If you’ve never read Morgan Wick’s analysis of ESPN’s assault on NBC Sports Network, go check it out. It describes how ESPN essentially helped to create a competing channel in Fox Sports 1 in order to prevent NBC from gaining any traction in the televised sports market.
ESPN really doesn’t fear any entity eating into its dominance, but what it doesn’t want in a million years is Comcast owning a sports network that might remotely be construed as anywhere close to on par with ESPN. An even remotely strong NBC Sports Network could give Comcast leverage to lower the rights fees it pays ESPN for carriage, and that could eat substantially into ESPN’s bottom line when combined with the impact of the sports network itself. ESPN may not want any real competitors to its dominance, but it really doesn’t want NBC to be one of them. It’s perfectly happy to build up Fox as its “competitor” if it means avoiding the fate a competition with NBC would entail.
Fox Sports, of course, would be more than happy to play along with ESPN’s plan, since it doesn’t want Comcast to have that sort of leverage over any of its channels, either. So would Turner Sports and CBS Sports, for that matter. Who would want the biggest cable company in the country dictating terms to them?
The end result is that NBC Sports Network has been relegated to Olympics overflow coverage, hockey, soccer, and scraps. The Olympics last only a few weeks every two years, and there’s no guarantee that the channel can keep MLS beyond 2014 or the Premier League beyond 2017. Unless Comcast wants to merge it with Golf Channel to add more programming, NBC Sports Network might end up being little more than the NHL Network by decade’s end — and there’s already an NHL Network.
For all the hand-wringing over the Comcast-NBC Universal merger — which Senator Al Franken is still fighting tooth and nail — it seems that the most notable thing Comcast has done here is create some very powerful enemies, who are determined to lock them out of the most lucrative market in TV. Sports won’t be the only front on which Comcast’s big media enemies will fight them, either. Could this merger end up being as disastrous as the AOL Time Warner merger before it’s all said and done?