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Former ESPN President thinks Super Bowl could one day become a pay-per-view event

Would you pay to watch the Super Bowl on TV?

Fast Company Innovation Festival - Day 1 Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Fast Company

There are a lot of strange things that come across one’s desk during the offseason (and the early days of training camp) and many of them are pretty easy to dismiss. But sometimes, what might normally be chuckled at and then forgotten about ... an article about the Super Bowl one day becoming a Pay-Per-View event, for instance ... sometimes these things stick.

In this case, the reason it sticks is because the person who brought up the somewhat-outlandish idea is John Skipper.

For those who don’t know, John Skipper is the former “Numero Uno” at ESPN and has been referred to as “the most powerful man in sports” on more than one occasion.

Here’s a quick rundown of his bio / resume:

  • In 1997, he was the senior vice-president and general manager of ESPN the Magazine
  • In 2005, he was named executive vice-president of content for all of ESPN
  • In 2012, he ascended to the position of ESPN president and was named a co-chairman of Disney Media Networks
  • In 2017, Disney extended his contract through 2021, in part because he had negotiated the rights contracts for the NBA (9 years, $12B), the College Football Playoff ($7.3B), the Masters, and the four Grand Slam events in tennis

In short, when he talks about the landscape of professional sports, it’s worth listening.

Now, in full transparency, he left his role at ESPN because of a cocaine addiction (and extortion attempt) and his comments about the Super Bowl were buried at the end of a conversation about college football, but the comments are still (a) relevant, and (b) not easy to dismiss.


John Skipper drops a bomb

John Skipper originally went on the Le Batard and Friends podcast on July 27th to talk about Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC and what that means for the “business” of college football.

- - - - - - - Note: The NFL is not a topic in this particular podcast.

That podcast was somewhat interesting, particularly from a “behind-the-scenes, this is what happens” in college sports perspective but, for us NFL fans, it really just laid the groundwork for his “follow-up” visit a few days later where this discussion took place:

(copy and paste from an AwfulAnnouncing.com article: John Skipper thinks a pay-per-view Super Bowl is in our future ... full podcast HERE)

HOST 2: Do you think one of these big leagues will go to a streaming company?… Who do you think is the first league that will go for the money there even though it might lead to a decrease in viewership and exposure?

JOHN SKIPPER: I think a lot of leagues would go there now for the money, but the money is not going to be more. You can’t afford to outbid CBS, NBC, Fox, Amazon, and ESPN. And by the way, they’re not gonna move companies, they’re gonna move platforms. It’s still gonna be ESPN, it’s just gonna be on ESPN+, and it’s gonna be on Paramount Plus, and it’s gonna be on…HBO Max.

HOST 1: Is there a chance…, and you’ve negotiated with MLS in the past, is a league gonna figure out that they can do this themselves? That they don’t necessarily need a partner and they don’t need to split that revenue and nd there’s probably more money in it for them just building out their own service?

SKIPPER: …Generally, the math doesn’t work. Fans don’t want to buy a league pass. They want to buy a service that gives them most of the sports they want. They’re willing to buy two or three or four. I think it’ll be just like it’s been before. I think ESPN+ will continue to hold most of the rights and that’s what you’ll have to have. And then you’ll have to supplement…you may end up with some pay-per-view stuff. Super Bowl…that’s an interesting thing. Take that to pay-per-view.

HOST 1: Whoa…whoa…let’s just end right there. The Super Bowl on pay-per-view.

They go on for a bit with one host saying to just “take my wallet now” and them talking (vaguely) about how much that would bring in, and how many people pay for boxing PPVs, and so forth and so on, but ...

The bottom line is that Pay-Per-View and Super Bowl were used in the same sentence by the former-head of everything at ESPN.

That is a mic drop moment if ever there was one.


The NFL’s broadcast landscape

It is worth keeping in mind that the soonest a PPV Super Bowl could realistically happen is 2034 since the most-recent broadcast agreements with CBS, NBC, FOX, ESPN, and Amazon start in 2023 and run through the end of the 2032 season, which means the Super Bowl in February 2033.

It is also worth noting that the new broadcast agreements are expected to generate a combined $110B over 10 years for the NFL. And that’s just for the broadcast rights.

Given the massive increase in broadcast revenue in the most recent agreements, it seems reasonable to assume that the money involved will increase again when the NFL and the networks go back to the negotiating table in the early-2030s.

But ...

The Super Bowl brought in nearly $450M in advertising revenue in 2020 ... despite the ratings falling for the 5th time in the past 6 years.

At some point, it seems inevitable that the calculus will tip in favor of the NFL taking their showcase event “private” and keeping all the advertising dollars and the myriad “ancillary benefits” to themselves.

Or, if not completely “private,” perhaps the calculus allows for the NFL to give one of their network partners, say ESPN, the exclusive rights to the Super Bowl as a Pay-Per-View event in return for the lion’s share of that revenue, plus “more.”

On some level, a pay-per-view Super Bowl seems like a ludicrous idea, but ... it is also somewhat difficult to completely dismiss the thought given the source.

John Skipper, everyone!

MIC DROP!


Poll time

What say you? Would you pay to watch the Super Bowl and, if so, how much would you be willing to spend for a one-time event?

Note: Because I know that whether or not the Seahawks were in the game would influence my response, I am offering two polls. The first one is for if Seattle was in the game; the second one is if they weren’t.

Poll #1: Would you pay to watch the Super Bowl if the Seahawks were in the game and, if so, what is the MOST that you would be willing to pay?

Poll

Would you pay to watch the Super Bowl if the Seahawks WERE in the game and, if so, what is the MOST that you would be willing to pay?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    No, I would not be willing to PAY to watch the Super Bowl - even if Seattle was in it.
    (152 votes)
  • 24%
    Yes, I would be willing to pay $29.99 to watch the Super Bowl if Seattle was in it.
    (79 votes)
  • 11%
    Yes, I would be willing to pay $49.99 to watch the Super Bowl if Seattle was in it.
    (36 votes)
  • 5%
    Yes, I would be willing to pay $99.99 to watch the Super Bowl if Seattle was in it.
    (17 votes)
  • 5%
    Yes, I would be willing to pay $199.99 to watch the Super Bowl if Seattle was in it.
    (19 votes)
  • 7%
    Yes, I don’t care what the price is; just tell me where to send the check.
    (24 votes)
327 votes total Vote Now

__________

Poll #2: Would you pay to watch the Super Bowl if the Seahawks were NOT in the game and, if so, what is the MOST that you would be willing to pay?

Poll

Would you pay to watch the Super Bowl if the Seahawks were NOT in the game and, if so, what is the MOST that you would be willing to pay?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    No, I would not be willing to PAY to watch the Super Bowl if the Seahawks weren’t playing in the game.
    (279 votes)
  • 10%
    Yes, I would be willing to pay $29.99 to watch the Super Bowl even if the Seahawks weren’t playing in the game.
    (33 votes)
  • 3%
    Yes, I would be willing to pay $49.99 to watch the Super Bowl even if the Seahawks weren’t playing in the game.
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    Yes, I would be willing to pay $99.99 to watch the Super Bowl even if the Seahawks weren’t playing in the game.
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Yes, I would be willing to pay $199.99 to watch the Super Bowl even if the Seahawks weren’t playing in the game.
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Yes, I don’t care what the price is; just tell me where to send the check.
    (4 votes)
328 votes total Vote Now