All That and a Bag of Mail

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Happy Memorial Day weekend!

If you’re going to be on the road this holiday season, make sure you download my new podcast exclusive once a week show called “Wins and Losses With Clay Travis,” where I have an in-depth conversation with one person each week.

This week’s guest is Jason Whitlock from FS1’s Speak For Yourself.

I think y’all will love it.

You can listen to that interview and subscribe here.

Okay, here we go with the mailbag:

Andrew writes:

“With Disney acquiring Hulu and ESPN+, how likely is it that ESPN can stem the tide with their continual loss of viewership? ESPN went balls deep with the NBA and this coupled with wokecenter pretty much crippled the franchise. In the court of public opinion, at least mine, there’s a loss of acceptance for espn to provide sports news/highlights without being barraged with wokeness shenanigans. There is no way a corporation like Disney is gonna support a woke center mentality for programming of ESPN+. My question to you is- if Disney tailors down the endless broadcasting doodoo that is the nba, removes all things woke center, can they bring back the ESPN we all used to know? And if they do, would people go back to watching espn or is the damage done?”

Well, I think Disney CEO Bob Iger and new president Jimmy Pitaro finally recognized that the ESPN brand was toxic to much of the country because of far left political leanings and I think they are doing their best to rectify this issue. I think they’ve realized — as well as their data has shown them — that most sports fans just want sports on ESPN. And if they can’t just have sports they at least want even-handed treatment of political opinions. ESPN had been failing at both of these things for years and I think they’re attempting to adjust course.

How have they changed?

I don’t think, for instance, that current ESPN leadership would give an ESPY for courage to Caitlyn Jenner.

Ultimately everything comes down to dollars and cents and I believe the Disney brass saw that WokeCenter was costing ESPN’s brand in a big way. This is actually a huge part of my book that came out in September, “Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.” Effectively Iger and Pitaro have acknowledged the entire thesis of my book is true — that allowing sports to be hijacked by left wing politics is bad for business.

(Of course this hasn’t led the woke left wing Twitter sports media who ripped me for multiple years for this opinion to admit they were wrong or acknowledge that I was right. But I never really expected that because there’s a certain percentage of woke sports media on Twitter that I drive insane. Which, to be honest, I love.)

But I do give Iger and Pitaro credit for finally realizing what I’d been pointing out for a couple of years. Say what you will about Disney, but ultimately the great thing about capitalists and capitalistic corporations, even those who are far left leaning, is eventually they will listen to what their markets are telling them. When you start losing money, it’s time to adjust your trajectory. Ultimately companies exist to make their shareholders money.

Now the big issue here that Disney faces when it comes to ESPN is this — the entire business model of ESPN is under attack because of cordcutting. And what Disney is attempting to do with ESPN+ is very different than what they are doing with Disney+ and Hulu. That’s because Disney+ and Hulu feature content that Disney owns and creates. That is, everything is original and proprietary. Think Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney characeters, that’s the lifeblood of these new services. Whereas ESPN’s entire business model is based on being a middleman. That is, Disney pretty much acts as the middleman when it comes putting on other people’s content in the world of sports.

Think about it, what do people watch on ESPN? Mostly the games themselves. Well, Disney doesn’t own any of that. What’s more, Disney has already guaranteed that the best middleman programming they have — the NFL’s Monday Night Football, the SEC, the ACC, the Big Ten, Major League Baseball, the NBA — all of that will air on existing ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, the SEC Network or the ACC Network properties.

So ESPN+ is the second-tier programming that isn’t good enough to air on all these networks themselves.

How do you get big numbers of subscribers for ESPN+? With better content that isn’t available elsewhere. Hence, the UFC deal, for example. But, and here is the problem, that content is very expensive to buy and it’s somewhat risky because of the new ESPN+ business model — subscriptions — which don’t provide the same guaranteed revenue streams as cable subscriptions do.

So the big question here is this — can ESPN manage to run both businesses, cable and streaming, and seamlessly transition to a more digital future with ESPN+ as the cable business collapses or is the network going to find itself like a guy riding a horse with one leg on each horse as those two horses begin to run in different directions?

An easy analogy here in the world of sports is Sports Illustrated, which is nearly dead as a business.

The internet killed Sports Illustrated’s business because the company couldn’t manage both print and digital.

That’s the best example of what ESPN should be fearing.

The best example of a company that pivoted is Netflix, which has managed to go from a DVD rental business to a middleman streaming business to an original content streaming business and thrived with all three businesses.

It’s possible that ESPN+ becomes a great business and ESPN manages the pivot, but it’s also possible that instead of one sports business that isn’t going to work very well, Disney is now running two sports businesses that aren’t going to work very well — one, ESPN, that is on a fairly rapid cordcutting decline that will mirror the decline of cable overall, and the other, ESPN+, which will lose money because the subscriber market isn’t as robust as Disney hopes and the content costs will be massive.

That’s why I think Disney will create a new digital bundle — ESPN+, Hulu, and Disney+ and charge pretty much the same amount as Netflix charges now for all three of these companies. That way, in theory at least, subscriber numbers will look good for all three services and maybe they can finesse the transition better than I expect.

The first big test of ESPN’s strategy will come with the NFL Sunday Ticket.

Is ESPN willing to take a huge, multi-billion dollar, swing to put NFL Sunday Ticket on ESPN+? (Maybe in conjunction with an agreement to put Monday Night Football back on ABC and with the NFL agreeing to give ABC a Super Bowl?) That will be a huge moment to give you an idea what the network’s plan is going forward.

Another possibility is that Disney attempts to spin ESPN off as a standalone business to avoid it becoming a drag on the existing business.

Regardless of your opinions on ESPN, this is an absolutely fascinating time in sports media and business, maybe the most fascinating time of our lives.

And anyone who says they know 100% how this will turn out is lying to you.

Jennifer writes:

“I have a question about the situation the LA Lakers have found themselves in. Obviously, teams go through ups and downs so the question is more related to ownership. Jerry Buss passed away, leaving his kids to run the organization. It has been an abject failure up to this point. I guess you can blame some of this on Kobe, because nobody wanted to play with him, so when he left the team, everything collapsed. I have a theory about this and I want to know what you think.
My theory is Jim Buss was Cersei Lannister and Jeanie was seen as Daenerys Targaryen. Everyone thought the ruler in place (Jim/Cersei) was not the leader that was best for the realm (7 Kingdoms/Lakers) and so people got together and got the ruler they wanted in Jeanie/Daenerys. Once the new ruler took over, it was clear that there were still issues and someone else needed to be ruler – think Joey Buss/Jon Snow. Based on how this played out on GOT, this could mean that Joey Buss (Jon Snow) isn’t the answer either and he needs to be exiled to Canada (The North) and someone who has just been quietly sitting in the background absorbing everything but being overall useless up to this point needs to be running the Lakers.
I tend to think this is also how our political climate is right now as well. The left hates President Trump and wants to him out of office yesterday, even though the stock market has been soaring overall and unemployment is down, which are 2 indicators of how healthy our country actually is. They think they want someone else – and I am sure they do – they are just going about it the wrong way if they go with identity politics – think Kamala Harris, etc. The right thinks there is nothing wrong with the current situation but I feel like every time President Trump sends a tweet it is like a small cache of wildfire exploding. I am like you – squarely in the middle and don’t agree with everything each side says. I would say I am socially liberal and fiscally conservative so neither side fully appeals to me. I think if more people voiced their actual opinion instead of blindly agreeing to anything that fits the narrative of their side, things would be better in our country.
What do you think about my theory? George R. R. Martin has said as much – that his books are about the morals (or lack thereof) of war. This may not make sense, but I think it does and am curious of your opinion.
Thanks for being the voice of reason in an insane world right now. I am with you – there has never been a better time to be alive. Keep doing what you are doing. As you know, I am a Day 1 Outkick reader/follower and have been reading your stuff even before that.
Have a great time at the beach with your family. My kids are 23, 16, and 15 and oh, how I wish they were little again. You can never get this time back so enjoy every second of it.”
DBAP unless you need to SBAP!”
This is great.
I absolutely love the Lakers situation analogized to Game of Thrones.
I can’t speak for George R.R. Martin, but I’ve found with every book that I’ve ever written — I’ve published three non-fiction, one non-fiction book that I serialized online about training for the NFL Draft and I have completed six fiction books that have never been released — I didn’t know how any of my stories would end when I started writing them and then the ending revealed itself to me as I wrote.
I read on his blog the other day where Martin said he believed there were still 3,000 pages left to write in his final two books.
So even assuming he told the show runners on TV how the books would end, I’m not convinced he would have ended the books the same way as he wrote them. And we may never know for sure because who knows if he’ll ever finish these books.
There’s a reason the TV show got much worse once they passed the books. I believe it was because the depth was gone. What had been a game of chess turned into a game of uno.
And I also think the Game of Thrones showrunners, as you’ll see below, decided they were tired of working on this show and were ready for a new challenge.

Alex writes:

“Regarding the lackluster GOT final season, do you think it’s possible Benioff and Weiss just wanted out and wanted to move along as fast as they could? 

During seasons 1-4, through the Red Wedding, Purple Wedding, Tywin’s fate and the Mountain/Oberyn duel, they were universally hailed as the best showrunners on TV and GOT was in the running for best show of all time. 
In subsequent seasons they’ve been ripped apart by critics saying they’ve belittled rape with the Sansa/Ramsay and Cersei/Jamie stuff, they’re racists for the Dany stuff and the way “people of color” are treated on the show and even more over the past few seasons. 
It got so bad that when they next HBO project was announced, Confederate (about a modern-day America where slavery still exists), the online outcry was so fierce they it was swiftly back burnered, who knows if it will ever see the light of day?
By the last two seasons, all the masterful pacing and slow-building intrigue was jammed into two shortened seasons, leading everything feeling rushed and not explored fully (and some questions just left unanswered) and apparently producers weren’t paying close enough attention during filming and editing to even take coffee cups and water bottles out of the scene. 
A few years ago did they just say “screw it, let’s just get out of this ASAP and do what we want to do”? Apparently what they want to do is a new Star Wars trilogy.” 
I think this is exactly it.
There’s no way HBO would have objected to three more seasons of “Game of Thrones.”
I think it’s likely that these guys as well as some of the actors and actresses were ready to complete the show and move on to new projects.
That’s especially the case for the two guys who wanted to do the Star Wars movies.
I just wish they’d finished “Game of Thrones” in style instead of by falling in love with mass spectacle over the story.
While I know it’s understandably difficult to finish a popular show and leave everyone happy, this final season was an unmitigated disaster.
Hope you guys have great Memorial Day weekends.
I’m off to the beach with the boys.

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