SURPRISE: Cord Cutters don’t care about sports

ESPN’s reign of terror may be at an end. At various times, it’s been said that ESPN’s primary channel (just by itself) may be costing pay-TV companies as much as $8 per month per subscriber. Add in as many as five other ESPN channels and the pay-TV company could be paying as much as $15 per subscriber per month for the package, and adding in technology and personnel costs, this could mean that the ESPN package is adding as much as $25 per month to the average subscriber’s bill. And with bills at record highs, it’s very hard to justify that.

The latest survey from CutCableToday claims that up to 53% of those shopping for television programming don’t care about live sports, and they particularly assign very little value to ESPN’s slate of talk shows. This is astoundingly bad news for the network which has, up until recently, enjoyed undisputed dominance among “basic cable” channels and has commanded high prices in every contract negotiation.

Until recently it seemed impossible for a pay-TV provider to live without ESPN, but studies like these seem to point the way. The bigger picture, though, is that it’s not just ESPN that’s in danger. There are some very expensive sports packages out there and the top of the heap is DIRECTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. While its price is, to be honest, really high, at least it’s voluntary. ESPN’s high prices are applied to every cable and satellite bill whether you like it or not. That may soon change.

The simple fact is that most people think their cable bill is too high. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t accept low-end streaming TV packages without many of the functions they get from cable TV. They wouldn’t be dropping cable in droves if they thought there was value there. Given that the average cable bill is approaching $100 per month, it seems like there are those who would quite happily take a $25/month cut in the bill to avoid the incessant droning of talking heads on ESPN and its partner channels.

Don’t expect ESPN to give up so easily, though. At this point about 88 million people have some form of traditional pay TV, and if ESPN’s parent company is getting $15 per month from each, that’s a staggering $15.8 billion dollars coming in every year. They’re not just going to willingly drop their prices anytime soon. It’s going to take a massive shift and it’s probably going to take one of the major pay-TV providers to refuse to offer ESPN in a bargain tier. It certainly would be easier to offer a $30 per month cable package if you weren’t giving half of it away to ESPN. But such changes will happen slowly. Contracts tend to last about three years and even if those pay providers want to start cutting out ESPN it’s going to take a long time and it’s going to be a hard climb. ESPN could also refuse to offer its channels to a company at all unless they are in all tiers, and remember that 47% of people still want live sports. That would be a staggering blow to any pay-TV company.

In the meantime, as new contracts are negotiated for streaming TV, it just looks better and better for the new guys. The goal of live streaming TV is to offer a very small package of “the channels people actually watch” with additional channels being available for a higher charge. If you’re mostly interested in the broadcast networks and some high-rated national channels, going without ESPN could let you get what you’re looking for for under $20 a month, which most people would agree is a very reasonable number.

Or, perhaps you would prefer $0 a month.

If you can live without ESPN, maybe you can live without other national channels or watch their content on Hulu or other streaming services. If so, you can get free TV, no bill at all, by putting an antenna up on your roof. About 90% of people are close enough to a city to get live TV for free. You’re probably one of them. Why not “really” cut the cord and get rid of a high cable bill? Start by checking out the selection of antennas at and we can even recommend something for you! Because honestly, if you’re mad at ESPN for charging what they charge, you’re probably none too happy with the other national networks either. Cut them out!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.