Little League on national TV is why ESPN costs so much

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVRecently, while scanning through channels to find the most point-worthy Viggle programming, I stumbled upon the Little League World Series. It wasn't on some regional network or user-generated channel; it was on ESPN. The national ESPN. The one that's always in the news because it may be cutting deals with over-the-top players so it can rake in still more money to feed the nation's appetite for sports.

There were professional announcers talking as if these kids--this was Little League, after all--were performing at the highest level of baseball. The kids, for their part, behaved as if they were, mimicking what they'd seen from their professional idols on other national broadcasts by sports networks.

To me it seemed like there was something wrong with this picture. I concede the Little League World Series is a big deal for a kid and the winner should certainly be feted with some news footage and stories in the local newspapers (if those still exist). But real-time coverage with professional announcers? That, to my old fashioned way of thinking, is a bit much.

Sports, I'm told, is the most valuable and therefore expensive programming on pay TV because the nation is obsessed with the games people play. The question that comes to my mind--and I am a former sportswriter--is whether this is the chicken or the egg. Are people obsessed with sports or is the unrelenting parade of sports programming driving that obsession? For a service provider, the answer to that question would be really handy the next time a retransmission fee is due.

To me, sports fanaticism is media-driven, with March Madness as its crowning glory. Before ESPN needed to fill 24 hours or sports programming seven days a week 365 days a year, there was actually an NCAA basketball tournament, the final four games of which were covered on national television. March Madness was reserved for the few of us mad enough to be following the exploits of our alma maters if they were lucky enough to get into the field.

Slowly but surely, however, the need to fill on-air time coupled with the need to drive consumer interest in previously unwatched sports is driving a national sports mania which created March Madness and now has 10 to 13-year-old kids acting as if they're pitching for the New York Yankees and batting for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Reality check here, folks; they're not.

Perhaps before Disney, CBS Sports, NBC Sports or any of the other games-obsessed programmers approach Verizon (NYSE: VZ), AT&T (NYSE: T) or any other pay TV provider demanding more money for 24x7 sports, those carriers might want to ask their subscribers if they truly want to watch little kids play baseball.

If they do, then it's worth the money. My bet is that many won't, and that's worth a little bit of negotiating pain for a pay TV industry combatting cord cutters who, among other things, probably don't want to pay to see little kids play baseball.--Jim

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