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ESPN’s Woes Are Mounting

The future for the worldwide leader won’t be in cable bundles though.

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ESPN  logo Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN

What would happen to the sports world without ESPN?

It’s not likely to go away entirely, but ESPN is having some serious issues and it’s causing parent company Disney some concern as well.

Now there is speculation that Disney could either sell ESPN or spin it off as either a separate company or part of a bigger spinoff perhaps involving ABC.

Sports aren’t going to stop, but is it possible that the really fat contracts for professional leagues and players and universities might be reduced?

Well of course. The market cannot be long denied and if ESPN’s revenues keep dropping, they’ll eventually have to make cheaper arrangements or go out of business.

There is a way forward for ESPN and other media companies and it could potentially lower subscription rates and increase subscribers and that’s to blow up the cable bundles and follow Netflix into global digital distribution.

Netflix is now seen in 190 countries and has 70 million subscribers and more every day.

ESPN has just under 90 million subscribers in 61 countries and that number is steadily declining.

Those subscription numbers are going to cross soon as Netflix will soar past ESPN.

However a cheap digital subscription in China could seriously boost the number of ESPN subscribers. Then there’s India, Europe, Russia, South America and Africa, not to mention Australia and New Zealand.

As someone noted, sports is the one thing that almost everyone is enthusiastic about.

You can sell wrestling to Iran, cricket to the British Commonwealth and soccer anywhere outside of North America. Even North Korea wants to do well in soccer. And there are local passions like beach volleyball in Brazil

There’s a way forward for ESPN but it can’t get there via cable bundles.

Ultimately it may make sense for Disney, which is fully aware of how Blockbuster blew it by not buying a new and inexpensive Netflix back in the day, to buy Netflix itself and to pump its movies - and sports - globally.

Whatever ultimately happens, Disney and ESPN can’t stand still. Things are moving far too fast for complacency.

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