clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:


Photo by Rob Foldy/Bongarts/Getty Images

Double Bubble

Since the advent of the Big Ten Network a decade ago, the conference's revenue model has been built on a sale of television rights (ABC/ESPN or Fox) and monthly subscriber fees from cable companies showing BTN. Much of what the Big Ten has done in the last decade -- and, by extension, much of what Iowa athletics has undertaken -- has been based on the premise that both the value of broadcast rights to Big Ten football and the subscriber rates for BTN will continue to increase. When Jim Delany added Maryland and Rutgers to the conference three years ago, it was a blatant play for television sets in Washington D.C. and New York City; by putting those two metropolises in the BTN's footprint (where subscriber fees are 56 cents per month higher), revenue from the BTN has more than doubled. Member schools like Iowa are so awash in cash (and obligated to act as a nonprofit) that an intraconference facilities arms race has begun. There's just too much money in broadcasting college sports -- college football, really -- to spend it all.

In that context, Jon Miller at Hawkeye Nation (citing professional troll Clay Travis) asks if ESPN will be able to afford its new contract to broadcast Big Ten games.

ESPN keeps hemorrhaging subscribers due to the growing number of cord cutters in the United States. Cord Cutters are people who are cancelling their subscriptions to traditional cable and satellite television packages in favor of smaller options or digital only streaming options which are much less expensive and not filled with channels that you’ll never watch.

According to Nielsen ratings from, ESPN lost over 1.5M subscribers since the beginning of January 2016 through the present day.

Nobody has been hurt more by cord cutters than ESPN, which has long since become ubiquitous in cable channel bundles and charges monthly subscriber fees for both its main network and ESPN2 many times higher than other networks. Television advertising rates are largely down, as well, due to the widespread use of DVRs for recording shows and skipping commercials. Despite those pressures, The Worldwide Leader has remained committed to the old bundle model, keeping it difficult for a person without a cable television subscription to get access to its content in any other way.

The good news: Nothing draws advertising on television like live sports, which are one of the few DVR-proof programming options available to networks. Therefore, even if the number of subscribers decreases (and subscription revenue decrease with it), the premium received for ads on ESPN (or BTN, for that matter) should maintain ESPN as the cash cow that it is. ESPN remains the most profitable component of Disney's portfolio for good reason.

The bigger issue is not with ESPN, but with BTN. Like ESPN, BTN is difficult to get without a cable subscription. But while ESPN remains somewhat essential to anyone vaguely interested in sports, the BTN is a niche network selling to Rutgers fans in New York City. The revenue model is more dependent on subscriber fees than the Disney monolith, and utilizes a more cynical approach to getting those fees. Even if BTN ad rates are similar to ESPN's, as claimed, there is far more danger that, when the cord is cut, the BTN balloon will float away.

Make Iowa Great Again

Iowa football named its 2016 leadership group in a press release Thursday. Not a surprise: C.J. Beathard and Desmond King are on the list. Surprise: None, really. All 16 members -- all upperclassmen -- are projected as starters, and only linebacker Bo Bower has a real fight for a starting spot. The leadership group were the ringleaders of last season's return to prominence, so it's not as if this is an honorary title.

Speaking of Beathard, the Iowa quarterback is nearly back to full fitness after offseason hernia surgery and a spring shoulder injury. Beathard was hampered by a groin problem -- presumably the hernia -- for essentially the last three months of the 2015 season, and as effective as Iowa's running game was throughout the season, the Hawkeyes were clearly at their best when Beathard was able to scramble for yardage and throw without difficulty. A return of fully-mobile C.J. Beathard would be welcome, to be sure.

Other Stuff

Iowa women's hoops took a national top 100 recruit, the reigning Illinois Miss Basketball, from Nebraska following the departure of the Huskers' head coach. Iowa now has three top-100 recruits in this year's class.

Former Iowa basketball coach Dr. Tom Davis played in the Principal Charity Classic Pro-Am with the quixotic John Daly. Davis talked about being fired in 1998, and Daly listed the number of part-time jobs he's lost since then.

ESPN's Brian Bennett writes that Wisconsin is Iowa's must-win game of 2016. With Minnesota in turmoil, Nebraska without a defense, and most of the rest of the west generally irrelevant, the only two options were Wisconsin and Northwestern.

Greg Davis offered a scholarship to Texas high school quarterback Peyton Mansell. Because if you wanted a quarterback whose name represents the yin and yang of quarterback play in 2016, it's probably someone with "Peyton" and something that sounds like Manziel.

Iowa offensive line commit Tristan Wirfs might be in right field during the offseason.

Former Hawkeye wrestler Bill Zadick was named USA Wrestling's freestyle coach. Oklahoma State fans aren't pleased.

Bring on the Cats jokes about bringing Texas A&M back to the Big 12, but the question is probably worth asking after five years: Is anyone besides TCU better off after the Aggies went to the SEC?

Bret Bielema thinks LeBron is a selfish player. This ends the HOT TAKES section of today's post.

The San Diego Police have named the top suspect in an attempted kidnapping case:The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle-era Bruce Springsteen.

They'll probably find him in the Darkness on the Edge of Town.