Last August, Major League Baseball signed a series of new contracts with ESPN, Fox, and Turner Sports that would pay the league roughly $1.5 billion a season, starting in 2014. Those same three networks had been paying MLB about $765 million per season on the previous contract.
When I first saw this news, I immediately thought back to this three-year-old article on All Things D, which published a list of cable channels and how much each subscriber pays for those channels. Even back in 2010, ESPN was getting paid $4.08 a month from every cable or satellite TV subscriber in America that got ESPN. This was just for its flagship channel. ESPN2 was another $0.54 per subscriber. Other ESPN channels, like ESPNEWS and ESPNU, commanded even more money.
Jump forward three years, and the numbers are even higher. Pay TV subscribers that receive ESPN and ESPN2 each pay roughly $5.73 per month, just for those two channels. About 100 million people who pay for TV receive those two channels, and the subscriber fees for those channels alone add up to nearly $6.9 billion per year.
That’s our money. And ESPN is giving $700 million of it per year to Major League Baseball.
That got me to thinking — as a cable subscriber, how much money am I giving to Major League Baseball? And how much am I giving to other sports leagues, just by subscribing to the channels that I do?
This was the inspiration for What You Pay For Sports. This site will show you just how much of your cable bill is being funneled into pro sports leagues and college sports organizations, and it will take a closer look at how your money is changing the landscape of sports as we know it.
This site also aims to highlight one of modern sports’ dirty secrets — the fact that people who don’t like sports and only subscribe to cable to watch Mad Men, Game of Thrones or other such shows are still propping up major sports leagues with their money. As author and former Deadspin editor Will Leitch wrote in this column for Sports on Earth:
My friend, who couldn’t pick Kobe Bryant out of a lineup, who doesn’t even know where ESPN is on her cable dial, gives $60 a year to ESPN. She never watches it. She never even thinks about it. But she pays $60 a year to them, regardless…
What matters, when you really break it down, is that because people like my friend want to have cable TV, and people like me can’t live without sports channels, the entire country is handing ESPN and sports channels money whether they like sports or not. Or whether they even know it.
It could be argued that today’s sports leagues make the bulk of their money from people who don’t watch their games at all. Once upon a time, Blockbuster Video made the bulk of its money off late fees — until Netflix and Redbox showed up to give people something better. So where is the Netflix for sports? Is there one? We’ll examine that issue on this site as well. We’ll also take a closer look at how your money is driving massive changes in sports, including college conference realignment, escalating salaries, and big media consolidation.
Televised sports are big business, and your money is funding it. You should know how your money is being spent.