ABC Affils Battle ESPN For Sports

Some ABC affiliates are concerned with the migration of top sports programming to ESPN, reports Mediaweek. Affils have watched big-draw programming such as the British Open, the 2011 Rose Bowl, and, most recently, eight NASCAR competitions, shift from their air to that of Disney’s ESPN.

Some have expressed dismay about the trend.

“The migration of more and more live sporting events from ABC to ESPN is troubling,” said Bill Hoffman, vp and general manager of Cox Television’s Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB-TV. Hoffman, who is also secretary-treasurer of the ABC affiliate board, said losing sports will cost affiliates “significant” ad revenue and hard-to-reach (and therefore valuable) male viewers. “Not only have we lost these sporting events, but now we also have to compete against those telecasts on ESPN. Nascar is a huge lifestyle in the South. It’s indigenous to the region. And now most of the live races on broadcast are gone.”

ESPN says the motor sports weren’t exactly burning it up on ABC.

John Consoli writes:

A few station execs privately suspect that because ESPN is a big money maker for Disney, the parent company is letting it pull more live sports from ABC in order to justify hefty subscriber fees. ESPN charges cable operators $4.10 per household, according to SNL Kagan, and is said to be seeking a hike.

Len DeLuca, ESPN senior vp, programming and acquisitions, disputed that rationale, saying the Nascar move is purely about ratings. “What we did was take eight Nascar races on ABC on Sunday afternoons that were not getting maximum audiences nationwide [last season] because they were competing with the NFL,” DeLuca said. He believes ESPN will be able to devote more promotional time to those races to their target audience this fall. The 11 Nascar races on ABC last year averaged a 3.5 household rating, lower than Fox’s Nascar average (5.1) and ESPN’s (3.6 for six races), and just slightly higher than TNT’s (3.3).

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.