Posts tagged ‘ESPN’

Ready for the World Cup Finals

As a former hater, I have really enjoyed the World Cup this year.  I think an unsung part of why so many people have been coming around in the States is having ESPN broadcast every game, instead of just seeing two or three here.  Seeing all the games lets one start getting to know the players and the teams, develop favorites, etc.

However, like most Americans, I do find it, at best, humorous to watch folks act like they have been gut-shot every time someone brushes their jersey.  I talked to a friend of mine who used to manage NHL teams, and said that it would be funny to do a parody with ice hockey players falling and writhing on the ground every time they were touched.  There would be 10 guys laying on the ice in about 30 seconds.

Not quite the same idea, but I thought this parody was pretty funny

This is a Scandal??

How is this a scandal?

While fans can also purchase pink [NFL Branded] clothing and accessories to support the cause, a shockingly small amount of the fans' money is actually going towards cancer research.

According to data obtained from the NFL by Darren Rovell of ESPN, the NFL "takes a 25% royalty from the wholesale price (1/2 retail), donates 90% of royalty to American Cancer Society."

In other words, for every $100 in pink merchandise sold, $12.50 goes to the NFL. Of that, $11.25 goes to the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the NFL keeps the rest. The remaining money is then divided up by the company that makes the merchandise (37.5%) and the company that sells the merchandise (50.0%), which is often the NFL and the individual teams.

How is this "shockingly small"?  A donation of 11.25% of the retail price, and 22.5% of the wholesale price,  of a piece of clothing is a pretty hefty.  What do they expect?  All the author is doing is demonstrating his (her?)  ignorance of retail and clothing net profit margins.  In particular, how can you try to make the NFL the bad guy for donating 90% of the money they actually get?  It's their program, they can't donate the clothing manufacturer's money.

And besides, the NFL should be congratulated for being open about the numbers -- there is often zero transparency in such charitable promotional programs.  How much of the money in the last charity gala you attended do you think actually made it to the charity rather than just help fund the self-aggrandizement of their socialite sponsors?

Cable Unbundling Will Reduce Niche Channel Choices

I wish I could remember where I read this to give proper credit, but it is funny that the folks who are absolutely bending over backwards to bundle health care want to unbundle cable TV.  Think about it -- the person who just wants MSNBC but has to buy the whole cable package to get it is getting hosed far less badly than the young person next year who needs no medical care but will have to buy a pre-paid medical plan designed for a 65-year-old.

But I believe that cable unbundling will achieve the opposite effect from what most people expect.  And the key to my analysis rests, as do all important economic issues, on the difference between average and at the margin.  This is a repost from 2007

[A la Carte cable pricing] will reduce the number of interesting niche choices on cable.

For some reason, it is terribly hard to convince people of this.  In fact, supporters of this regulation argue just the opposite.  They argue that this is a better plan for folks who only are passionate about, say, the kite-flying channel, because they only have to pay for the channel they want rather than all of basic cable to get this one station.   This is a fine theory, but it only works if the kite-flying channel still exists in the new regulatory regime.  Let me explain.

Clearly the kite-flying channel serves a niche market.  Not that many people are going to be interested enough in kite flying alone to pay $5 a month for it.  But despite this niche status, it may well make sense for the cable companies to add it to their basic package.  Remember that the basic package already attracts the heart of the market.  Between CNN and ESPN and the Discovery Channel and the History Channel, etc., the majority of the market already sees enough value in the package to sign on.

Let's say the cable company wants to add a channel to their basic package, and they have two choices.  They have a sports channel they could add (let's say there are already 5 other sports channels in the package) or they can add the Kite-flying channel.  Far more people are likely to watch the sports channel than the kite flying channel.  But in the current pricing regime, this is not necessarily what matters to the cable company.  Their concern is to get more people to sign up for the cable TV.  And it may be that everyone who could possibly be attracted to sports is already a subscriber, and a sixth sports channel would not attract any new subscribers.  It is entirely possible that a niche channel like the kite-flying channel will actually bring more incremental subscribers to the basic package than another sports channel, and thus be a more attractive addition to the basic package for the cable company.

But now let's look at the situation if a la carte pricing was required.  In this situation, individual channels don't support the package, but must stand on their own and earn revenue.  The cable company's decision-making on adding an extra channel is going to be very different in this world.  In this scenario, they are going to compare the new sports channel with the Kite-flying channel based on how many people will sign up and pay for that standalone channel.  And in this case, a sixth (and probably seventh and eighth and ninth) sports channel is going to look better to them than the Kite-flying channel.   Niche channels that were added to bring greater reach to their basic cable package are going to be dropped in favor of more of what appeals to the majority.

I think about this all the time when I scan the dial on Sirius radio, which sells its services as one package rather than a la carte.  There are several stations that I always wonder, "does anyone listen to that?"  But Sirius doesn't need another channel for the majority out at #300 -- they need channels that will bring new niche audiences to the package.  So an Egyptian reggae channel may be more valuable as the 301st offering than a 20th sports channel.  This is what we may very likely be giving up if we continue down this road of regulating away cable package pricing.  Yeah, in a la carte pricing people who want just the kite-flying channel will pay less for it, but will it still be available?

Note the key to this analysis is the limited channel capacity of cable or satellite.  This is not a pure free market, where there is always room for another niche offering to try their hand with consumers.   Cable channels are more like products competing for limited floor space at Costco - to make the cut in an a la carte world, a channel has to do a lot of business.

Attorney Fail

I'm not really going to comment on the Jerry Sandusky pedophile cases.  The evidence looks pretty damning at this point but I'll let it play out in the courts.

But guilty or innocent, how could his attorney possibly have let him do a TV interview with Bob Costas the other day?  The interview has spurred new victims to come forward.

But beyond that, given that he insisted on going on TV (I suppose clients can ignore good advice), how could his attorney have allowed him to be so unprepared?  I did not watch the interview (I am not big on these select legal cases we like to try in the press), but I heard excerpts on ESPN.  The guy was not prepared to answer the simple and obvious question "are you a pedophile."  He hemmed and hawed and babbled and kindof said yes and no.  It was the worst, dumbest interview by an alleged criminal I have ever seen, and if you ever wonder why folks facing criminal or civil charges never jump into the media fray to defend themselves, go watch this interview.

A Large Part of Sports Team Profits (And Valuations) Come From Public Subsidies

I have argued many times that publicly-funded stadiums are a huge part of sports profits and team valuations.  For example, here in Glendale AZ, the town's stadium subsidies represent over a third of the value of the Cardinals and almost 200% of the value of the Coyotes.

As some of you may know, the NBA is heading into a protracted labor negotiation, with both parties acknowledging that the economics of the game have turned against owners.  Henry Abbot at ESPN argues that a large part of that economic change has been increasing taxpayer reluctance to subsidize sweetheart stadium deals for teams

Public money for stadiums has become scarce, and I have to believe that's part of the owners' pleas for financial relief from players. Huge moneymaking buildings for free or cheap have been no small part of what makes owning a team a no-brainer. Now teams in need of stadiums -- like the Kings and whatever team may one day relocate to Seattle -- face tough economics. Getting either deal done requires some kind of miracle. And in that context, if you ever fantasized about a world where taxpayers didn't contribute so much to buildings -- even if it meant players earned a little less -- well, your time is now.

To his latter point, I hope he is right.

Cable Unbundling

Megan McArdle responds to yet another call for government-enforced unbundling (or a la carte pricing) for cable TV.  I think she does a pretty good job in response, but I wanted to go in depth on a couple of issues.

First, it is interesting to me that the exact same people, typically on the Left, who want to unbundle cable TV are the same ones who angle for net neutrality, which in effect is government rules to enforce bundling of Internet services.  Which leads me to think this has less to do with consumer protection and more to do with the raw exercise of power to overturn free market solutions to problems.

Second, I think that unbundling would be a terrible solution for customers, particularly for those whose interests are focused and esoteric (e.g, they like the GLBT channel or whatever).  These folks think unblundling will get them cheaper rates for the one channel they want.  What it more likely will get them is fewer of those niche, esoteric channels.  I will simply repeat an earlier article I wrote four years ago on this topic:

I see that the drive to force cable companies to offer their basic cable package a la carte rather than as a bundle is gaining steam again.  This is the dumbest regulatory step imaginable, and will reduce the number of interesting niche choices on cable.

For some reason, it is terribly hard to convince people of this.  In fact, supporters of this regulation argue just the opposite.  They argue that this is a better plan for folks who only are passionate about, say, the kite-flying channel, because they only have to pay for the channel they want rather than all of basic cable to get this one station.   This is a fine theory, but it only works if the kite-flying channel still exists in the new regulatory regime.  Let me explain.

Clearly the kite-flying channel serves a niche market.  Not that many people are going to be interested enough in kite flying alone to pay $5 a month for it.  But despite this niche status, it may well make sense for the cable companies to add it to their basic package.  Remember that the basic package already attracts the heart of the market.  Between CNN and ESPN and the Discovery Channel and the History Channel, etc., the majority of the market already sees enough value in the package to sign on.

Let’s say the cable company wants to add a channel to their basic package, and they have two choices.  They have a sports channel they could add (let’s say there are already 5 other sports channels in the package) or they can add the Kite-flying channel.  Far more people are likely to watch the sports channel than the kite flying channel.  But in the current pricing regime, this is not necessarily what matters to the cable company.  Their concern is to get more people to sign up for the cable TV.  And it may be that everyone who could possibly be attracted to sports is already a subscriber, and a sixth sports channel would not attract any new subscribers.  It is entirely possible that a niche channel like the kite-flying channel will actually bring more incremental subscribers to the basic package than another sports channel, and thus be a more attractive addition to the basic package for the cable company.

But now let’s look at the situation if a la carte pricing was required.  In this situation, individual channels don’t support the package, but must stand on their own and earn revenue.  The cable company’s decision-making on adding an extra channel is going to be very different in this world.  In this scenario, they are going to compare the new sports channel with the Kite-flying channel based on how many people will sign up and pay for that standalone channel.  And in this case, a sixth (and probably seventh and eighth and ninth) sports channel is going to look better to them than the Kite-flying channel.   Niche channels that were added to bring greater reach to their basic cable package are going to be dropped in favor of more of what appeals to the majority.

I think about this all the time when I scan the dial on Sirius radio, which sells its services as one package rather than a la carte.  There are several stations that I always wonder, "does anyone listen to that?"  But Sirius doesn’t need another channel for the majority out at #300 — they need channels that will bring new niche audiences to the package.  So an Egyptian reggae channel may be more valuable as the 301st offering than a 20th sports channel.  This is what we may very likely be giving up if we continue down this road of regulating away cable package pricing.  Yeah, in a la carte pricing people who want just the kite-flying channel will pay less for it, but will it still be available?

The Last Frontier in Worker Exploitation

Name a multi-billion dollar industry where all the competitors in the industry have formed a single cartel.  This cartel performs many functions, but one of its highest profile functions is to aggressively punish any member who pays its employees more than a cartel-enforced maximum.

Believe it or not, there is such an industry in the US... college sports.  The cartel is the NCAA, and whenever the NCAA makes the news, it usually is with an enforcement action punishing a school for allowing any of its athletes to make more than the agreed maximum salary, which is generally defined as free tuition.  As folks are learning at Ohio State, even trading your autograph for a free tattoo is not too small a transaction to attract ruthless NCAA retaliation.

This ESPN page (via Phil Miller) shows 2010 athletic revenue by school.  Take the top school on the list, the University of Texas.  In 2010 its athletic program brought in over $143 million in revenues.  It paid its workers (athletes) who helped generate this revenue $8.4 million (in the form of tuition), or 5.9% of revenues.  Its hard to decide whether this is high or low, though this percentage of labor for a service business seems low.  Looking for an analog, we can turn to the NFL, which is currently negotiating a revenue split with players.  The issue is still under negotiation, but for years players have been guaranteed over 50% of total revenues.

Even the Olympics finally gave up its stupid distinction of amateur status, allowing the best athletes to compete whether or not someone has ever paid them for anything.  This only makes sense - we don't have amateur engineers who work for free before they give up their amateur status for the professional ranks.  I can still continue to earn my degree at college in programming while being paid by outside companies to do programming.   I can still participate in the school glee club if I make money in a bar singing at nights.  I can still be student council president if I make money in the summers at a policy think tank.  Of all the activities on campus, the only one I cannot pursue if someone is willing to pay me for the same skill is athletics.

Only the NCAA holds out with this dumb amateur distinction, and the purpose is obvious -- it provides cover for what otherwise would be rightly treated as worker exploitation.  And they get away with it because most of the members of this cartel are actually state governments, who are really good at exempting themselves from the same standards the rest of us have to follow.

Misspent Youth

My 16-year-old son is ranked 28th in the country in the ESPN fantasy football power rankings for 10-team leagues.  Wish he spent as much time on his calculus homework.

Green Triumphalism

Via a reader, the cost of a few politicians deciding that there absolutely had to be an Australian-assembled hybrid.

"My wife was looking for an Australian-made hybrid car," Rudd told John Laws in March, 2007, "and I'm sure some of your listeners would have found this out "“ you can't find one.

"So, that started me thinking about why don't we have one in this country."

There are certain people from whom the phrase "that started me thinking" serves as a 150-decibel alarm. We weren't to know it at the time, but Kevin Rudd turned out to be one such bloke. Instead of settling on a nice secondhand Prius, Rudd's simple quest to find some wheels for the missus quickly led, once he was elected, to the $500 million Green Car Fund.

Why couldn't Ms Rein have been interested in something less expensive, like knitting? No, scratch that "“ once her husband "started thinking", we'd have been stuck with a $2 billion National Crochet Initiative.

Subsidies appear to amount to about $(AU)100,000 per private car sale.  This is a sort of new brand of left-progressive triumphalism that reminds me of an essay Ayn Rand wrote decades ago on statism and prestige.  These are the modern Green equivalents of the Brandenburg Gate -- they cost a lot of money, they don't really do anything useful, but everyone can point at them and marvel.

And speaking of which, our current Administration in the US in by no means immune

U.S. President Barack Obama will attend a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday for an LG Chem plant in Holland, Michigan, the company said Sunday. It is very unusual for an incumbent U.S. president to appear at such an event for a foreign company, and it is the first time for a Korean firm.

LG is investing US$300 million to build the plant which will produce batteries for electric vehicles. First-phase commercial production is scheduled to begin in the first half of 2012, and once completed in 2013 the plant will churn out lithium ion cells for 200,000 hybrid cars annually.

Ah, there Coyote goes exaggerating -- because the article explicitly says that a private company will be investing the money, so this isn't really a government project.   Ah, but read to the last paragraph

As part of efforts to revive the auto industry by bringing more green vehicles to the road, the U.S. government has lent considerable support to LG's Holland plant, including $151 million from a federal stimulus program. The Michigan state government also offered tax cuts worth $130 million, which together with the stimulus funds will almost offset LG's entire construction costs. The plant will help ease unemployment in the state by creating some 400 jobs, U.S. media reported.

So $281 million of the $300 million LG is investing is actually taxpayer money.  More brave capitalists! But fortunately we will have lots more batteries so rather than burn gasoline, electric vehicles can charge themselves from coal plants.

PS- Don't forget the jobs, though, created for the low low taxpayer cost of $702,500 each!

PS #2 - I had not noticed before I wrote it, but both of these articles also share in common the government subsidizing foreign companies to manufacture in their country, rather than producing these goods elsewhere and importing them.  This reduces the benefit of these investments even further - its pretty clear that both batteries and Prius's would have been made somewhere in the world, so they would have been available to consumers (probably at lower prices), but these investments merely were to shift production across some line on a map.

Update: John Stossel discusses another form of modern statist triumphalism -- the government-funded sports stadium

South Africa's ability to pull it all together for six weeks doesn't mean the World Cup will be a net benefit to the country in the long term. As the ESPN video below explains, South Africa's government spent $6 billion on the tournament. Tournament-related revenues are expected to fall well short of that figure. Some of the hundred million dollar stadiums built for the tournament won't get much use now that the games are over. The video points to one stadium built for the tournament which will likely remain vacant"”it sits over over slums that lack running water.

Fond memories of the month South Africa performed marvelously on the world stage are nice. But $6 billion is a lot to pay for a memory. These spectacles"”the World Cup and the Olympics"”are nearly always money losers. They're a lousy investment in wealthy countries. They're particularly garrish in countries that aren't as affluent.

Remember that Greece got the same kudos for not screwing up the Olympics, but years later it sure seems like the $15 billion that was sunk into those games by the Greek government has contributed to its financial crisis.

The Modern China. Really. We Swear.

Rick Reilly of ESPN  (what a travesty that he is not the last page of SI any more -- I can hardly pick the rag up any more) has an article on many of the shams pulled off by the Chinese with NBC's help what an auspicious example of Chinese solidarity were these Olympic games.

Go Tigers

Sorry, but we don't get to celebrate this kind of thing very often:

The Class of 2008's No. 11-rated inside linebacker Jonathan Meyers
spoke with ESPN's Billy Tucker about his recent commitment to Princeton
over Division I powers Florida and Michigan.

"When it came down to
it, Princeton just offered so much more besides football; it just fit
really well with me. Its academics are number one, the football program
is highly-respected [2006 Ivy League Champions] and I have a chance to
play lacrosse as well."

Additionally, Meyers received some helpful advice from Princeton graduate and current Washington Redskin Ross Tucker.

A La Carte Pricing Will Hurt Niche Cable Channels

I see that the drive to force cable companies to offer their basic cable package a la carte rather than as a bundle is gaining steam again.  This is the dumbest regulatory step imaginable, and will reduce the number of interesting niche choices on cable.

For some reason, it is terribly hard to convince people of this.  In fact, supporters of this regulation argue just the opposite.  They argue that this is a better plan for folks who only are passionate about, say, the kite-flying channel, because they only have to pay for the channel they want rather than all of basic cable to get this one station.   This is a fine theory, but it only works if the kite-flying channel still exists in the new regulatory regime.  Let me explain.

Clearly the kite-flying channel serves a niche market.  Not that many people are going to be interested enough in kite flying alone to pay $5 a month for it.  But despite this niche status, it may well make sense for the cable companies to add it to their basic package.  Remember that the basic package already attracts the heart of the market.  Between CNN and ESPN and the Discovery Channel and the History Channel, etc., the majority of the market already sees enough value in the package to sign on.

Let's say the cable company wants to add a channel to their basic package, and they have two choices.  They have a sports channel they could add (let's say there are already 5 other sports channels in the package) or they can add the Kite-flying channel.  Far more people are likely to watch the sports channel than the kite flying channel.  But in the current pricing regime, this is not necessarily what matters to the cable company.  Their concern is to get more people to sign up for the cable TV.  And it may be that everyone who could possibly be attracted to sports is already a subscriber, and a sixth sports channel would not attract any new subscribers.  It is entirely possible that a niche channel like the kite-flying channel will actually bring more incremental subscribers to the basic package than another sports channel, and thus be a more attractive addition to the basic package for the cable company. 

But now let's look at the situation if a la carte pricing was required.  In this situation, individual channels don't support the package, but must stand on their own and earn revenue.  The cable company's decision-making on adding an extra channel is going to be very different in this world.  In this scenario, they are going to compare the new sports channel with the Kite-flying channel based on how many people will sign up and pay for that standalone channel.  And in this case, a sixth (and probably seventh and eighth and ninth) sports channel is going to look better to them than the Kite-flying channel.   Niche channels that were added to bring greater reach to their basic cable package are going to be dropped in favor of more of what appeals to the majority. 

I think about this all the time when I scan the dial on Sirius radio, which sells its services as one package rather than a la carte.  There are several stations that I always wonder, "does anyone listen to that?"  But Sirius doesn't need another channel for the majority out at #300 -- they need channels that will bring new niche audiences to the package.  So an Egyptian reggae channel may be more valuable as the 301st offering than a 20th sports channel.  This is what we may very likely be giving up if we continue down this road of regulating away cable package pricing.  Yeah, in a la carte pricing people who want just the kite-flying channel will pay less for it, but will it still be available?

The Ocho!

I wasn't too impressed with the movie Dodgeball, but I did enjoy the
niche sports spoofs associated with the mythical ESPN "the Ocho."
Today at lunch, I saw a crowd gathered around the TV, and went to see
what they were watching.  On ESPN - the main one, not the deuce - was the world sport stacking championships.
Basically, this is a timed race to stack drinking cups in fixed
patterns (pyramids and such).  I could not believe this was on TV.  It
was far more outrageous than any of the sports they came up with on the
Ocho.  Also, the kids doing it were fast -- a couple were such total
blurs with the cups I thought the tape was sped up.  There is no way
you can adequately picture this without seeing it - Click on one of the videos in the lower-center of this page.  The kid in the Comcast video on the right is pretty good too.  Oh, and get your gear here.

Olympics Question

In a previous post, I discussed decision anchoring in judged events.  This week I have a simpler question:  Whose idea was it to give out CD-ROM's this time instead of regular medals?

Cdrom

Is this some kind of weird prelude to a Microsoft takeover of the games?  Or maybe these are just remaindered "Glitter" DVD's.  By the way, this picture does not do her justice, but Tanith Belbin is pretty hot.  She came in third in ESPN's page 2 hottest female athlete survey.  Better pictures here.

Streaming Music, Plus A Blogger Vanity Toy

I wanted to stream digital music from my main computer in my home office to my main stereo system in the den.  After some research, I chose version 3 of Squeezebox from Slim Devices.  They have taken an open architecture approach that I like, and have a proven history of steadily improving their product.  Most true audiophiles I sought advice from use this device (this is an audio-only device, no video or jpegs streamed).  I am currently converting my entire CD collection to lossless FLAC format audio files using EAC, which seems to be the audiophile favorite for ripping (and it is free).  FLAC compression seems to result in albums 250-450 meg, meaning my 400 CD's will need about 140 gig, which I have available.  I will ditch most of my mp3 files, saving only a subset for iPod rotation.  New mpg files, or whatever rules in the future, can be made directly from the FLAC.

The box itself is small and well-designed.  Setup was a breeze, once I fixed a setting on my firewall.  Now I can point my remote at this box and scroll easily through my music collection (along with a number of Internet radio stations).  No flipping through CD's or yelling at the kids for not alphabetizing them right.  You can browse or search by title, artist, or album.

In addition to controlling it with a remote, I can control it with any computer on the network.  Right now, I choose songs on a laptop in the kitchen, which sends music from the computer in the office to the amp and speakers in the den.  Awesome.  Their web site says that you can also browse your music and choose what's playing from a web enabled PDA, but I have not tried it yet.

Here is the blogger vanity part:  In addition to an array of other screensavers, you can have the device connect to any online RSS feed and scroll the contents marquee-style across the screen.  All day I have had my blog feed scrolling across the device, interspersed with NY Times and ESPN headlines.

The Heisman Trophy Charade

This weekend, another Heisman Trophy will be awarded, nominally for the "most outstanding college football player".  This is a joke.  The Heisman is in fact the award for "best college football player at an offensive skill position, preferably running back or quarterback, who plays for a nationally ranked program and has gotten plenty of TV exposure".

In the nearly 70 year history of the award, only 1 defensive player (Charles Woodson) ever won the award, and I think Woodson won only because he was a three-way player and scored a couple of dramatic special teams and receiving touchdowns in the last couple of games of the season.  In fact, of the nearly 350 finalists (the top five vote getters each year) only 20 have ever been defensive players.  In the ESPN highlight era (ie the last decade) no defensive player other than Woodson has cracked the top five in any year.  This belies the "best college football player" facade, since, last I checked, defense was about half the football game, and in many cases the more important half.  Heck, more Princeton and Yale players have won the Heisman (3) than defensive players (1).  And don't even ask about Offensive linemen or tight ends.  Even wide receiver is a bit iffy, with only two wins, so really you need to be a quarterback or a running back.