUSA/status/1699461578549014546?s=20
Can't say I'm much of a Mina Kines fan, but the take is idiotic; far too many athletes that go into media suck at it. They were good at being an athlete, not necessarily talking about it. Or they start good at it and start mailing it in (ex. Tony Romo). That she's never played in the NFL is irrelevant, people pay attention to what she says and that's all that matters. And that high salary is surely because they didn't want to lose her to FS1 or another media outlet which would have happily taken her.

That said, like much of social media these days it wouldn't surprise me in the least if this Nick Adams character threw this out there just to get attention. Akin to the hot sports takes media, what matters is that people paid attention to him, not whether they agree or consider him a moron.

...

Great discussions on the whole landscape with sports rights, cable packages, etc... I've been low on ESPN's future for a long time now and feel that an eventual downturn in the sports rights packages and hence league revenues will come. But I figured it would be a lot longer off with parties like Amazon or Apple stepping in. This thread did a good job on discussing why those parties paying big money isn't as likely as I have been assuming. Love the idea of paying for games a la carte. I am one of those who cut the cord a long time ago; I certainly would prefer to watch more Celtics games on TV than listen to them on the radio, but beyond that I don't miss it much. I hardly ever miss an NFL game I want to see since most are still on regular network TV and ESPN games tend to get simulcast when the Pats are in the game.
 

nattysez

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Just so we can put this to bed, Nick Adams is an Aussie who has been attempting to get into the right-wing griftstream for years. He tweets ridiculously offensive stuff and occasionally gets some traction/attention because of it. Kimes responding to him played right into his hands, unfortunately. He is not a serious person and really shouldn't be given any attention in any circumstances.
 

nattysez

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FYI, there is a great discussion with Ben Thompson about these issues with cable services at the end of the most recent Bill Simmons podcast.
 

Ale Xander

Hamilton
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The mismatch for me is pairing live sports and ongoing monthly subscriptions. Every sporting event should be a la carte. I don’t care about subscribing to a channel at a set monthly rate because it has the rights to show [x] live sporting event. I just want the event. It should be $1.99 to watch a Sox game or $9.99 for an NFL game or whatever. Then total it up and send me a bill each month.

Of course the bundle is cheaper if you have to subscribe to channels. I want to anccess individual programs.

In fact, I wish cable could work like this - just keep the meter running and charge me by the minute, at various rates, for the shows I do watch. Make every PPV and every channel on every tier open to access, and just total it up into an itemized bill calculated by minutes watched.

Currently it’s like if you really want a Big Mac, the only way to get it is via an unlimited McPass that costs $30 a month, or to get a food court pass that costs $100 a month with options I’d never use like Auntie Ann’s. Neither one fits the model I want. Just let me buy the burger, even if it’s $10, it’s ok, cause that might be all I want for the month. Or maybe I binge and spend $50 on expensive Big Macs in a given month - I wouldn’t feel ripped off because it was my choice to pig out.
Preach brother
 

Mugsy's Jock

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FYI, there is a great discussion with Ben Thompson about these issues with cable services at the end of the most recent Bill Simmons podcast.
Agreed, and Thompson raised a possibility that kind of addresses @8slim ’s question above about what might be in investing in sports rights rights for Apple.

Apple‘s generally doesn’t care to own content, they just want to be the place EVERYONE goes to find content, and then take a cut. The App Store and iTunes being two good examples. Thompson theorizes Apple may want to create an iSports platform that would house access to all sports events, regardless of the rights licensee. Viewers would go there and get easy access if they subscribe to the relevant platform (as opposed to getting into ESPN+ for a college hoops game, then out of that and into all Amazon for Thursday Night Football, the out of that and into NESN for a Bruins game, etc.). Not that Apple needs or wants to be a rightsholder to realize that ambition, but it would give them the opportunity to double dip, and salt the home page marketing.

Disney announced some months ago they wanted to create a similar all-sports all-rightsholder platform. I never thought they had the leverage to pull it off, but Apple might.
 

Lose Remerswaal

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37 minutes into Baseball Tonight and ESPN has covered the Met manager firing and the playoff seedings in depth, and even encouraged folks to vote for the Clemente Award, which Wakefield won, but they haven't mentioned Timmy yet.
 

NorthwestSoxGuy

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Oct 15, 2022
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I know it won't happen, but ESPN should be barred from covering baseball. They do such an awful and cringeworthy job, and have been doing so for far too long.
 

Ed Hillel

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I know it won't happen, but ESPN should be barred from covering baseball. They do such an awful and cringeworthy job, and have been doing so for far too long.
ESPN used to be the go-to space for baseball, and it was because of the ingenuity of Baseball Tonight in its OG era and writers like Gammons, Stark, and Jim Caple, who passed away today at 61. Jim Caple was awesome. RIP Jim Caple.
 

Sin Duda

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I saw the Caple news and was shocked. I was always a big fan. Turns out he had ALS. Way too soon (like Wake) at only 61 years young. RIP Jim and peace to your wife and family.
 

ifmanis5

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How much is ESPN worth? About $24 bills but seems like they won't sell the whole thing.

View: https://twitter.com/Reuters/status/1719820536191021226

Disney's ESPN could be valued at $24 bln, likely buyers include Apple, Verizon - BofA http://reut.rs/3FEOOTK

CEO Bob Iger has said Disney wants to keep ESPN and will try to create a streaming app for it by either forming a joint venture or finding a buyer for a minority stake in the network.
That means a 36% interest in ESPN would be up for sale, assuming Disney intends to retain a 51% majority interest and accounting for media company Hearst's 20% stake, BofA analysts led by Jessica Reif Ehrlich wrote in a note published Wednesday.
 

nattysez

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I don't think McAfee is long for ESPN. It was always going to be a weird marriage, and between Aaron Rodgers, College Gameday and this, I think both sides may already be tired of each other.

“Now, there are some people who are actively trying to sabotage us from within ESPN,” McAfee said on Friday’s episode of The Pat McAfee Show. “More specifically, I believe (ESPN vice president of studio production) Norby Williamson is the guy who is attempting to sabotage our program.”
https://www.si.com/media/2024/01/05/pat-mcafee-alleges-people-inside-espn-trying-sabotage-show